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How to Educate Successful Latino Students

By — Diversity in Education Special Edition Contributor
Updated on May 17, 2010

The Latino population is the largest and fastest growing ethnic minority group in the United States (Bernstein, 2008) and, in 2006 over 9.98 million Latino youth were enrolled in schools throughout the U.S. (Pew Hispanic Center, 2008). Unfortunately, compared to all other ethnic groups, Latinos are less likely to finish high school (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008). One important factor that researchers have found to be related to success in school is academic motivation. The more academic motivation students have, the more likely they are to succeed in school (Anderson & Keith, 1997; Wentzel, 1998).

What Is Academic Motivation?

Academic motivation has been defined in many ways (Anderson & Keith, 1997; Goodenow & Grady, 1993; Gottfried, Fleming, & Gottfried, 2001; Linnenbrink & Pintrich, 2002; Wentzel, 1997):

  • Academic effort
  • Attendance
  • Educational aspirations
  • Enjoyment of learning
  • Importance placed on school
  • Perseverance
  • School conduct

Academic motivation is influenced by the relationships adolescents have with others (Goodenow & Grady; Linnenbrink & Pintrich). Specifically, parents and teachers have been found to have strong influences on students’ academic motivation (Harter, 1996; Matute-Bianchi, 1991; Newman, Lohman, Newman, Myers, & Smith, 2000; Wentzel).

The Importance of Parents and Teachers On Latino Academic Motivation

Parents and teachers may be especially important to consider among Latino students because the Latino culture is family oriented (Garcia-Preto, 1996; Sabogal, Marin, Otero-Sabogal, Marin, & Perez-Stable, 1987) and emphasizes the importance of extended family and relationships outside of the family (Cooper, 1999; Shweder et al., 1998).

In a recent study, my colleagues and I looked at how academic support from parents and teachers influenced Latino adolescents’ academic motivation (Alfaro, Umaña-Taylor, & Bámaca, 2006). We collected data from 324 9th and 10th grade Latino students in the Midwest. To measure academic support, we had students tell us if their mothers, fathers, teachers, and friends helped them with school and helped them make decisions about continuing their education. They also told us how motivated they were in school.

Results of Our Study on Latino Academic Motivation

We found that that academic support from teachers was important for both boys and girls, but we also found some differences for boys and girls.

  • Academic support from fathers was only important for boys. The more help boys reported from fathers, the higher their academic motivation.
  • Academic support from mothers was only important for girls. The more help girls reported from their mothers, the higher their academic motivation.
  • Academic support from teachers was important for both boys and girls. The more help boys and girls reported form their teachers the higher their academic motivation.
  • Academic support from friends did not influence boys’ or girls’ academic motivation.

These findings highlight the importance of teachers to Latino youth. By providing help to Latino students, teachers motivate them to succeed in school. We also recognize that parents influence their sons and daughters differently. Therefore, it is important for schools to work with both mothers and fathers. 

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