Academic Self-Perceptions of Elementary School Children


Anna L. Wilkinson


Michigan State University


December 15, 2004




















A paper submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for CEP900 (Proseminar in LTC)




Academic Self-Perceptions of Elementary School Children


The Relevance of Student Self-Perceptions to School Psychology

Self-perceptions are a person’s own beliefs or predictions concerning their abilities and performance. This may be different from an individual’s actual performance. Both self-perceptions and actual competence have traditionally been divided into four smaller categories. These include academic, social, emotional, and behavioral (self-) perceptions (Harter, 1982). The following review will discuss self-perception in terms of the academic category. Although all of the subcategories are important for providing a complete picture of self-perceptions, academic self-perceptions can be most directly related to a student’s educational experience.

Self-perception has come to be of interest to me due to its relevance for the field of school psychology. School psychologists spend their careers assessing students who are having problems in schools and helping them to overcome these challenges. The school psychologist, teachers, other school administrators, and parents are seen as experts who can help the students by providing accommodations and interventions. Among all of these expert opinions, the students’ own perceptions of how they are doing and what might help them are often undervalued. However, this information is not insignificant and should not be treated as such. In the following paper, I will attempt to discuss just how important high academic self-perceptions are for students to be able to succeed in school.

Self-Competence Compared to other Similar Constructs

            One of my initial challenges was to determine exactly what can be included in the term “self-perception”. In looking at several articles, I quickly became confused about the different terms I was seeing, all having to do with student self-perceptions. After doing some more reading and asking expert advice, I now understand what the differences should be. However, I also now understand that many researchers do not always use the appropriate terms in their own work.

Self-competence, self-concept, and self-efficacy are all constructs used to study self-perceptions. Although the terms are often used interchangeably in the literature, the formal distinctions lie in how specific the ability is that the students are supposed to rate themselves on. Self-concept, a term associated with Rosenberg (1965), Shavelson (1976), and Marsh (1990), is the most global of the three terms. When rating self-concept, a student might be asked to describe his academic ability in general. Self-concept includes feelings of competence, feelings of difficulty, and affect. This construct has often been criticized for being too global to be directly related to actual achievement (Bong & Skaalvik, 2003). In response to this, self-concept has moved from a more global construct to one that is domain specific (e.g. reading, math, art, and science self-concepts) in recent years.

Self-competence is a term developed by Susan Harter (1982). It generally refers to perceptions of ability in broad academic areas, such as how good of a student one is in general. Self-competence may also refer to perceived ability in subject areas as a whole. This makes the definition very similar to self-concept. However, while self-concept also addresses students’ beliefs about academic difficulties and student affect, self-competence refers only to their perceptions related to success.

Self-efficacy is linked to specific tasks, such as one’s perceived ability to succeed at reading a certain book without mistakes. This term was developed by Albert Bandura (1977). Self-efficacy places less emphasis on what abilities students believe they possess, and more emphasis on what students believe they can achieve with those skills in very specific situations. Therefore, like self-competence, it is concerned only with perceptions of being able to use skills to be successful. A reading self-efficacy assessment might ask a student questions about their ability to successfully read a certain book at a specific point in time (Henk & Melnick, 1995). Some believe self-efficacy to be more highly correlated to achievement than self-construct and self-competence (Bong et al., 2003).

When thinking about these formal distinctions between self-perception terminology in isolation, the differences seem to make sense. However, in research, these formal distinctions are frequently disregarded. Much of the literature in self-efficacy uses a more global definition than would be expected (Henk & Melnick, 1995). The purpose of this review is not necessarily to decide which one of these terms is the most appropriate to use, but to acquire a strong general understanding of the research. I therefore chose to use the term “self-perception” to refer to all three of the aforementioned constructs. I also use “self-competence” as it is something positive we want to enhance.

The Relationship between Self-perceptions and Motivation to Do Well in School

According to several well established theories (Atkinson, 1964; Bandura, 1977; Ryan & Deci, 2000), self-perceptions play a vital role in the emergence of motivation in students. If students believe they are likely to be successful, then they should be more motivated to engage in academic activities than students who believe they are not likely to be successful. Motivation to complete tasks should lead students to become more competent. Once students are more competent, then their self-perceptions should be higher. Thus, the relationship between self-perceptions, motivation and achievement is a circular one.

Bandura (1977) said that students will tend to shy away from tasks they do not believe they will be successful at. Alternatively, they will primarily seek out activities at which they know they can be successful. Students with high self-efficacy will set higher achievement goals for themselves (Zimmerman, Bandura, & Martinez-Pons, 1992), and when they are working, they tend to be more task-oriented than children with low self-efficacy (Bandura, 1981). Children with low-self efficacy become preoccupied with concerns of failure, and are therefore less focused on actually accomplishing the task at hand. Because children with high self-efficacy are likely to attempt more challenging tasks (Zimmerman et al., 1992), they are also more likely to experience success on those tasks than someone who does not even try. Therefore, they are able experience the pride of success, which is a further motivator to set high goals in the future.

Atkinson (1964) developed a similar model of motivation. He believed that individuals weigh their potential for success against their potential for failure when deciding to attempt a task. His hypothesis was that for students with low self-competence, the potential for failure outweighs the potential for success, so they do not engage in their work. They therefore also miss the opportunity to experience success and consequently believe their potential for success can outweigh their potential for failure.

Ryan and Deci’s (2000) self-determination theory says that a strong sense of self-competence, autonomy, and relatedness leads to intrinsic motivation. Students who are intrinsically motivated will eventually meet higher levels of achievement (Deci & Ryan, 1991). Because high self-competence is linked to high motivation and high achievement, it is important to study what factors promote high self-competence in students. Through my discussions with Dr. Evelyn Oka, I have come to believe that self-determination theory would be a nice model to frame my future work within. The fact that this model includes two other components that work with self-competence leading to motivation is important, as self-perceptions are not isolated ideas.

When we see that high levels of self-competence have a positive influence on achievement, then, it is of interest for educators to understand what can be done to maintain elevated levels of self-competence. It is important to note that I am not suggesting that we encourage all students to have unrealistically high self-perceptions. Studies have shown that self-perceptions that are slightly higher than actual performance tend to reap the most motivational benefits (Stipek, 1998). When this is the case, students can set realistic goals for themselves which they will be likely to achieve, and then turn around and set another realistic, but higher goal. In other words, it is not desirable for students to have self-perceptions that are much lower or much higher than their actual abilities.

How Self-Perceptions Change in Elementary School

Although having high self-competence can be very beneficial for motivation, not all students believe themselves to be academically competent. For elementary school children, academic self-competence typically declines across time according to the following pattern. In kindergarten, students consistently rate themselves as very competent, and among the top students in their class. By fifth grade, students have more realistic perceptions of their own competence (Stipek, 1998). When this is linked to the literature that says high self-competence leads to high motivation, one would expect older students to be less motivated. If this is the case, then educators should be concerned about what happens as children progress through school that causes them to view their abilities more negatively.

Much of the work I have reviewed addresses this very concern. Namely, researchers want to know what variables affect academic self-perceptions and how. Many offer suggestions for adapting instruction to benefit self-competence. However, little research is based on these suggestions. I am unaware of any program or teacher training that synthesizes all of the self-perception research to something that might be useful for schools. As the reading specialist I worked with last year pointed out, research can be fascinating, yet pointless at the same time, if the findings do not benefit anyone. I will therefore describe some previous research and attempt to integrate the findings to something that might be beneficial to my future work as a school psychologist.

Factors that Contribute to Changes in Self-Competence

Distinguishing different types of abilities. Young children have a hard time distinguishing between social and academic abilities (Stipek & Tannatt, 1984). Because they tend to lump both of these together, when questioned about how they believe they will perform academically, they may also include their social self-competence in this self-evaluation. If they believe they have a lot of friends and are well liked, then their reports may reflect an inflated perception of academic competence. However, older students are more able to distinguish academic from social competence. When asked to rate their academic competence, they can truly focus on their perceived academic abilities. Stipek and Daniels (1988) found that when kindergarteners are asked to evaluate themselves academically in terms that rule out interpretation of social competence, their self-competence ratings become more similar to self-ratings of older children.

This information could be interpreted to suggest that if we want children to maintain high self-competence, they should not be taught to differentiate social and academic competence. As children become developmentally capable of making these distinctions, teachers might stress that academic and social abilities are not separated by a brick wall. They might suggest that social abilities can be used to augment their academic abilities through group work, leadership in the classroom, and exhibiting on-task behaviors. Conversely, academic abilities may be used to augment social abilities. High achieving students might help their peers who are struggling. This is a task that requires personal interaction and may result in new friendships.

Distinguishing between effort and ability. At a young age, children also have difficulty distinguishing between effort and ability (Nicholls, 1984). They tend to believe that students who do well in school must work hard. On the other hand, they cannot imagine that someone who works hard might not do well in school. Therefore, when they are asked to rate their own abilities, their rating may be high if they believe they worked really hard at a task. This is regardless of how well they actually did do. Students who believe they did not work hard at all might have lower self-competence. However, they might continue to rate their abilities high if they would like to work hard and do well in the future (Stipek, 1984).

As children begin making the distinction between effort and ability, it may be helpful for them to understand that effort does have some merit, although it is not the same as ability. Expending the same amount of effort does not reap the same results in all situations. A student who has developed low self-competence because they believe they work hard and are not getting good grades, probably believes that they are wasting their effort, and may decide not to try hard in the future. We could help this student to understand that just because they tried hard on one task and did not succeed, does not mean that they should not try hard on subsequent assignments. In other words, we might try to re-blur the distinction between effort and ability because this is not a finite distinction in real life. A student who tries hard in the regular classroom and fails, but understands that they should continue to try hard will do so for new interventions, and may subsequently experience success.

Changes in Evaluative Feedback. The forms of feedback students are given in school also change over time. Feedback tends to be based increasingly on normative evaluation (Stipek & Daniels, 1988). In kindergarten, children primarily receive praise for their work (Blumenfeld, Pintrich, Meece, & Wessels, 1982). They are not regularly given grades, which they might then use to compare themselves to their peers. This focus on praise and encouragement may lead young children to have higher self-competence (Stipek & Daniels, 1988). Also, because they do not compare their work to their peers, they may continue to believe they are the best in the class, even though their peers may actually be doing quite a bit better. Later, normative grades are used with increasing frequency. Students are compared relative to the other students in their classes. The focus of a grade shifts from praise and encouragement to also include criticism and suggestions for improvement (Stipek & Daniels, 1988). Students compare their grades to those of their peers and as a result have a more realistic understanding of their abilities. This may lead students to have lower self-competence. Stipek (1988) found that when children in lower grades were given more normative/evaluative feedback, their self-competence was lower than other kindergarteners’. At the same time, when older elementary school children were given more positive feedback, their self-competence was able to rise.

Not only does the feedback from teachers have an effect on student self-perceptions, but feedback from peers is also important. Altermatt et al. (2002) found that younger students offer more positive comments about other students’ abilities. When a negative comment is directed towards them, young students often respond by insisting they are in fact competent. In contrast to this, older students make fewer positive comments toward others and more negative comments. When self-perception ratings were analyzed, the trend toward more negative comments with less resilience was reflected in the lower academic self-perceptions of older students.

This lends support for the consistent use of positive and constructive feedback. If feedback is always negative, then students could begin to believe they will never be good at that task. If the feedback sometimes focuses on their strengths as well, then students might understand that they are good at at least some parts of a task. Thus, they can focus on improving their areas of weakness. Also, students must be provided with an opportunity to show improvement in obvious ways. If their grade is negative and final, then there no longer exists the motivation to improve (Henk & Melnick, 1998). It may be beneficial for teachers to focus on posting improvement, rather than raw grades. Most schools today realize that all students will never be at the same level academically throughout their careers as students. Therefore, what they hope for is that students are at least making academic progress. If progress is what they want to see, then this is how students should be evaluated and grades posted if there is to be any comparison at all. If a student is still behind, yet making progress, and this progress is posted, then it will be likely to benefit their self competence more than seeing that they are continuing to achieve lower grades than their peers

Gender Differences in SC

There are also differences in self-competence ratings of girls and boys. Girls tend to rate their abilities lower than boys, particularly in math and science (Marsh, 1989). This difference may be due to cultural beliefs which are relayed through adult attitudes and behaviors (Marsh, 1989). Teachers and parents may be more likely to encourage boys to pursue math and science related activities. When boys do well in these areas, they may receive more praise, and boys may also experience more disappointment from adults if they fail in math and science (Stipek, 1998).

If we want boys and girls to be equally successful in all academic domains, then they ought to be encouraged equally. Teachers might try not to make distinctions between the girls and boys in their classroom for math and science related tasks. Groups might be composed equally of boys and girls, with the same expectations for all. Girls should also receive the same opportunities in math and science as boys do. If they are lacking the same educational experiences, then it seems natural that girls would rate their abilities lower than boys would.

Instructional Grouping and Academic Self-perceptions

The effects of different types of reading groups on self-perceptions are of particular interest to me due to my prior work as an elementary school reading aide. I noticed that some of the students I worked with were really excited to leave their classroom and get the extra attention I provided. However, there were other students who did not want to leave because they felt they were missing out on other classroom activities. Some also did not want to attend our remedial reading group because they did not want to be part of the group of “bad readers”. I could certainly sympathize with the students who did not want to come because they were correct to a certain extent. The problem was that although they were missing classroom activities and grouped among the poorer readers in their class, the point of the extra instruction was to help them become proficient enough that they did not have to leave the classroom because they were behind. However, if being a part of the group resulted in decreased self-competence, their motivation to work hard may have diminished, leaving them stuck in the low group.

My situation with these students was not unique. When students are struggling in reading, they usually receive remedial help in one of two forms, although in some cases, they are able to receive both types of support. In one case, a struggling reader works one-on-one with the teacher, reading specialist, or reading aide. Other times, a struggling student becomes part of a group of students who also need help.

Individual Instruction

Often the children with the lowest reading abilities are the ones who receive the one-on-one attention. For many students, this is beneficial because they are seeking individual attention from an adult. Being able to work alone with a teacher may allow them to feel more confident. In this setting, the student does not have to compare themselves to other children. They can focus on their own strengths and weaknesses. Because of this, students may experience higher self-competence and actually be able to achieve more. However, this may not be true for all children. Some children might think they are being singled out because they are doing worse than anyone else in the class. They might not want this type of attention because it takes them away from their other classmates and might prove to their peers that this student is really not as smart. In other words, this type of student might really want a sense of belonging, rather than isolated attention. Being part of a group might be a better option to increase reading self-competence for this student.

Ability Grouping

In early reading instruction, students within a classroom are often divided into groups based on their ability. The idea behind this is that teachers can then work with students who are at the same reading levels and assist them in tasks appropriate for their level. The hope is that by receiving this type of directed instruction, students who are behind will receive the necessary tools to catch up. Also, when students are grouped by ability, those students who are already good readers will not be slowed down when the teacher has to explain steps more slowly for low-achieving students. However, what often happens when ability grouping is used, is that these groups never interact with one another, and the students who are initially in the low-ability groups remain poorer readers than the students who are in the high-ability groups. In the eighties, researchers began to view ability grouping negatively in terms of self-competence. They found that often, students in the low-ability groups have low self-competence because they do not belong to a higher-ability group (Elbaum, Schumm, & Vaughn, 1997; Marsh, 1984; Marsh, Chessor, Craven, & Roche, 1995; Renick & Harter, 1989). Low self-perceptions may then account in part for why they remain in the low groups. If they view their abilities as poorer than other students, then they will have little motivation to try hard. Therefore they remain in the low-group because their achievement never improves.

Mixed Ability Grouping

Another type of grouping is mixed-ability grouping. Students of differing levels of ability are placed in the same groups. In these groups, high achieving students can help their peers who are struggling. This benefits the low achievers, and studies have shown that the performance of high achievers is not compromised by these mixed-ability groups. Some argue that low-achieving students will have higher self-competence in mixed-ability groups because they are not outsiders to children who do well in reading (Aylett, 2000; Bachman & O'Malley, 1986; Elbaum et al., 1997). Because they are all working side by side, low-achieving students do not perceive their abilities to be lower than their peers. On the flip side, it can be argued that students in mixed-ability groups are able to directly compare their abilities to other students in their group. From this vantage point, low-achieving students can directly compare how other students seem to be doing compared to themselves, and this may cause them to view their abilities in a more negative light (Eder, 1983).

Paired Cross-Age Student Instruction

Elbaum et al. (1997) conducted a study comparing multiple types of grouping and found that students preferred mixed-ability pairs equally as well as mixed-ability groups due to their positive effects on academic self-perceptions. This might be because although students have a person to directly compare their abilities with, the setting is private enough to be effective. The low-achieving student may realize that they are not as skilled at their partner, but they also expect their partner to help them so that this will not always be the case. The high-achieving student’s self-perceptions may benefit due to the enjoyment of being able to help one of their peers.

            What is most interesting about this literature on grouping effects is that when it comes to same vs. mixed ability grouping, there is a lot of controversy. However, the research behind these contradicting views shows no consensus. Past work seems to be split down the middle on which one of these is better. However, when researchers compare instruction outside of this duality, and effects of student pairing are also evaluated, a more important finding is revealed. When same ability grouping, mixed-ability grouping, same-ability pairing, and mixed-ability pairing are all compared, it has been found that mixed-ability pairing may be the best solution for increasing self-competence (Elbaum et al., 1997). This information tells me both that pairing should be used more frequently for students who are struggling in reading, and also that when grouping is used for efficiency purposes, students really should be assessed on what type of grouping is best for their self competence, especially because it seems to boil down to personal preferences.

Teacher Behaviors

            In addition to cognitive developmental changes, type of evaluation, grouping effects, and gender effects, teacher behaviors also influence students’ academic self-perceptions. For example, the patterns teachers use to call on students affect self-competence (Weinstein & Middlestadt, 1979). When teachers call on a student frequently and that student is able to give correct answers, this increases their self-competence. However, if a teacher does not call on a student or if the student frequently fails to answer correctly, this may be detrimental to self-competence. Studies have also shown that some student interpret teacher probing in different ways (Marshall & Weinstein, 1984). For some students, it may be helpful for their self-competence if their teachers are willing to help them come to the correct answer. Other students may recognize that their teachers are treating them differently when they probe for the correct answer and this may harm their self-competence. As previously mentioned, it is also important for teachers to remain positive in their comments and evaluate progress in addition to performance (Stipek & Daniels, 1988).

Potential Areas to Develop my own Research

After having reviewed the literature thus far, I have been thinking of several ideas in which I might be able to focus my research to add to the body of knowledge concerning academic self-perceptions. One of the major flaws that I see with most of the literature I have reviewed is that it is mainly descriptive. The researchers explain what self-perceptions look like in students and how to accurately assess them. However, they provide little to no explicit information about what can be done to enhance self-competence in schools. In my experience working with teachers, most of them seem to be aware of their ability to promote high self-competence through making positive comments or providing students with appropriate goals in isolated situations. However, they are provided with little information about how to do this across subject domains and different age groups. Therefore, an appropriate next step might be to do a more extensive literature review and compile this information into a format that could actually be used in schools.

Next semester, I will be required to complete a service learning project for one of my courses. This will be likely to involve presenting a lecture to members of my practicum school. Presenting information on how to enhance self-competence that is based on research, but formatted for teachers could be beneficial both to my research development and to the school.

Thinking further down the road, if the teachers find that this information is helpful, I might conduct an empirical study that addresses the effectiveness of this knowledge for students’ self-competence. This might involve classroom observations of teachers who use strategies for increasing self-competence to varying degrees, and then administering a self-perception evaluation to the students of these different classrooms. I might then analyze the student results to compare age, gender, cultural, and achievement level differences to determine for whom self-competence enhancers might be the most beneficial.

How Knowledge of Student Self-perceptions will Affect my Practice as a School Psychologist

As a future school psychologist, information about student perceptions of their ability is likely to be very important in my practice. A large part of the job involves identifying children who might be at risk for academic difficulty and preventing these problems. In other cases, I will be working with children who have existing problems at school, and I will need to recommend interventions for them. From the previous review of academic self-perceptions, it becomes evident that high self-competence will be important for these students to overcome their difficulties and improve their performance. However, it is also evident that the same types of interventions may not work for all of the students. Some students may prefer individual instruction, whereas others may prefer mixed- or ability-based group instruction. Therefore, it may be important to not only assess student achievement, but also their level of self-competence, and their preference for specific types of additional instruction. In addition, if I can help teachers to be able to identify students with low self-competence and also use strategies to create more positive self-perceptions, then this may decrease the number of students who are referred to me to begin with.























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Elbaum, B. E., Schumm, J. S., & Vaughn, S. (1997). Urban middle-elementary students' perceptions of grouping formats for reading instruction. The Elementary School Journal, 19(5), 475-500.

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Appendix A

Annotated References

Bong, M., & Skaalvik, E. M. (2003). Academic self-concept and self-efficacy: How different

are they really? Educational Psychology Review, 15(1), 1-40.


Self-efficacy (Bandura), self-concept (Rosenberg; Shavelson, Hubner, & Stanton). Self-concept has been criticized as being too global in nature, and does not correlate highly with achievement. In response to this, more recent self-concept research focuses domain specific self-concept, and this has been shown to have a stronger relationship with achievement. Self-concept is affected by frames of reference, causal attributions, reflected appraisals from significant others, mastery experiences, and psychological centrality. Self-efficacy is affected by enactive mastery experience, vicarious experience, verbal persuasion, and physiological reactions. “Like self-concept, self-efficacy is presumed to explain and predict one’s thought, emotion, and action. However, efficacy judgment is less concerned with what skills and abilities individuals possess. It considers more important what individuals believe they can do with whatever skills and abilities they may possess. Self-efficacy represents individuals’ expectations of and convictions of what they can accomplish in given situations. Self-efficacy researchers thus emphasize the role played by specific contexts in efficacy appraisals.”


Elbaum, B.E., Schumm, J.S., & Vaughn, S. (1997). Urban middle-elementary student’s

perceptions of grouping formats for reading instruction. The Elementary School Journal, 19(5), 475-500.


This article examined closely what I am interested in looking at. They gave middle elementary school children questionnaires asking about what types of reading groups they preferred, and what the costs and benefits were of the different types of groups. Their sample included a diverse group of children in an urban school. They identified and compared low-, middle-, and high-achieving students, and student with LD on how they felt about different types of reading groups. They found that across the board, student preferred to work in small, mixed-ability student groups and mixed-ability pairs. Students felt that this would benefit all students except for non-readers. Through in-class observations, the researchers found that although this was the grouping type that students preferred, it was not the one that was used primarily in the classroom. Students did appear to be sensitive to how different types of groups might affect their perceptions of themselves as a reader, but it was more important to them to be able to make improvements than to feel good about themselves in a group. This study was completed with middle elementary school students. I would be interested in looking at grouping perceptions of lower-elementary school students (first and second grade). This would be important because students’ first experiences with reading and grouping are likely to affect their future beliefs. Also, although the researchers strove to obtain a diverse sample of students, they did not examine the racial diversity or SES as independent measures. Because I am interested in cultural differences among students, this is something that I would have done. I wonder if racial minority students would prefer to work in mixed or same ability groups, and whether same-ability groups inadvertently pull together children of the same race and SES.

Harter, S. (1982). The perceived competence scale for children. Child Development, 53, 87-97.


This is a widely-used, valid measure of self-competence for children grade 2 and above. The scale is not broken down into subject areas, although different areas of self-competence are addressed (cognitive, physical, social, general self-worth). There is also a newer scale (1982) for younger children that uses pictures. There is not an extensive number of questions in each area, and the academic portion is very broad. Because of my specific interest in reading, I think that I would want to use a scale that was more specifically geared to reading as well.


Henk, W. A., & Melnick, S. A. (1995). The reader self-perception scale (RSPS): A new tool for

measuring how children feel about themselves as readers. The Reading Teacher, 48(6), 470-482.


Compared to Harter’s scale, the RSPS is certainly more specific to the task of reading. It is used to measure reading self-perception in intermediate level children. It contains 33 items that are broken into four scales (progress, observational comparison, social feedback, and physiological states). The test is designed for teacher implementation as a source of knowledge about how their students feel about themselves as readers. The idea is that teachers would attempt to improve the perceptions of children who score low, and for the test to be administered at multiple points to examine progress being made. There is another measure that can be used for younger students, called the ERAS (Elementary Reading Attitude Survey). However, I am not aware of a test that measures reading self-perception across the entire schooling process (but contains variations for different age groups). This would be interesting to use if I wanted to examine age differences in students.


Henk, W. A., & Melnick, S. A. (1998). Upper elementary-aged children’s reported perceptions

about good readers: A self-efficacy influenced update in transitional literacy contexts. Reading Research and Instruction, 38(1), 57-80.


This study sought to determine what factors upper elementary school (4th, 5th, and 6th grade) students use in determining what makes a “good reader”. The questions used were based on Bandura’s model of self-efficacy. In past research, the following things have been shown to influence reading ability judgments. Instructional emphases and events, classroom grouping and organizational patterns, socially situated learning, evaluation practices, teacher feedback, word recognition, word analysis, reading rate, comprehension, affective states, literacy orientations, developmental and cognitive stages. In all of this research, children surprisingly infrequently rate comprehension as the main basis for making judgments. Most of these studies also used an interview format. Research has also shown that instruction can influence children’s perceptions of reading ability indicators. Might this mean that if we want to enhance self-efficacy, we could try to stress the aspects of reading that children are good at, in an initial attempt to get them to be motivated? This study focused on upper-elementary school children because of failure to do so well in the past. With open-ended questions, isn’t there the chance that children do not display certain responses because simply do not think of them at the time, and not that this is truly not something they include in what makes a good reader? So if they were given options, and also asked to rate them, wouldn’t this allow for more accurate data collection? The importance in this case would be in truly offering all types of options that could exist for students to include. Also, with this push toward whole literacy and comprehension, doesn’t it still make sense that poor readers would report decoding as important because without being able to do this, they cannot become fluent, and therefore cannot comprehend as much? So why move the focus away from decoding?- or is the idea to not focus only on decoding, but also mesh it with comprehension skills, etc? The interview contained 25 questions. Students were first asked questions about others, and then more questions about their own abilities. Did the researchers have a chance to interview the students that all students seemed to identify as the best/worst readers in the class to compare these, or were the comparisons used in the analysis based on past performance and teacher judegments? The most frequently mentioned (2/3)category children reported made a good reader was word recognition. Other items that were highly mentioned (2/5)included teacher praise, reading rate, and teachers’ call upon patterns. I wonder if the call upon pattern is still influential if a teacher frequently calls on a student who is unable to give the correct answer? Should the teacher only call on students frequently for questions she knows they will be able to answer? Does this provide them with enough motivation to want to answer harder questions, or is that not important as long as their self-efficacy is higher as a result and affects their work in other ways? 1/3-amoutn of reading, word analysis, task/test performance. ¼- study/practice, task/test performance, grades, comprehension. 1/3-comprehension. 66% of children reported that their families opinions of their reading ability mattered the most to them. On the DIBELS might it be beneficial for tests for upper grades to also have a comprehension component? Is there? “Literacy environments should be based primarily on a non-competetive, mastery model in which groups are small, flexible, heterogeneous, and cooperative. In this dynamic context, children learn from and with each other. They engage in a variety of moderately difficult, open-ended tasks that result in a range of products. Many of the tasks are of their own choosing. Here evaluation is more private than public, and learning is incremental and self-paced rather than instrumental and norm-referenced. Multiple abilities are nurtured and valued, and improvement is expected for all children. In such a classroom, effort and strategy use are directly associated with literacy achievement. A constructive approach to learning exists such that errors are viewed as both natural and necessary, success can be accomplished in several ways, grades carry with them the opportunity for improvement, rewards are tied to work quality and progress, and children take responsibility for their learning. Collectively, the elements of such a big picture bear a strong resemblance to the tenets of a whole language philosophy of literacy learning.”


Ryan, R.M, & Deci, E.L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic

motivation, social development and well-being. American Psychologist, 1, 68-78.


This is a potential motivational theory in which to ground my work. They believe that self-competence, in conjunction with a sense of relatedness and autonomy foster intrinsic motivation, which is ideal for getting students to learn. By examining cultural differences, I might be able to get at the relatedness piece as well. If students of racial minority do not feel fully integrated in the classroom because they are being pulled-out or in groups of children either unlike them or in racially isolated groups, they may not experience high self-competence or relatedness. This would cause their intrinsic motivation to be low, and thus be likely to negatively affect their actual achievement.


Stipek, D. (1998). Motivation to learn: from theory to practice. Needham Heights:

Allyn and Bacon.


This book is an excellent source of general information about how self-perceptions relate to the bigger picture of competence. Chapter 6 (perceptions of ability) addresses this relationship in particular. Some of the things that affect perceptions include cognitive understandings of ability, effort, and competence, gender, age, normative evaluation, social comparisons, social reinforcement, and frame of reference. The frame of reference portion is of particular interest. Much like the Elbaum et al. piece, she discusses how different types of grouping affect ability perceptions. However, many of the studies cited here are from the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. I need to find more up-to-date studies, and perhaps a more extensive review of these older studies to use as a reference of the history of this work.


Stipek, D.J., & Mac Iver, D. (1989). Developmental change in children’s assessment of

intellectual competence. Child Development, 60, 521-538.


This article discusses how children’s perceptions of their intellectual/academic competence changes over age. Self-competence is very high in most preschool children. As children get older, self-perceptions tend to decline and become more aligned with their actual competence. Younger students do not make a distinction between social and academic competence. For example, because they cannot make these distinctions, they may believe they are very good at school tasks because they have a lot of friends. They also find it difficult to distinguish effort and ability. Therefore, they think that if one works hard, one is automatically more competent than someone who does not work as hard. As children age, the feedback they receive is often more relative to other students in the class, or more normative. Student responses to that feedback also become more tuned to the negative/constructive feedback with age. Previous experience with failure has less of a negative effect on younger students, and they also do not regard lack of improvement as a negative means of assessing themselves. Research is inconclusive concerning when students begin to effectively make social comparisons. (If it is not until later, then early elementary grouping would seemingly have no detrimental effects on students). They go on to discuss competence in older children as well. This is a good review piece for understanding how self-competence changes with age. They do mention that as questioning becomes more specific children are more likely to make differentiations between feedback, social comparisons, ability, etc.