A Research Synthesis (Executive Summary)
Background and Purpose
The desire for a positive evaluation of self affects a person's feelings, actions, and aspirations throughout life. In the course of childhood and adolescence, school experiences play an important role in the development of self-perceptions and can have powerful and long-term effects on a child's self-esteem. Individuals with learning disabilities (LD) are especially vulnerable to low self-concept. Research findings have linked LD with poor self-concept, and it is clear that students with LD often experience academic challenges that can drain self-esteem.
Despite much recent research and speculation on the subject, the factors that affect a child's self-concept are not completely understood. We do know, however, that students' self-concepts are related to their academic achievement. Students with lower levels of academic achievement have lower self-concepts than students with high levels of academic achievement. Students with more positive self-perceptions of their academic ability tend to do better in school than students who consider themselves to be poor learners.
Is it possible to enhance a student's self-concept?
Researchers have studied a variety of classroom interventions designed to improve the self-concepts of students with LD. These interventions can be characterized as following one of two approaches:
- The self-enhancement approach
- The skill development approach
Interventions that adopt a self-enhancement approach are designed to change students' self-perceptions by means of techniques like cognitive therapy. The focus in these interventions is on the elimination of self-defeating thoughts and behaviors that are believed to interfere with academic success.
In contrast, interventions that adopt a skill development approach are based on the assumption that building a child's skill in a particular academic area, such as reading, will improve the student's self-perceptions in that area and will give the student the expectation of future academic success. Although skill development interventions often include some aspects of the self-enhancement approach, such as frequent positive feedback from teachers, the basis of the approach is that improvements in academic performance should boost self-esteem.
The authors of the research synthesis conducted thorough literature searches to identify studies of school-based, nonclinical interventions conducted between 1975 and 1997 that included students with LD and used a quantitative measure of self-concept to assess the impact of the intervention. A total of 36 interventions were evaluated in 31 separate studies. A technique known as meta-analysis was used to examine the collective findings of this body of research.