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This study focuses on early adolescent motivation in school. It is an inquiry that seeks to understand the factors that contribute to students’ engagement in their learning through student and teacher perceptions. I examined significant research often cited as impacting motivation, including early adolescent development, middle school structures, transitions, student/teacher relationships, and parental involvement. I surveyed 345 sixth grade students on their perceptions of their own learning, thoughts, and behaviors. Participating students attended schools with various middle school age configurations, including K-8, K-12, 5-8, and 6-8. Schools represented public and charter public schools and were located in urban, suburban, and rural areas in Massachusetts. Based upon survey responses, I interviewed eight highly motivated students and eight low motivated students to further examine factors impacting their learning. These findings guided the development of a questionnaire to understand teachers’ perceptions of their students’ motivational and engagement levels and factors. Finally, I examined the relationship between cognitive neuroscience and early adolescent motivation. The results of the study show a number of factors impact motivation and engagement during the early adolescent years, specifically related to students’ experiences, thoughts, and behaviors. The most influential of these dynamics included transitions, learning experiences, teacher relationships, parent relationships, and stress, anxiety, and coping skills. Brain development research shows a clear relationship between the factors impacting motivation and the biological changes occurring in early adolescents. These findings direct a critical discussion of how school leaders can create learning environments to proactively address motivational and engagement issues often faced by early adolescents.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.



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