Saturday, January 15, 2011: 8:00 AM-9:45 AM
Meeting Room 4 (Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina)
Cluster: Adolescent and Youth Development
Symposium Organizer: Kristen Elmore, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
How can we help adolescents stay motivated and working hard in school? Our students and young clients struggle to remain engaged in school when they do not feel that their current actions are connected to their future goals. Adolescents have a range of possible future selves, both positive and negative potential versions of one's self, but these future selves must be cued and feel relevant in the moment in order to guide current action (for a review, see Oyserman & James, 2009). Even students in risky contexts report high aspirations for the future, but these aspirations are unhelpful when disconnected from choices in the moment such as whether to turn on the television or open up your history book when arriving home from school. The theory of Identity-Based Motivation (Oyserman, 2009) suggests that context cues whether a given behavior feels important for future goals and congruent with salient personal and social identities. For example, if a young person's goal of attending a four-year college does not come to mind when a friend asks them to skip class, then high aspirations are unlikely to translate into achievement. As the presentations in this symposium will reflect, there are a number of ways that adolescents can feel more or less connected to their future selves. When goals for the future feel more vivid and feel closer temporally, adolescents are more likely to be spurred to action in the present. It is important, however, that youth have knowledge of concrete strategies to reach these goals. Both the strategies that come to mind and the goals which are the most motivating are influenced by the contexts in which adolescent's live and attend school. Facilitating concrete connections between current learning and future career goals can make these paths more clear for adolescents. Finally, goals should feel identity-congruent (i.e., something that people like you do) in order for them to feel self-relevant and connected to current behaviors. By triangulating across these different approaches to achievement motivation in the research presented, we hope to present a complex picture of how connectedness to future selves can be operationalized in work with youth. This research has important implications for encouraging student achievement, particularly for racial minority and economically disadvantaged students. Panelists will discuss translations of these findings into preventive intervention approaches. The CareerStart program makes explicit connections between current learning and future career goals to encourage increased school engagement. Another approach, the School to Jobs program, helps students map out concrete paths from the present to their long-term goals through short term goals and preparation for potential challenges along the way. In addition to these programmatic interventions, the findings reported in this symposium suggest that subtle cues priming connectedness to the future can inspire youth to take action in the present. These approaches offer concrete strategies for professionals working with adolescents.
* noted as presenting author
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