More sobering research findings for languages: low confidence & low motivation – Research Reviews (5)

Influences on students’ dispositions in Key Stage 3: Exploring enjoyment of school, popularity, anxiety, citizenship values and academic self-concepts in Year 9 – DFE Research Brief 184c January 2012 (Sammons, Sylva, Melhuish, Siraj-Blatchford, Taggart, Smees, Draghici, & Toth)

This is a fascinating longitudinal research study with lots of interesting findings. The report focuses on findings related to year 9 dispositions in key areas such as enjoyment of school, academic self-concept, popularity, citizenship values and anxiety. It also compares previous research findings which involved the same participants when they were in years 2 and 5 so it very much looks at the way young people’s attitudes develop over time. A mixed-methods approach was used. It reveals worrying findings relating to confidence and motivation in languages.

The authors report largely positive findings. Most year 9 students were found to enjoy school and were confident about their overall ability. Alarmingly however, modern languages was found to be the least popular subject area. It is very sobering how consistently the relative unpopularity of languages has been reported in generic research studies over a long period of time (e.g. Francis, 2000; Colley & Comber, 2003). Students were also less confident about their ability in modern languages than in any other subject. This very much fits in with what I found in my PhD research when I looked at motivation in speaking in KS3.

Most students had high aspirations, wanted to go to university and believed that they were liked by their peers. Students from richer socio-economic backgrounds were more likely to enjoy school and to believe that they were popular than those from poorer backgrounds. Girls generally reported higher levels of anxiety than boys and also seemed to have lower academic self-concepts in some areas.

Over time though, learners were found to be less positive about school than when they were younger (in years 2 and 5) and also to be less keen on answering questions in class.

Many interesting similarities and differences were also found in relation to family background, home learning environment etc.

This research is well worth a read even if it is depressing for linguists.


HE White Paper and gender and academic success – Research Reviews (2)

Much of what I’ve been reading over the last few weeks has been about the HE White Paper There have been lots of really good press articles and blog posts on this. Andrew McGettigan’s piece on the wonkhe blog offers a really comprehensive and heartfelt critique The Bridge Group have expressed concerns about the impact of the White Paper on social mobility, the role of information, advice and guidance and the potential dangers of focusing too much on AAB students In the THE, David Price of UCL has written on the secret to saving our universities and supports the idea that we should be “cultivating wisdom” rather than encouraging a narrow focus on the salary benefits of degrees

On an entirely different subject, I have also been reading a thought-provoking paper that looks at the ways girls negotiate academic success against the backdrop of neo-liberal post-feminist discourses which suggest that smart girls (if they try hard enough) can have it all (i.e. the super girl and power girl narratives) ‘Oh she’s so smart”. Girls’ complex engagements with post-feminist narratives of academic success (Pomerantz & Raby, forthcoming in Gender and Education) This focus group research in Canadian schools highlights the tensions inherent in the position of smart girls who feel that they have to be good at everything and feel that they no longer have the right to complain about inequality. It’s a good read.