Liz Eley

Many factors influence student achievement in a learning area, including a positive attitude, enjoyment of a subject, and opportunities to experience success. Between 1995 and 1998, surveys monitoring students’ attitudes and motivations towards different learning areas were conducted in conjunction with the NEMP assessments in 12 such areas. This study examines some of the different patterns that emerged when student responses were analysed.

The learning areas surveyed over the four-year cycle were science, art, reading, speaking, technology, music, mathematics, library and research skills, social studies, writing, health, and physical education. For each of these surveys, about 460 students at each of the two year levels assessed (4 and 8) completed a questionnaire, but each student took part in a survey of one learning area only. Students completed their questionnaire privately, although a teacher was available to read the questions or record responses if required.

• When asked to rank order their subjects in terms of preference, students gave as their ‘favourites’ art, physical education, and mathematics.

• Students gave very high ratings to almost all learning areas when asked how much they enjoyed them. In most cases, over 80% of students gave a positive response. Writing was the least popular area.

  • Students gave positive enjoyment ratings responses for six learning areas in their own time. However, there was a substantial decrease in their enjoyment rating of writing and mathematics between Years 4 and 8.

• Students also responded very positively when asked how good they thought they were in different learning areas.

• Girls were more positive than boys in their responses in six learning areas: music, writing, reading, art, health, and speaking. Boys were more positive than girls in their responses in three learning areas: technology, physical education, and science. These differences were more pronounced at Year 8 than Year 4.

• Year 4 Mäori students were more positive than non-Mäori students in six learning areas, while non-Mäori students were more positive about speaking. At Year 8, Mäori students were more positive about art and music, with no significant differences in other learning areas. Despite the more positive disposition of Mäori students, the achievement results of non-Mäori students were higher in every area except physical education.

• Students from schools with low decile ratings were more positive than their counterparts from schools with middle and high decile ratings in seven learning areas, but this pattern was not reflected in the achievement results.

• The strong link between positive attitudes towards learning and subsequent achievement identified in the literature suggests teachers need to optimise learning opportunities for students by providing learning contexts and experiences that are motivational for the whole range of students.

• The generally highly positive attitude to learning shown by students at Years 4 and 8 is heartening. However, the findings that older students have less positive attitudes to learning than younger students, and that boys have less positive attitudes to learning than girls, suggest that the learning environment for older students and boys requires attention.

• Although Mäori students and students from low decile schools tend not to achieve as well as their non-Mäori and higher school decile peers, their very positive attitude to learning provides a good starting place for closing the achievement gap between the various subgroups.

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The full report of this probe study will be available on this website by Jan 2004 or can be obtained from USEE.