Midgley, Carol 1933-2001
Carol Midgley was born in 1933 and grew up on Long Island, New York. For her undergraduate education, she attended the University of Vermont, where she met her future husband, Rees. The couple moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1961, where they raised their three children. Carol Midgley devoted much time to volunteer work, particularly in education. She was an activist whose mission was to improve public schools. Her efforts led to the implementation of open classrooms and “small houses” in local elementary and middle schools; she later worked with other members of her community to create Community High School, a school designed to focus on the academic and socio-emotional need of early adolescents.
Midgley returned to graduate school in the 1980s and received her Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of Michigan in 1987. Her research focused on academic motivation during adolescence, with a particular emphasis on early adolescence. At Michigan, Midgley engaged incollaborative work with her mentor, Jacquelynne Eccles. They worked on a study designed to examine why women often opted out of studying mathematics, even when their performance was good. Midgley then worked on a large-scale study with Eccles, Allan Wigfield, and other colleagues, examining the transition from elementary school into middle school (MSALT—The Michigan Study of Adolescent Transitions). That study was originally designed to examine changes in expectancies and values in early adolescents as they transitioned from elementary school into middle school. It was the first studyof school transitions that examined both within-year and between-year changes in motivation. Results of the study indicated that students' expectancies and values do change as students move into middle school, and these changes are often in a negative direction. The focus on changes in expectancies and values of early adolescents across the transition countered the commonly held assumption that the observed drop in motivation was due to puberty.
Midgley and Eccles used stage-environment fit theory to explain these negative shifts in motivation. They argued that the environment in middle school was antithetical to the developmental needs of early adolescents, and that this mismatch between school environments and adolescents' needs contributed to the downward shift in motivation. As an example, they noted that early adolescents need cognitively challenging and interesting work, whereas the curricula that are presented in many middle schools are often repetitious and boring.
When later asked about Midgley's work on collaborative projects, Eccles noted that Midgley's involvement in all of these projects was critical: “We couldn't have done it without her.”
In 1989 Midgley accepted a position as a research scientist in the Combined Program in Education and Psychology at the University of Michigan. There, Midg-ley began a long collaboration with Martin Maehr and also began mentoring her own graduate students. At this time, Midgley became particularly interested in goal orientation theory. Her career shifted at this point as she dedicated much of her future work to her original interest in school reform.
Midgley and her colleagues first worked in elementary schools, helping teachers to focus instruction on mastery goals (i.e., effort, improvement, and self-comparisons). Midgley then received funding from the U. S. Department of Education to work with educators on school reform, using a goal theory approach. Along with Maehr and their graduate students, Midgley immersed herself in collaborative work with several elementary and middle schools in Michigan. The goal of these studies was for educators to examine the types of achievement goals that they foster in their students (i.e., mastery or performance goals), and then to work with those educators to change instructional practices, so that the focus of instruction would be on mastery rather than performance. This work was both arduous and inspiring; it resulted in many publications and a book co-authored with Maehr. The work demonstrated that goal theory could be used to effectively guide school reform, and that educators could change their practices to focus on mastery.
Midgley later received funding from the William T. Grant Foundation to study the development of achievement goals during adolescence. This longitudinal work examined changes in goals and goal structures, as well as the relations of these changes to adolescent well being. Midgley also received funding, with her colleague Julianne Turner, from the Spencer Foundation; that study examined students' avoidance beliefs and behaviors in mathematics classrooms before and after the transition into middle school. The study used both quantitative and qualitative methods to examine the effects of instructional practices on avoidance behaviors. Result of the study indicated that students displayed fewer avoidance behaviors (i.e., self-handicapping, avoidance of help-seeking) when students perceived a mastery goal structure in math classrooms.
Under Midgley's direction, she and her students developed the Patterns of Adaptive Learning Survey (PALS). The PALS is an instrument that measures personal goal orientations and classroom goal structures. The instrument is widely recognized in the field. It has been translated into several languages and used with many thousands of students across the world.
Midgley died in 2001. Her legacy lives on, as her work on adolescent motivation continues to influence both research and policy in the United States and abroad. She is arguably one of the most cited researchers in the field of academic motivation. She mentored a large group of graduate students who continue to pursue her goals of improving education for adolescents.
Eccles, J. S., & Midgley, C. (1989). Stage/environment fit: Developmentally appropriate classrooms for early adolescents. In C. Ames & R. Ames (Eds.), Research on motivation in education (Vol. 3, pp. 139–186). New York: Academic Press.
Maehr, M. L., & Midgley, C. (1996). Transforming school cultures. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Midgley, C. (Ed.). (2002). Goals, goal structures, and patterns of adaptive learning. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Midgley, C., & Edelin, K. (1998). Middle school reform and early adolescent well-being: The good news and the bad. Educational Psychologist, 33, 195–206.
Midgley, C., Feldlaufer, H., & Eccles, J. S. (1989). Change in teacher efficacy and student self- and task-related beliefs in mathematics during the transition to junior high school. Journal of Educational Psychology, 81, 247–258.
Midgley, C., Feldlaufer, H., & Eccles, J. S. (1989b). Student-teacher relations and attitudes toward mathematics before and after the transition to junior high school. Child Development, 60, 375–395.
Midgley, C., Kaplan, A., & Middleton, M. (2001). Performance-approach goals: Good for what, for whom, under what circumstances, and at what cost? Journal of Educational Psychology, 93, 77–86.
Midgley, C., Kaplan, A., Middleton, M., Urdan, T., Maehr. M. L., Hicks, L., et al. (1998). Development and validation of scales assessing students' achievement goal orientation. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 23, 113–131.
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