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Stories of resilience, aspirations and learning in adolescent students

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posted on 13.01.2017, 01:15 authored by Mornane, Angela Mary
The purpose of this thesis is to understand how students perceive their learning and the ways they connect their learning to their future goals and aspirations. The study approached each student with the intention of seeking insights into the factors that influenced their decision making, their ability to self-regulate, their opinions, motivations, self-concept and understandings of the world around them. The study is also concerned with resilience and how people cope with personal adversity. However, it also sought to understand resilience in an academic context and looked at how students cope when facing difficulties with their learning. It therefore investigates what factors, internal and external to the school, facilitate or inhibit learning in adolescent students. This research is part of a wider project titled Influences on Students’ Learning Goals and Their Capacity for Self-regulation and uses the abbreviated title Student Self-regulation Project. This project evolved from the knowledge that over a period of time there has been a decrease in school engagement and increase in alienation among middle school students. The present project focused on the students’ perspective on learning and took the form of ten case studies of Year 8 students from schools in regional Victoria, Australia. There were five students from a Catholic secondary college and five students from a government secondary college that participated in the study. Both schools had a history of student disengagement in the middle school years. The six males and four female students were perceived by their teachers as having a range of achievement levels and had experienced varying degrees of adversity. The students participated in ten semi-structured interviews over a period of nine months. These forty minute interviews included semi-structured questions, drawings and other creative activities that prompted discussion from the participants. Classroom observations and teacher interviews were also conducted to increase validity of the data collection. The instruments were designed to examine connections between the student, the family, the school and the community informing the perspectives on resilience underpinning the research and it was found that the students were self-aware and able to express themselves and their ideas in a range of ways that contributed to the triangulation of the data. It became apparent the students’ perceptions of learning are complex – learning may be affected by a range of factors (internal and external) and these can be different for each student and in each subject. It would also appear that students who have supportive relationships with family, community, teachers and peers may be more likely to have higher levels of achievement and more likely to develop mastery orientations. These students seem to be able to self-regulate on a consistent basis, have positive self-concepts and were inclined to develop positive future goals. It would seem that the teacher’s knowledge of a student’s individual needs may be the most influential factor in providing effective outcomes. The Year 8 students wanted to know that what they were learning was relevant to their future lives but limited opportunities to discuss career pathways and individual subjects contributed to disengagement in particular subjects. This project sought to add to the growing body of literature on adolescent resilience by investigating the beliefs of young people in an academic context. It also aimed to find whether middle school students were able to set goals and have the capacity to self-regulate their learning behaviours. By achieving deeper understanding into the belief systems of adolescent students it is hoped that teachers, parents and communities may develop further insight into improving educational opportunities.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Peter Sullivan

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Education