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Self-concept, self-esteem and academic achievement: strategies for maintaining self-esteem in students experiencing academic failure

Abstract

Previous research into the relationship between self-esteem and academic achievement shows that despite differences in academic self-evaluation, students’ global self-representations do not differ as a result of their grades at school. In this study, we will analyse the strategies that underachievers used to maintain their self-esteem at an acceptable level. The participants were 955 adolescents in the 7th, 9th and 11th grades at four secondary schools in Lisbon. Three hundred fifty-two of these students had retaken a year at least once in their school careers, whilst 603 had never done so. We collected the data using both a self-concept scale and a scale for evaluating attitudes towards school. Results show that self-esteem is maintained through positive self-representations in non-academic facets of self-concept and/or by devaluing school-related competences. They also show that younger students are less likely to maintain self-esteem by devaluing the school experience.

Résumé

Les travaux de recherche sur la relation entre l’estime de soi et les résultats scolaires montrent que les élèves ayant réussite scolaire ne présentent pas des autoreprésentations globales plus positives que les élèves en situation d’échec, malgré le fait que leurs autoreprésentations académiques soient différentes. Dans cette étude nous avons analysé les stratégies que les élèves en situation d’échec scolaire utilisent pour maintenir l’estime de soi dans des niveaux acceptables. Dans cette recherche ont participé 955 adolescents du 7ème, 9ème et 11ème années de scolarité, de quatre écoles d’enseignement secondaire de Lisbonne. De ceux ci, 352 ont redoublé au moins une fois dans leur passée scolaire, tandis que 603 n’ont jamais redoublé. Pour recueillir les données nous avons utilisé une échèle pour évaluer le concept de soi et une autre pour évaluer les attitudes par rapport à l’école. Les résultats montrent que les élèves maintiennent leur estime de soi à travers des autoreprésentations positives dans des domaines non-académiques du concept de soi et/ou à travers la dévalorisation des compétences associés à l’école. Les résultats mettent, aussi, en évidence que chez les élèves plus jeunes l’estime de soi n’est pas maintenue à travers des stratégies qui font appel à une dévalorisation de l’expérience scolaire.

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Notes

  1. Here, we used gender and grade as independent variables in order to look for possible interaction effects with academic success. We are not concerned with the main effects of these variables and we will not report them.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by grants from the Science and Technology Foundation (POCI 2010).

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Correspondence to Francisco Peixoto or Leandro S. Almeida.

Additional information

Francisco Peixoto. Instituto Superior de Psicologia Aplicada, R. Jardim do Tabaco, 34, 1149-041, Lisboa, Portugal. E-mail: fpeixoto@ispa.pt

Current themes of research:

Motivation in school context. Self-concept and self-esteem. Family dynamics related to school adjustment.

Most relevant publications in the field of Psychology of Education:

Peixoto, F., & Carvalho, R. (2009). Parental attitudes toward academic achievement: Effects on motivation, self-concept and school achievement. In M. Wosnitza, S. Karabenick, A. Efklides, & P. Nenniger (Eds.), Contemporary motivation research: From global to local perspectives (pp. 279–297). Göttingen & New York: Hogrefe & Huber.

Pedro, N., & Peixoto, F. (2006). Satisfação profissional e auto-estima em professores do 2º e 3º ciclos do ensino básico. Análise Psicológica, 24, 247–262

Peixoto, F. (2004). What kinds of benefits students have from participate on extracurricular activities?. In H. W. Marsh, J. Baumert, G. E. Richards & U. Trautwein (Eds.). Self-concept, motivation and identity: Where to from here? Proceedings of the third international biennial SELF research conference. Sydney: SELF Research Centre. (CD-Rom).

Alves Martins, M., Peixoto, F., Gouveia Pereira, M., Amaral, V., & Pedro, I. (2002). Self-esteem and academic achievement among adolescents. Educational Psychology, 22, 51–62.

Alves Martins, M., & Peixoto, F. (2000). Self-esteem, social identity and school achievement in adolescence. Psychology: The Journal of the Hellenic Psychological Society, 7, 278–289.

Leandro S. Almeida. Instituto de Educação e Psicologia, Universidade do Minho, Campus de Gualtar, 4710-057, Braga, Portugal. E-mail: leandro@iep.uminho.pt

Current themes of research:

Cognition, learning and academic achievement. Transition, adjustment, and academic success at higher education. Psycho-educational assessment.

Most relevant publications in the field of Psychology of Education:

Soares, A. P., Guisande, M. A., Almeida, L. S., & Páramo, M. F. (2009). Academic achievement in first-year Portuguese college students: The role of academic preparation and learning strategies. International Journal of Psychology, 44(3), 204–212.

Veiga, F., Garcia, F., Neto, F., Almeida, L. (2009). The differentiation and promotion of students’ rights in Portugal. School Psychology International, 30(4), 421–436.

Medeiros, T., Peixoto, E., Tavares, J., Ferreira, J., Almeida, L., & Pacheco, M. (2008). Learning and cognitive development in Portuguese college students. Portuguese Studies Review, 16(1), 1–22.

Almeida, L. S., Miranda, L., Guisande, M. A. (2008). Atribuições causais para o sucesso e fracasso escolares. Estudos de Psicologia, 25(2), 169–176.

Almeida, L. S., Prieto, L. P., Ferrando, M., Oliveira, E., & Ferrándiz, C. (2008). Torrance test of creative thinking. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 3, 53–58.

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Peixoto, F., Almeida, L.S. Self-concept, self-esteem and academic achievement: strategies for maintaining self-esteem in students experiencing academic failure. Eur J Psychol Educ 25, 157–175 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10212-010-0011-z

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Keywords

  • Self-esteem
  • Self-concept
  • Academic achievement