Attributional Styles of Children
In Transition From Elementary School
To Junior High School
 
 
 

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Links:

  Abstract

    Introduction

  Method

 Results

 Discussion

 References
 
 
 
 
 
 

Abstract

     The current study investigates the attributional styles of children in transition from elementary school to junior high school.  Children undergo many changes, aside from entering a new school during this time period.  At the sixth and seventh grade levels, children are also experiencing physical, social, and psychological changes in their lives, along with higher demands in all these areas.  These changes can have significant impacts on students’ self-concepts and self-esteem.  The present study hypothesized that children in elementary school will experience a decrease in positive attributional styles after the transition from elementary school to junior high school.  The current study consisted of a total of nine male and female sixth grade students from Millis, Massachusetts in the spring of 2000.  It also consists of the same sample of students in the fall of 2000, following the transition from elementary school to junior high school.  The Children’s Attributional Style Questionnaire by Martin E.P. Seligman (1995) was used.    Children in elementary school exhibited a decrease in their overall positive attributional styles following the transition to junior high school.  A recommendation for further research is use of a larger subject pool.

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Introduction

    The transition from elementary school to junior high school occurs at a time that is quite confusing for a child.  Many changes aside from school are taking place at this age.  Children are experiencing social, psychological, and physical changes while this transition is occurring, along with higher demands in nearly every situation they encounter.  Some of the changes the child will encounter include having seven different teachers instead of that one, comforting face; instead of one continuous day, there will now be six or seven different periods, about forty minutes in length; the students will have numerous homework assignments to keep track of every night; and there will be new subjects as well as new classmates to get to know (Hartman, 1996).
    Different theorists have proposed that these changes can have significant impacts on students’ self-esteem and self-concepts.  These terms, self-esteem and self-concept, refer to how a person views himself or herself.  A child’s self-esteem has to do with his or her feelings of worth.  It looks at how much the child senses his or her attributes and actions as being good, desired, and valued.  The child’s self-concept is the perceptions, conceptions, and values that the child holds about himself or herself (Mitchell, McCauley, Burke, & Moss, 1988).  Self-esteem and self-concept are two factors that greatly underlie a person’s attributional style.
     According to Abramson, Seligman, & Teasdale (1978), attributions are defined as a person’s typical explanations about the causes of events.  There are three dimensions along which they vary.  The first of these is the internal-external attribution, which is the degree to which a person views a cause as being due to something about himself or herself or the environment.  The second dimension is the stable-unstable attribution, which is the degree to which a person sees the cause as being permanent or temporary.  Finally, the third dimension is the global-specific attribution, which is the extent to which a person sees the cause as being specific to a particular situation or occurring in all situations.  Children view their world in many different lights.  However, optimism is regarded as a normal and natural personality attribute (Yates & Yates, 1995).
     An optimistic child looks at the world in a positive way.  This child hopes for and usually expects the best out of most situations.  According to Yates and Yates (1995), optimism can be defined as the belief that positive events outweigh negative events.  A child, who is optimistic about performance on a test because of hours of studying, is making a positive attribution.  This child is saying that he or she believes the test will reflect the hard work that was put into preparing for it.  This is optimism in relation to attributional style.  A child who exhibits pessimism may be at risk for some emotional problems immediately, or later in life.
    Seligman has been involved with much research on the topic of children and the ways in which they view themselves and the world around them.  One of his studies examines the relationship between attributional style and depressive symptoms among children.  According to this study, depressive symptoms are associated with a style that involves the child explaining negative events by internal, stable, and global causes.  This study found that children who explained negative events in this manner were more likely to report depressive symptoms than were those children who attributed the negative events to external, unstable, and specific causes (Alramson, Alloy, Kaslow, Peterson, Seligman, & Tanenbaum, 1984).  This study explains the association, but it does not explore any reasons as to why children may develop these negative attributional styles that, in turn, may lead to depressive symptoms.  Due to this fact, further research is necessary in order to understand, perhaps, from where these different attributional styles originate.  It is necessary to note that the participants in this study were children between the ages of eight and thirteen, right around the time a child makes some heavy transitions in his or her life, especially in school.
     Students’ self-concepts were examined in a study conducted by Eccles and Lord (1994).  They found that students’ positive self-concepts, both in academic and social areas, proved to be important in creating a positive adjustment throughout the transition from elementary school to junior high school.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, they found that a negative self-concept in these same areas was detrimental to the adjustment.  These findings highlight the crucial point that self-concept may play an extremely significant role in whether or not the child’s transition from elementary school to junior high school has a positive or negative effect on that child’s attributional styles.  Further research is needed in order to examine this point.
    The stress encountered by a child during this transition has also been examined.  Fenzel (2000) proposed an integrative model of the process of stress in early adolescence during the transition period from elementary school to junior high school.  This prospective study found that student role strain (both peer and school work), led to negative changes in feelings of self-worth, both socially and academically related.  It also found that this role strain leads to negative changes in social support from friends, families, and teachers.
    This study provides insight into self-esteem issues among children in the transition from elementary school to junior high school.  Self-esteem is an important factor in creating a positive attributional style.  It is a confidence and satisfaction within oneself, a factor that goes hand in hand with how a person may attribute his or her successes and failures.
    The stress encountered by a child in this transition can lead to significant differences in academic achievement, as was found in some research performed by Alspaugh (1998).  He discovered that there was a statistically significant achievement loss associated with the transition from elementary school to junior high school at sixth grade.  This loss may be associated with a number of factors.  For example, junior high school tends to focus more on performance.  Furthermore, there is less of a bond formed between the teacher and the student in junior high school because the student is changing classes throughout the day.  In elementary school, on the other hand, the child never switches classes, and as a result, most likely formed a closer bond with his or her teacher.  Another finding in this study is that there is a decline in student self-perception and self-esteem associated with the transition from elementary school to junior high school (Alspaugh, 1998).
     Alspaugh’s findings are significant in terms of further research, because perhaps these decreases in achievement can be tested in terms of how the students view them.  For example, do the students attribute these declines to themselves, or to external factors?  This question was not examined in this study.
Contrary to these findings, Choi and Proctor (1994) found some different results in their study.
    The topic being examined for the current study poses the following question:  is there a difference in attributional styles among children in the transition from elementary school to junior high school?  As can be seen from the literature previously reviewed, children in elementary school typically display optimism, positive self-concepts, and high self-esteem, all aspects that combine to form a positive attributional style.  It is hypothesized, then, that these positive attributional styles will decrease and the child’s attributional style will then exhibit more negativity following the transition from elementary school to junior high school.
 

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Method

Participants

    This study consisted of male and female sixth grade students from Millis, Massachusetts in the spring of 2000.  These students, being in sixth grade, were in their last year of elementary school, about to make the transition to junior high school.  It also consisted of the same sample of students in the fall of 2000.  At this time, in the fall of 2000, these students had already made the transition from elementary school to junior high school.

Materials

    The instrument used in this study was the Children’s Attribution Style Questionnaire (CASQ) by Martin E.P. Seligman (1995) (see appendix A).  This is a forty-eight question questionnaire, and is written so that a child will be able to easily understand the questions.  Written instructions from the researcher were administered with the survey (see appendix A), telling the participants to circle the response that best describes how he or she would react in the given situation.  An example of a question from Seligman’s questionnaire is:  You play a game with your friends and you win,       A)  The people that I played with did not play the game well, B)  I play that game well. This same questionnaire was distributed twice over the course of this study, once in the spring of 2000, and once in the fall of 2000.

Procedure

    Parental consent forms and child consent forms were distributed to each participant and his or her parents (see appendix B).  After having signed and returned both forms, the CASQ was randomly administered to sixth grade students from Millis, Massachusetts in the spring of 2000.  The questionnaire was explained to the participants in full detail by the researcher, and they were given a set of written instructions for clarification.  The participants were then asked to fill out the CASQ.  There was no time limit for this questionnaire.
In the fall of 2000, parental consent forms and child consent forms were administered once again to the participants and their parents (see appendix B).    The same participants were then given the same questionnaire, CASQ, at this time.  Once again, the questionnaire was explained to the participants in full detail by the researcher, and the participants were given a set of written instructions for clarification.  Following both administrations, the questionnaires were collected and put in an envelope all together for reasons of confidentiality.  The participants then received debriefing statements at the end of the final testing period (see appendix B).
 

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Results

     Data analysis was conducted in four phases, looking at the results of the Children’s Attributional Style Questionnaire (CASQ).  First a paired samples t-test was computed to examine the overall attributional style scores of test one and test two. Second, a paired samples t-test was run to examine the first sublevel, internal-external attributional style, scores of test one and test two.  Third, a paired samples t-test was run to examine the second sublevel, stable-unstable attributional style, scores of test one and test two.  Finally, a fourth paired samples t-test was run to examine the third sublevel, global-specific attributional style, scores of test one and test two.
    The alpha level of p<0.05 was used for any findings of statistical significance throughout these four phases of the paired samples t-tests.  Statistical significance was found in the first paired samples t-test, t(7)=-2.392, p=0.048, run on the results of the overall attributional styles of the children from the first distribution of the questionnaire and the second distribution of the questionnaire.  There was not statistical significance found in the second paired samples t-test, t(7)=-0.344, p=0.741, which looked at the sublevel of internal-external attributions.  There was also no statistical significance found in the third paired samples t-test, t(7)=-0.753, p=0.476, which looked at the sublevel of stable-unstable attributions.  Finally, statistical significance was not found in the fourth paired samples t-test, t(7)=-1.825, p=0.111, which looked at the sublevel of global-specific attributions (see table 1).

Table 1.

T-Test for Equality of Means for the Children’s Attributional Style Questionnaire Scales
 
 
t-values
df
Sig. (2-tailed)
 
Pair 1 Test1 overall-
Test 2 overall 
-2.392
7
.048
 
Pair 2 Test 1 in-ex-
Test 2 in-ex 
-.344
7
.741
 
Pair 3 Test 1 st-un-
Test 2 st-un 
-.753
7
.476
 
Pair 4 Test 1 gl-sp-
Test 2 gl-sp
-1.825
7
.111
 
         

Note.  Pair 1 = overall attributional style results of the CASQ, pair 2 = internal-external attributional style results of the CASQ, pair 3 = stable-unstable attributional style results of the CASQ, pair 4 = global-specific attributional style results of the CASQ.

The means and standard deviations were calculated as well for all four tests (see table 2).

Table 2.

Mean Statistics for Scales of the Children’s Attributional Styles Questionnaire
 
N Mean Standard Deviation
Pair 1  Test 1 overall
-Test 2 overall
-2.8750 3.3991
Pair 2  Test 1 in-ex-
Test 2 in-ex 
8 -.2500 2.0529
Pair 3  Test 1 st-un-
Test 2 st-un 
8 -.3750 1.4079
Pair 4  Test 1 gl-sp-
Test 2 gl-sp
8 -.8750 1.3562

Note.  Pair 1 = overall attrbutional style results of the CASQ.  Pair 2 = internal-external attributional style results of the CASQ, pair 3 = stable-unstable attributional style results of the CASQ, pair 4 = global-specific attributional style results of the CASQ.

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Discussion

     The purpose of this study was to examine the attributional styles of children experiencing the transition from elementary school to junior high school.  This study examined four levels of attributional style.  The first level was the overall attributional style, which is a combination of the scores of the other three sublevels.  These three sublevels include internal-external attributional style, stable-unstable attributional style, and global-specific attributional style.  The Children’s Attributional Style Questionnaire (CASQ) (Seligman, 1995) was ideal for the purpose of this study.  It provided clear and concise data for the researcher to examine.  The results calculated in this study show that there was significance in one area, overall attributional style, but not in the other three.
    A significant decrease was found in the children’s overall positive attributional style following the transition from elementary school to junior high school.  This, in turn, caused an increase in the children’s overall negative attributional style.  This finding supports the original hypothesis that children’s positive attributional styles will decrease and their attributional styles will then exhibit more negativity following the transition from elementary school to junior high school.  It is important to note that one set of scores from one participant were omitted before carrying out the results for this study because they were very extreme.  These results were causing the scores to be extremely skewed in one direction.  Upon omitting this one score, the results were more even and could then be run in a more precise manner.
    The fact that significance was found in the overall attributional style allows one to consider the possibility of this drop in positive attributional styles as being due to such a difficult transition.  The previous studies that have been conducted in this area, as were explored in the introduction to the present study, found similar results of this transition causing some sort of turmoil to a child.  For example, the study performed by Eccles and Wigfield (1994) found a significant drop in children’s general self-esteem following the transition.  Furthermore, Fenzel (2000) found that stress in general, leads to negative changes in feelings of self-worth.  The present study adds to this idea because it proposes the fact that attributional styles are negatively influenced by the transition as well.
     This study encountered some difficulties that may have influenced the results somewhat.  Originally the study was supposed to consist of at least twenty participants.  Unfortunately, eleven, which was more than half of the participants, withdrew from the study after the first administration of questionnaire was collected, and before the second one was distributed.  This is a problem that could have been simply a result of working with children of such a young age group.  These children were asked to sign a consent form, separate from the one their parents had signed.  The child consent form told them that they were permitted to withdraw from the study at any time if they felt it was necessary.  This probably should have only been written in the parental consent form for several reasons.  First of all, children of this age group are not used to having a choice put down in front of them that they can make on their own.  After completing the first questionnaire, which, on average, took them approximately twenty to thirty minutes, the child had most likely come to a conclusion about his or her feelings towards this questionnaire.  It is quite lengthy for a child of that age, and it requires quite a bit of reading and attention span in order for the child to complete it.  Simply put, most children would rather be out playing.  All of these factors combined may have caused the child to make a decision that he or she did not want to complete this questionnaire a second time, and therefore, he or she withdrew from the study, not realizing the importance each child held as an individual.  Advice for future studies that may encounter this type of situation would be to avoid this situation by only granting permission for the student to withdraw from a study in the parental consent form.  It would also be useful for future studies to begin with a larger sample size in case something like this occurred because it is always better to have too many participants than not enough.
     The findings in the present study indicate that there is, indeed a negativity encountered by students at this time in their lives, a negativity, which could influence learning.  It is essential to try and change this problem so as to benefit future generations in their strive for the ideal education.  Programs to ease the transition from elementary school to junior high school may be beneficial to solving, or at least assisting with this problem.  This study could be carried out one step further by implementing a transitional program for children, and then testing whether or not a significant difference may be seen in the students’ attributional styles.  Such programs may include field trips to the new school with tours.  The sixth grade students could be brought to the junior high school sometime towards end of the school year.  They would be with all their classmates and teachers, which would ensure that comfort factor, and, at the same time, they would be able to experience the new atmosphere.  Another possibility for this program would be to have teachers from the junior high school come to the elementary school around this same time and talk to the students.  The students could ask the questions about their fears and uncertainties, which could ease some of the worries and apprehensions that the children typically encounter.  Perhaps some junior high students could even accompany their teachers and talk to the students in small groups.  This would allow the elementary students to realize that the older children are not all "bullies" like they might have heard on previous occasions, and that they actually experienced the same feelings these students are going through, not too long ago.
     Of course, like any new situation encountered, the students are going to experience some level of anxiety and discomfort upon entering junior high school.  However, it is important to keep these levels of stress as low as possible so as to avoid having them lead to decreases in positive attributional styles.
Testing the effectiveness of implementation of transitional programs upon children in transition from elementary school to junior high school would be an interesting study to examine.  Taking the results of the present study, along with those of previous studies that show that there is, indeed a negativity associated with this transition, and then applying them to a new study looking at the effects such programs may have on a child, could prove to be very useful for future generations.
 

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References

     Abramson, L.Y., Alloy, L.B., Kaslow, N.J., Peterson, C., Seligman, M.E., & Tanenbaum, R.L., (1984).  Attributional style and depressive symptoms among children.  Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 93(2).  235-238.
    Abramson, L.Y., Seligman, M.E., & Teasdale, J.D. (1978).  Learned helplessness in humans:  Critique and reformulation.  Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 37, 49-74.
    Alspaugh, J. (1998).  Achievement loss associated with the transition to middle school and high school.  Journal of Educational Research, 92(1). 20-26.
     Choi, H. & Proctor, T. (1994).  Effects of transition from elementary school to junior high school on early adolescents’ self-esteem and perceived competence.  Psychology in the Schools, 31(4). 319-327.
     Eccles, J.S., Iver, D.M., Midgley, C., Reuman, D.A, & Wigfield, A., (1991).  Transitions during early adolescence: changes in children’s domain-specific self-perceptions and general self-esteem across the transition to junior high school.  Developmental Psychology, 27(4). 552-565.
    Eccles, J.S., Lord, S.E., & McCarthy, K.A. (1994).  Surviving the junior high school transition:  family processes and self-perceptions as protective and risk factors.  Journal of Early Adolescence, 14(2). 162-200.
    Eccles, J. & Wigfield, A. (1994).  Children’s competence beliefs, achievement values, and general self-esteem.  Journal of Early Adolescence, 14(2). 107-139).
     Fenzel, L. (2000).  Prospective study of changes in global self-worth and strain during the transition to middle school.  Journal of Early Adolescence, 20(1). 93-117.
     Hartman, S., (1996).  Smoothing the bumps to middle school.  Christian Science Monitor, 88(186). 12.
    Mitchell, J., McCauley, E., Burke, P.M., & Moss, S.J. (1988).  Phenomenology of depression in children and adolescents.  Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 27, 12-20.
     Seligman, M.E., (1995).  The Optimistic Child, New York, NY:  Houghton Mifflin Company.
     Yates, S. & Yates, G. (1995).  Explanatory style, ego-orientation and primary school mathematics achievement.  Educational Psychology, 15(1). 23-35.
 
 
 

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