Development of Self-Concept in Diverse Students
An individual’s self-concept is the complex product of all life’s experiences (Christensen & Dahle, 1998). During the elementary and middle school years, students develop a sense of independence; they learn to cope with feelings of jealousy, fear, and aggression; and they form friendships and develop empathy (Kostelnik, Stein, Whiren, & Soderman, 1998). Each of these social areas seems to be universal across cultures, although they may be expressed differently in various societies (Ekman & Davidson, 1994).
Independence and Responsibility
As elementary and middle school students develop cognitively and socially, they become better able to plan solutions to problems and to understand the social environment. They are more and more able to act independently. Students usually try to be independent when they find an opportunity to do so. Teachers reward positive attempts to be independent. When time is short, many teachers do not value student independence enough to provide the extra time needed for independent planning and decision making. Sometimes students’ attempts result in unsafe or disruptive behavior. When students’ independent attempts do not work, teachers assist them and guide them in learning from their mistakes (Macoby & Masters, 1970). But when help is given too quickly, it reinforces dependency, frustration, and sometimes aggression or withdrawal.
Students become independent when they are expected to be responsible (Quilty, 1975). For example, putting away materials when one is finished using them and keeping things in one’s own locker both demonstrate responsibility. Expectations of responsibility are best met when accompanied with reasons. A teacher might demonstrate the benefit of being responsible by saying, “The scissors and stapler you need are on that shelf. It’s nice that the last person who used them returned them to where they belong because now everyone can easily find them when they need them.” Students may work responsibly on a task, but they often start, then stop and attend to something else, then return to what they were working on, and so on. Teachers should recognize and reward efforts at responsibility. Independence and responsibility depend on one another. Students from various cultural backgrounds can be expected to display independence and responsibility differently. For example, students from Asian backgrounds often assume responsibility for tasks and carry them out well but might not be as likely to organize others to do a task unless the teacher indicates permission to do so (Scarcella, 1980). These students are demonstrating respect for the teacher in a manner they have learned through their personal cultural experiences. Teachers help students develop independence and responsibility by (1) planning carefully, (2) anticipating difficulties, (3) giving clear directions, and (4) providing outlines of suggested procedures. Expecting and encouraging responsibility and independent behavior show respect for students as individuals who are in the process of growing up.
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