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Prof. Dr. Florence Myles (University of Essex, United Kingdom)

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Socio-cognitive development in middle childhood and its impact on attitudes and motivation towards learning a foreign language in primary school

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It has been widely reported that young learners are enthusiastic about learning foreign languages in primary school (Cable et al., 2010; Martin 2012), but that this enthusiasm usually wanes with age post primary (Chambers, 1999; Hunt et al., 2005). The reason for this enthusiasm and its subsequent decrease, however, remain relatively little understood, and some studies have actually found an increase in motivation at the onset of secondary schooling (Graham et al., 2016). A range of reasons have been put forward, but it can be difficult to tease apart what is due to the chronological/developmental age of the learners, and what is due to contextual factors such as length of learning the foreign language or the teaching methods used with different age groups (Martin, 2012; Tierny & Gallastegi, 2011).

 

The study reported here compared beginner primary school children’s attitudes and motivation towards learning French in the classroom at two different ages (5/6 and 7/8-year old), in a setting where other variables, such as the context of learning, teacher and teaching style, as well as background of the children (socio-economic; geopolitical; cultural etc.), have been kept constant. Two intact classes (n=53) took part in focus groups and one-to-one interviews exploring children’s attitudes and motivation during the course of a wider longitudinal project investigating the role of age in early classroom learning.

 

Results show that changes in attitudes and motivation occur earlier than previously reported, and that there are notable differences between 5/6- and 7/8-year.olds, even when contextual factors are kept constant. Important developmental changes in middle childhood in terms of thoughts and beliefs systems lead to differences in attitudes. Children’s affective relationship to the learning process also evolves, with a shift from enjoyment and rewards being primary drivers of motivation, to the emergence of more instrumental motives. Children exhibit differences in levels of self-regulation, self-efficiacy and thought and beliefs frames which had a direct impact on their attitudinal and motivational profiles (Bartram 2010; Del Giudice, 2018; Robson, 2006; Ryan and Deci, 2017).

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