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
- Educational aspirations
- Enjoyment of learning
- Importance placed on school
- 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.
Keeping Latino Youth Motivated Through High School Graduation Is Difficult
Our study followed students only through 10th grade, but it is important to ensure that Latino youth graduate from high school. Academic motivation has been found to decline as adolescents go through school (Chouinard, Vezeau, & Bouffard, 2008; Gottfried et al., 2001). Some researchers believe that drops in academic motivation may be a result of changes in adolescents’ relationships with others (Eccles, Lord, & Midgley, 1991; Eccles et al., 1993). Specifically, as adolescents try to establish their independence, they may seek out less support from their parents and teachers. If this is the case, following Latino students throughout high school can help us see if there is a long-term connection between academic support from parents and teachers and academic motivation. A better understanding of academic motivation for Latino students will help in developing intervention and prevention programs that keep Latino students motivated to succeed in high school.
While we wait for the development of prevention and intervention programs, Latino parents can take some simple steps at home to help motivate their adolescents:
- Provide help with school work.
- Show your children that you care about their education.
- Provide advice about school.
- Encourage your children to continue their education beyond high school.
- Help your children make educational plans.
These are important steps for both mothers and fathers to take because moms and dads influence their sons and daughters differently.
Alfaro, E. C., Umaña-Taylor, A. J., & Bámaca, M. Y. (2006). The influence of academic support on Latino adolescents’ academic motivation. Family Relations, 55, 279-291.
Anderson, E. S., & Keith, T. Z. (1997). A longitudinal test of a model of academic success for at-risk high school students. Journal of Educational Research, 90, 259-268.
Bernstein, R. (2008, May). U.S. Hispanic population surpasses 45 million: Now 15 percent of total. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/releases/archives /population/011910.html
Chouinard, R., Vezeau, C., & Bouffard, T. (2008). Coeducational or single-sex school: Does it make a difference on high school girls’ academic motivation? Educational Studies, 34, 129-144.
Cooper, C. R., Denner, J., & Lopez, E. M. (1999). Cultural brokers: Helping Latino children on pathways toward success. The Future of Children: When School is Out, 9, 51-57.
Eccles, J. S., Lord, S., & Midgley, C. (1991). What are we doing to early adolescents? The impact of educational context on early adolescents. American Journal of Education, 99, 521-542.
Eccles, J.S., Wigfield, A., Midgley, C., Reuman, D., MacIver, D., & Feldlaufer, H. (1993). Negative effects of traditional middle schools on students’ motivation. The Elementary School Journal, 93, 553- 574.
Garcia-Preto, N. (1996). Latino families: An overview. In M. McGoldrick, J. Giordano, & J. K. Pearce (Eds.), Ethnicity and family therapy (2nd ed., pp. 141–154). New York: The Guilford Press.
Goodenow, C., & Grady, K. E. (1993). The relationship of school belonging and friends’ values to academic motivation among urban adolescent students. Journal of Experimental Education, 62, 60-71.
Gottfried, A. E., Fleming, J. S., & Gottfried, A. W. (2001). Continuity of academic intrinsic motivation from childhood through late adolescence: A longitudinal study. Journal of Educational Psychology, 93, 3-13.
Harter, S. (1996). Teacher and classmate influences on scholastic motivation, self-esteem, and level of voice in adolescents. In J. Juvonen & K. R. Wentzel (Eds.), Social motivation: Understanding children’s school adjustment (pp. 11-65). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Linnenbrink, E. A., & Pintrich, P. R., (2002). Motivation as an enabler for academic success. School Psychology Review, 31, 313-327.
Matute-Bianchi, M. E. (1991). Situational ethnicity and patterns of school performance among immigrant and nonimmigrant Mexican-descent students. In M. A. Gibson & J. U. Ogbu (Eds.), Minority status and schooling: A comparative study of immigrant and involuntary minorities (pp. 205-248). New York: Garland Publishing, Inc.
Newman, B. M., Lohman, B. J., Newman, P. R., Myers, M. C., & Smith, V. L. (2000). Experiences of urban youth navigating the transition to ninth grade. Youth & Society, 31, 387-416.
Pew Hispanic Center (January 2008). School enrollment by race and ethnicity: 2000 and 1006. Statistical Portrait of Hispanics in the United States, 2006. Retrieved from http://pewhispanic.org/files/factsheets/hispanics2006/Table-23.pdf
Sabogal, F., Marin, G., Otero-Sabogal, R., Marin, B. V., & Perez-Stable, E. J. (1987). Hispanic familism and acculturation: What changes and what doesn’t? Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 9, 397-412.
Shweder, R. A., Goodnow, J., Hatano, G., LeVine, R. A., Markus, H., & Miller, P. (1998). The cultural psychology of development: One mind, many mentalities. In W. Damon (Series Ed.) & R. Lerner (Vol. Ed.), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 1. Theoretical models of human development (pp. 865-937). New York: John Wiley & Sons.
U.S. Census Bureau, (2008, December). Educational Attainment by Race and Hispanic Origin: 1960 to 2007. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/tables/ 09s0221.pdf
Wentzel, K. R. (1997). Student motivation in middle school: The role of perceived pedagogical caring. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89, 411-419.
Wentzel, K. R. (1998). Social relationships and motivation in middle school: The role of parents, teachers, and peers. Journal of Educational Psychology, 90, 202-209.