U.S. Students' Academic Interests Tend to Wane in Middle School

WEDNESDAY July 15, 2009 -- American adolescents are more likely than their Chinese counterparts to lose interest in academics, a finding that may explain why Chinese children outperform Americans in academic pursuits such as math, researchers say.

In a study that included American and Chinese students in grades 7 and 8, more than 800 children completed questionnaires four times over a two-year period. The students reported how much they valued achievement, whether they liked to do difficult work in a particular subject (mastery), how much time they spent on schoolwork outside of school and how they used learning strategies.

The U.S. and Chinese researchers found that American students became less motivated academically as they progressed through grades 7 and 8, placing less value on achievement, losing interest in mastery of a subject, implementing fewer constructive learning techniques and cutting back on time spent studying.

Among Chinese students, however, the value they placed on achievement, use of constructive learning strategies and time spent studying remained stable, the study authors noted.

"This may be because in China, a higher priority is placed on learning because it is seen as a key to future success and is considered a moral undertaking," study lead author Qian Wang, an assistant professor of psychology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said in a news release from the Society for Research in Child Development.

The researchers also found that both American and Chinese students became less concerned with mastering schoolwork as they moved through middle school.

"This decline in both countries may reflect a poor fit between children's developing psychological needs and school settings," Wang said.

The study appears in the July/August issue of the journal Child Development.

More information

The Nemours Foundation outlines how parents can help teens with homework.

Posted: July 2009


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