Students face many adjustments in school. From year to year, there are changes in teachers, classrooms, school and class rules and procedures, performance expectations, difficulty of the work, and peers. Their successes in negotiating these challenges predict school success.
School adjustment has been construed historically in terms of children’s academic progress or achievement (Birch & Ladd, 1996). This outcome is important, but being very limited it narrows the search for precursors and events in children’s environments that may affect adjustment. On a broader level, we might think of adjustment as involving not only children’s progress and achievement but also their attitudes toward school, anxieties, loneliness, social support, and academic motivation (e.g., engagement, avoidance, absences) (Birch & Ladd, 1996; Roeser, 1998; Roeser et al., 1998).
Investigators have argued that interpersonal relationships affect children’s academic motivation (Newman, 2000). Connell and Wellborn (1991) contended that involvement, or the quality of a student’s relationships with peers and teachers, is a powerful motivator. Ryan and Powelson (1991) noted that school learning can be promoted by learning contexts that enhance student involvement with others. Research shows that children’s loneliness and social dissatisfaction relate negatively to school achievement (Galanaki & Kalantzi-Azizi, 1999).
Researchers are increasingly studying the role of friendships, or voluntary reciprocal relationships between two children (Berndt, 1999; Birch & Ladd, 1996). Research by Ladd and his colleagues supports the proposition that friendships affect motivation and achievement (Birch & Ladd, 1996; Ladd, 1990; Ladd & Kochenderfer, 1996). Friendships support children in the school environment and assist with their adjustment (Newman, 2000). Students with a friend in the classroom can use that peer as a source of support to deal with problems and avoid becoming lonely. Friends show consistent similarities on many motivational measures including perceptions of competence, importance of meeting academic standards, and preference for challenges (Altermatt & Pomerantz, 2003).
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