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Determinants of children's early social and academic school adjustment


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Hanzec, Ivana. (2016). Determinants of children's early social and academic school adjustment. PhD Thesis. Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu, Department of Psychology.
(Poslijediplomski doktorski studij psihologije) [mentor Kuterovac Jagodić, Gordana].

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Introduction Transition to primary school is one of the major developmental milestones in the child’s life which requires complex adjustment to new social and academic demands. Successfully meeting these early schooling demands is associated with future adjustment and educational progress, so it is important to explore the determinants of effective school transition and early school adjustment. Previous approaches to this problem included a multitude of partial models and conceptualizations. There is a lack of research, especially in Croatia, which simultaneously examine the role of various individual and contextual factors and their interaction in school adjustment. Therefore, the aim of this study was to examine if particular individual characteristics of children (cognitive and social-emotional) and characteristics of their family and school contexts during school transition, represent determinants of early social and academic school adjustment, to examine possible mechanisms by which they are associated with early school adjustment, and if these relationships are moderated by the child’s gender. The academic adjustment was conceptualized in terms of teachers’ assessment of students’ academic competence and students’ results on a knowledge test, and social adjustment was conceptualized in terms of students’ relationships with teachers and peers, and students’ perception of school and involvement in classroom activities. Assumed relations among study variables are shown in a model that has been developed and tested in the study. Methodology A preliminary study was conducted with 90 first grade children, 210 parents of first graders and 64 first grade teachers in order to translate the instruments that were not previously used in Croatian and to test their psychometric properties. In the main study, participants were 417 first grade students (202 girls and 215 boys) from 12 elementary schools, their parents (N = 372) and teachers (N = 34). Research design included three waves of data collection. Children solved a specific cognitive skills test (in the first wave of data collection), questionnaires about peer relationships and school liking, and a knowledge test (in the third wave of data collection). Parents filled in questionnaires about their involvement in the transition and their child’s social-emotional competence (in the first wave of data collection). Teachers estimated schools’ and their own readiness (in the first wave of data collection), and filled in questionnaires about their students’ attention (in the second wave of data collection), academic competence, involvement and their relationship with each student (in the third wave of data collection). Results The results showed that specific cognitive skills are more important for early social and academic school adjustment than children’s social-emotional competence, which significantly predicted only student-teacher relationship. However, its indirect effect on academic adjustment was significant, mediated by both student attention and different indicators of social adjustment, although these effects were small. Relationships that students form with their teachers and peers were significant predictors of students’ classroom involvement, through which they predicted academic adjustment, and social relationships in the classroom showed significant for prediction of school perception (e.g. school liking) as well. Contextual factors (parental involvement in the transition and ready school characteristics) were not significant predictors of students’ early social and academic school adjustment, nor were they significant moderators of the relationship between students’ individual characteristics and different indicators of early school adjustment. In general, patterns of relationships among studied variables showed to be equal for girls and boys. Discussion The results only partially support the hypotheses. Specific cognitive skills, as expected, were the best predictor of academic competence, while contrary to expectations, social-emotional competence, in the way it was defined and operationalized in this study, did not predict any of the measured early adjustment indicators except the student-teachers relationship, with specific cognitive skills taken into account. Consistent with attentional control theory (Eysenck et al., 2007) and differential emotions theory (Izard, 2009), attention mediated the relationship between social-emotional competence and academic adjustment, as did student-teacher relationship and student classroom involvement, as predicted by the early adjustment model by Birch and Ladd (1996). Contextual factors, in the way they were defined and operationalized in this study, showed no significance as predictors or moderators in the model, contrary to expectations based on previous research and ecological and dynamic model of transition (Rimm-Kaufman & Painta, 2000). Mostly equal patterns of relationships among studied variables for girls and boys point to the mainly universal importance of these variables in the early school adjustment of children of both gender. Possible explanations for study results are offered, along with suggestions for future research and potential practical implications of the obtained results.

Item Type: PhD Thesis
Uncontrolled Keywords: school transition, academic adjustment, social adjustment, social-emotional competence, specific cognitive skills, parental involvement in transition, ready schools
Subjects: Psychology > Razvojna psihologija
Departments: Department of Psychology
Supervisor: Kuterovac Jagodić, Gordana
Additional Information: Poslijediplomski doktorski studij psihologije
Date Deposited: 12 Sep 2016 11:22
Last Modified: 12 Sep 2016 11:22

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