Date of Award

2012

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)

First Advisor

Jane King

Abstract

This dissertation was designed to explore the transition of a group of ninth-grade students into a large rural upstate South Carolina high school. The primary focus was to ascertain the students' levels of academic intrinsic motivation toward English, math, science, history, and their general orientation toward school learning, and to explore those freshman academy experiences that the students felt most directly impacted these attributes. The freshman academy at this school was implemented in 2006 as a district initiative to strengthen the transition to high school and ultimately increase the graduation rate.

This was a mixed methods case study in which the researcher sought to gain insight into the students' academic intrinsic motivation toward subject areas as well as their general motivational orientation. Data were measured quantitatively by administering the Children's Academic Intrinsic Motivation Inventory (CAIMI) to a group of current ninth graders enrolled in the freshman academy at a South Carolina high school.

The students' scale scores on the CAIMI measured their levels of motivation across five subscales--English, math, science, history, and general orientation toward school learning. Qualitatively, the researcher conducted three student focus groups, four teacher interviews (one teacher from each of the four subject areas), and an administrator interview with the assistant principal in charge of the freshman academy. Additionally, the researcher conducted a review of the written descriptions of the freshman academy.

The results from this study led the researcher to conclude that the students, teachers, and administrator perceived the overall impacts of the freshman academy on ninth-grade transition as positive and supportive, thus easing the transitional challenges of its students from middle school to high school. All participant categories perceived the academy's structure and program design to have diminished the possible deleterious effects of the academic, procedural, and social challenges experienced by the students as they transitioned to high school. All participant categories perceived the teachers to be primary motivational sources for their students. Students indicated that, although this impact had been mostly positive for them as learners, in some cases, the teachers' impact had been to decrease their desire to learn. CAIMI subscale scores were low in all four subject areas, as well as toward school learning in general. This indicated a possible disconnect between what the teachers did to motivate their students to learn, and what the students perceived as motivating. The researcher's recommendations were for the school to assess the motivation levels of their incoming freshmen and to use this data to guide them in design and implementation of their instructional programs and schedules. In addition, the school should develop and implement professional development on intrinsic motivation theory and practical implications for the classroom teachers.