Unformatted text preview: Gifted Child Quarterly
http://gcq.sagepub.com Attributional Choices for Academic Success and Failure by Intellectually Gifted Students
Susan G. Assouline, Nicholas Colangelo, Damien Ihrig and Leslie Forstadt Gifted Child Quarterly 2006; 50; 283 DOI: 10.1177/001698620605000402 The online version of this article can be found at: http://gcq.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/50/4/283 Published by:
http://www.sagepublications.com On behalf of: National Association for Gifted Children Additional services and information for Gifted Child Quarterly can be found at: Email Alerts: http://gcq.sagepub.com/cgi/alerts Subscriptions: http://gcq.sagepub.com/subscriptions Reprints: http://www.sagepub.com/journalsReprints.nav Permissions: http://www.sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav Citations (this article cites 16 articles hosted on the SAGE Journals Online and HighWire Press platforms): http://gcq.sagepub.com/cgi/content/refs/50/4/283 Downloaded from http://gcq.sagepub.com by on October 24, 2007 2006 National Association for Gifted Children. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. aT T R I B u T I o N a l c H o I c E S o F S u c c E S S a N D F a I l u R E attributional choices for academic Success and Failure by Intellectually Gifted Students
Susan G. Assouline, Nicholas Colangelo, Damien Ihrig, and Leslie Forstadt The Connie Belin & Jacqueline N. Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development The University of Iowa
a B S T R a c T This study emerges from the lack of empirical research on gifted students' attributions about academic success and failure in multiple subject areas and school in general. We explored differences in top attributional choices between boys and girls for success and failure in general academics, language arts, science, and mathematics. Gifted students were more likely to attribute failure to not working hard enough (long-term effort), rather than to not being smart (ability). Sex differences were found in attributional choices for general academics, science, mathematics, and language arts. The findings counter some popular theoretical expectations of gifted students' attributional choices for success and failure in their academic performance. Attribution theory is a cognitive model for understanding human motivation (Weiner, 1974). As a cognitive model, it is in direct contrast to a behavioral model, which assumes that human behavior is a reaction to environmental stimuli. A main assumption of attribution theory is that an individual's behavior is driven by the need to comprehend and master his or her environment, thus allowing for the prediction of future events. This assumption leads to a second one, which is that understanding the environment implies comprehending the causes of environmental events. In a classroom environment, this translates to a desire to understand why some situations result in success and some in failure. Recognizing the causal attributions by students can help educators understand students' motivation in an academic environment. Weiner's (1974, 1985) seminal work in attribution theory focused on understanding how, or to what, people attribute experiences of success or failure. Attribution theory, as proposed by Weiner, provides educators with a rich guide to understand their students' perceptions
G I F T E D c H I l D of causes--attributions--for successes and failures in academic settings. What sort of attributions for success and failure in academic areas are most commonly made by academically gifted students? In the case of a gifted individual, a strong identity as being smart or talented could, in theory, result in an attitude toward academic pursuit that is related to ability (McNabb, 2003). According to this view, if a student identifies him- or herself as smart and has the expectation to perform well, then attributions P u T T I N G T o u S E T H E R E S E a R c H In order to understand gifted students, it is important to understand how they perceive success and failure in their academic world. The results from this study suggest that perceptions of gifted students regarding success and failure are multifaceted. Researchers and practitioners need to realize that gifted students, certainly those for whom giftedness has been publicly identified, are aware of the role that ability plays in their academic success. They also realize that willingness to work hard impacts success and failure. They are aware of the interplay between "what they have" (ability) and "what they do" (effort) as critical to outcome. As students move from elementary to middle school and then to high school, they also recognize that task difficulty becomes a more important variable for success or failure. The gifted boys and girls in this study did not view success and failure along the same dimensions. For example, "I am smart" was the attributional choice for higher percentages of boys indicating why they are successful in math, whereas a larger percentage of girls chose "I work hard" as the reason for their success in math. Teachers who understand some of these motivational issues will be more effective in helping gifted students achieve success. F a l l 2 0 0 6 v o l 5 0 N o 4 2 8 3 Q u a R T E R l y Downloaded from http://gcq.sagepub.com by on October 24, 2007 2006 National Association for Gifted Children. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. aT T R I B u T I o N a l c H o I c E S o F S u c c E S S a N D F a I l u R E T a b l e 1 Model for Attributional Causes and Their Dimensions
Locus of Control Stability Controllable Fixed (Stable) Variable (Unstable) Effort (Long-term) Effort (Situational; e.g., Did work the right way?) Internal Uncontrollable Ability Mood Instructor Favoritism Help from teacher, tutor, or classmates External Controllable Uncontrollable Task difficulty Luck Note. Original dimensions and attributional causes, adapted from Weiner (1974, pp. 6, 147), are in bold; expanded attributional causes and dimension of controllability are not bolded and were adapted from Pintrich & Schunk (1996, p. 134). for successes and failures should be to ability. Logically, it can be hypothesized that negative outcomes might occur if experiences of failure are attributed to ability and result in loss of motivation to put forth effort in an area because the perception becomes, "If I'm not good at it, why should I try?" (Dai, Moon, & Feldhusen, 1998; Dweck, 1986; Weiner, 1985). This would be an example of a misattribution. Educationally, realistic attributions for successes, as well as failures, are important because misattributions may lead to negative outcomes (McNabb, 1997, 2003; Reis, 1998) such as underachievement. Understanding students' attributions can help educators determine if those attributions are useful or even if they are realistic, which is important in academic situations. The major goal of this study was to determine attributional choices made by gifted students for success and failure in academic areas within the cognitive model of attribution theory. Additionally, we investigated whether students' attributional choices for success and failure differed by grade level or gender. In the literature Attributions were originally grouped along two dimensions (stability and locus of control) into a fourcell model including ability, effort, task difficulty, and luck (Weiner, 1985). Pintrich and Schunk (1996) rely on Weiner's seminal work in their discussion of a third dimension of causality: controllability. In their review, they recognize Weiner's concern that locus of control confounds locus and control. They discuss the concept of controllability, which impacts Weiner's four-cell model in two ways. First, it corrects for the confounding of locus and control, and second, it expands the four-cell model
2 8 4 G I F T E D c H I l D Q u a R T E R l y F a l l 2 0 0 6 to an eight-cell model as presented in Table 1. Weiner's original attributional causes and dimensions, and an expanded presentation of attributional causes and dimensions from Pintrich and Schunk, are presented in Table 1. This eight-cell model allows for a broader sample of the infinite number of attributions, including teacher bias, student mood, health, and fatigue. Both the original model (Weiner, 1974) and elaborated attribution model (Pintrich & Schunk, 1996) are presented in Table 1 because many of the studies cited in this review include reference to the original four-cell model. As well, the four-cell model served as the core template for the forced-choice items on the questionnaire used for this investigation. The eight-cell elaborated model provided additional responses for each of the forced-choice items on the questionnaire. The eight-cell model also lends itself to a deeper understanding of the complexity of Weiner's (1974) model. For example, in the original model both ability and effort were internal, but ability was stable, and effort was regarded as unstable (Gilbert, 1996; Ryckman & Peckham, 1987; Stipek, 1984; Weiner, 1974). However, in the eight-cell model, ability is not only internal and stable, it is also considered uncontrollable. In the eightcell model, effort is internal, but distinguishable from ability by the controllable dimension; additionally there is an important distinction between two kinds of effort, and this distinction is found along the stability dimension. For example, effort for an exam or a specific class assignment is internal and controllable, but also unstable because it varies according to the particular exam or assignment. This situational effort is comparable to Weiner's (1974) presentation of effort in the original four-cell model. In contrast to situational effort, the eight-cell model intro v o l 5 0 N o 4 Downloaded from http://gcq.sagepub.com by on October 24, 2007 2006 National Association for Gifted Children. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. aT T R I B u T I o N a l c H o I c E S o F S u c c E S S a N D F a I l u R E duces long-term effort, which is viewed as internal, controllable, and stable. The distinction between effort as unstable (i.e., situational) and effort as stable (i.e., long-term) is an important elaboration from Weiner's (1974) original four-cell classification, and may help us understand some of the differences observed in the results from this study. Longterm effort is representative of a trait such as generally hard-working or industrious. As a stable personality characteristic, it is in direct contrast to inconsistent displays of effort that vary by situation. The effect of the dimensions is further demonstrated in the distinction between task difficulty and luck as attributions for success or failure. For example, in areas that involve novel or chance tasks that show no resemblance to previous experiences, Weiner (1985) asserts that there is a greater likelihood of attributing success or failure to luck or task difficulty, which are both external and uncontrollable along the locus dimension, but task difficulty is seen as stable, and luck as unstable. This is in contrast to attributions for success or failure in academic tasks, for which attributions are often credited to one of two internal attributions: ability, which is uncontrollable and stable, or effort, which is controllable, but varies in stability (Pintrich & Schunk, 1996). Attribution theory proposes that attributions of success due to internal factors such as ability or effort coincide with perceptions of feeling capable of performing well (Gilbert, 1996; Newman & Stevenson, 1990). Similarly, attributions of failure to external factors may also have positive results. Attributing failure to task difficulty may show that an individual has enough confidence in his or her ability that poor performance will not deter future effort. However, a review of the literature indicates that educators cannot draw broad conclusions about students' attributions for successes or failures in school (Neihart, Reis, Robinson, & Moon, 2002). In studies investigating general samples of students provided with ability, effort, task difficulty, and luck as attributional choices (see bold-faced items in Table 1) for success and failure, it was less common to make attributions to task difficulty and luck, which are external attributions, than to the internal attributions of ability and effort. It appears far more common for individuals to make attributions for success and failure to ability and/or effort. Weiner (1974) initially posited four equal-sized response cells, but in general, response rates among the four cells are not equal. Ability and effort often dominate with differences, especially by sex, reflecting differences between attributions of ability and effort rather than responses that are evenly distributed among the four attributions as
G I F T E D c H I l D originally delineated. Although research consistently has shown that, in general, students' attributions tend to be internal rather than external, inconsistent differences in attributions have been found by subject area, sex, grade level, and giftedness. This suggests the need for further empirical examination of the response patterns of gifted students. Differences in Attribution by Sex and Subject Area
In the literature, it is reported that attribution patterns differ for success and failure and seem to vary by subject area, as well as sex. Some studies indicate that in areas where males are traditionally thought to perform better (e.g., mathematics and science), boys attribute success to ability and failure to lack of effort, whereas girls attribute success to effort and failure to lack of ability (Ryckman & Peckham, 1987; Stipek, 1984; Stipek & Gralinski, 1991). Other research seems to contradict this finding. For example, in one study of mathematics ability with sixth graders, both boys and girls attributed success to effort, but failure to ability (Cramer & Oshima, 1992). In yet another study, boys and girls in grades 57 did not differ in the way they attributed failure in mathematics (Gilbert, 1996). In Gilbert's study, the most common attribution for failure in mathematics was to the internal attribution of effort and the second most common attribution for failure was to the external attribution of task difficulty. In spelling, significant sex differences were found for fifth and sixth graders; girls were less likely to attribute failure to an unstable cause like bad mood (Stipek, 1984). In language arts, boys and girls were more likely to attribute failure to effort and success to ability (Ryckman & Peckham, 1987). In a study of attributions of 12- and 13-year-old children from one school in The Netherlands (Boekaerts, Otten, & Voeten, 2003), causal attributions were evaluated after students completed examinations in history, mathematics, and native language (text processing). In all academic areas, attributions for failure were to lack of ability. Attributions for success differed across subject areas; that is, success in history was attributed to effort, while success in native language and mathematics was attributed to the task being easy (Boekaerts et al.). Differences in Attribution at Different Grade Levels With Gifted Students
Although there is considerable research about attributions among school-aged children in general (Dai, F a l l 2 0 0 6 v o l 5 0 N o 4 2 8 5 Q u a R T E R l y Downloaded from http://gcq.sagepub.com by on October 24, 2007 2006 National Association for Gifted Children. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. aT T R I B u T I o N a l c H o I c E S o F S u c c E S S a N D F a I l u R E Moon, & Feldhusen, 1998), surprisingly little research has specifically focused on the attributional patterns of gifted students. Research with gifted students has focused on motivational orientation including attribution (Chan, 1996); attributional retraining (Heller & Ziegler, 1996); comparisons of gifted, average, and educable mentally retarded students on responses to failure and success experiences (Bogie & Buckhalt, 1987; Laffoon, Jenkins-Friedman, & Tollefson, 1989); and the attribution patterns of gifted females (Cramer & Oshima, 1992) or attributional patterns of students of varying ages (Wigfield, 1988). While the list is not exhaustive, it provides an overview of the types of research on attributions from gifted students. Theorists are equivocal in their hypotheses about attributional style among gifted students. Some researchers have postulated that having a history of precocity in an area such as math may lead to attributions of success and failure based on ability (Heller & Ziegler, 1996, 2001). Early research (Dweck, 1986) supported this hypothesis, and found that high-achieving gifted children attributed their struggles with a task and task failure to lack of ability. McNabb (1997, 2003) draws upon this finding to hypothesize that students who are labeled gifted will attribute failure to ability. According to this view, a sense of "contingent self-worth" develops, in which everything is weighed against the child's perception that he or she has high ability (i.e., is gifted). Thus, experiences of success and failure are attributed to ability, identifying success with intelligence and failure with a lack of intelligence or ability (McNabb, 2003). In contrast to McNabb's (2003) hypothesis, a review by Dai et al. (1998) reported that most findings related to gifted and attribution can be explained by the phenomenon of "attribution asymmetry." Rather than gifted students making attributions for success and failure to ability, there is a tendency for high-ability students to attribute success to both ability and effort; however, failure is attributed only to effort. They conclude that highability learners tend to believe that both effort and ability are important for achievement. This may be exactly the case if the high-ability learner views effort as a trait representing industriousness, which will result in achievement (Eisenberger, 1992). An experimental study (Bogie & Buckhalt, 1987) identified gifted students through their performance on an academic achievement test and an individual test of intelligence. Through the use of puzzle design tasks of varying difficulty, the students' attributions for failure and success were explored. Gifted boys and girls (there were no significant sex differences) attributed success to the ease of the task, which is an external attribution (Bogie
2 8 6 G I F T E D c H I l D Q u a R T E R l y F a l l 2 0 0 6 & Buckhalt). For these gifted students, the attribution of ability was the second most common attribution for success, and the attributions of luck and effort were least common (Bogie & Buckhalt). Failure on the experimental task, which included easy, difficult, and unsolvable puzzles, was more readily attributed to task difficulty than to effort by gifted students. Attributing failure to ability was the second most commonly reported attribution by gifted students. Although there are studies for which there were no differences between boys and girls in their response patterns for success and failure, other research (Cramer & Oshima, 1992; Heller & Ziegler, 2001) found sex differences among attributions of gifted children. Gifted third-, sixth-, and ninth-grade females were more likely than gifted males to attribute success to ability than to effort, whereas attributions for failure were made to effort (Cramer & Oshima). However, in the same study, ninthgrade girls were more likely to attribute failure to ability, as compared to boys who attributed failure to ability and task difficulty. As an indication of the equivocal nature of the findings in attributional research, Li and Adamson (1995) found that gifted girls attribute both success and failure to more controllable factors like effort. There is some evidence that bright females develop maladaptive patterns over time if they continue to attribute failure to ability, rather than effort (Dweck, 1986). A maladaptive pattern refers to a set of attributions that lead to establishing unreasonable goals or not believing the task can be accomplished (Dweck). Such maladaptive patterns are often found in areas where males traditionally perform better than females such as the sciences and mathematics. Maintenance of maladaptive patterns may fail to foster intellectual growth over time, and concern for this issue has lead to attributional retraining programs to assist girls in improving performance and developing realistic perceptions in these areas (Heller & Ziegler, 1996, 2001). A study on attributional retraining in the area of physics (Heller & Ziegler, 2001) examined the attributions of gifted girls whose intelligence was at least one standard deviation above the average of all high school students. These gifted young women attributed success in physics to luck (or other external factors) and attributed failure to ability (internal factor). Boys responded with an opposite attributional style; success was attributed to ability (internal factor), and failure to bad luck (external factor) or insufficient effort (internal factor; Heller & Ziegler, 2001). Attributional retraining with both males and females has proven effective and necessary because of the potential negative impact on self-efficacy if attribu v o l 5 0 N o 4 Downloaded from http://gcq.sagepub.com by on October 24, 2007 2006 National Association for Gifted Children. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. aT T R I B u T I o N a l c H o I c E S o F S u c c E S S a N D F a I l u R E tions of success are made to luck or attributions of failure made to ability (Heller & Ziegler, 1996). The current study used the eight-cell model (Pintrich & Schunk, 1996) to create responses to questionnaire items that would allow for an investigation of self-reported attributional choices made by gifted students for success or failure in general schoolwork, mathematics, science, and language arts. In addition to a description of students' attributional choices within the framework of attribution theory, the relationship between self-perceptions of academic ability to attributional choice was explored. From the review of the literature, we hypothesized that gifted boys and girls would present effort-based attributional choices for success and ability-based attributional choices for failure. Finally, it was expected that patterns for attributional choice would change with age--older students would display more ability-based attributional choices for success and failure than younger students. social science, art, engineering, foreign language and culture, and writing. Boys represented 50.5% (n = 1,655) of the participants and girls represented 49.5% (n = 1,624); one respondent did not indicate gender. The participants ranged from 3rd to 11th grade, with the majority (n = 2,802; 85.6%) in grades 4 through 8. Participants were grouped according to elementary, middle, and high school. Designation of elementary was for participants indicating they were in grades 36 (boys: n = 1,111; girls: n = 979); middle school was the designation for grades 78 (boys: n = 361; girls: n = 432); and high school was represented by students in grades 911 (boys: n = 180; girls: n = 210); seven students did not indicate either grade or sex. Ethnicity/race was not directly measured as part of this study, but participants were predominantly White (approximately 85%), with representation from the remaining 15% of participants from Asian, Latino, and African American ethnic subgroups. The specific percentages of each subgroup are unknown. Method Questionnaire
The items used for this analysis were part of a longer Student Questionnaire (SQ) completed by participants. The 25 forced-choice items from the SQ cover perceptions of parental involvement, learning styles, self-perceptions of and the perceptions of others regarding ability in several content areas, as well as success/failure attribution. Eight questions focused on student choice of attributions for doing well or not doing well in four separate areas: school work in general, mathematics, science, and language arts. A major limitation to the study concerned the fact that we used a questionnaire that was designed so that responses could be scanned. In other words, the responses were not open-ended, and the form allowed a maximum of six responses per item. With these limitations in mind, we used Weiner's core model and the expanded eight-cell model (Pintrich & Schunk, 1996) to generate six main choices for each of the items assessing attribution for success or failure. For our questionnaire, the six forcedchoice responses for success were: (1) I am smart, (2) I work hard, (3) the work is easy, (4) I am lucky, (5) my teachers like me, and (6) I do my work the right way. The six attributional choice responses for not doing well were: (1) I am not smart enough, (2) I don't work hard enough, (3) the work is hard, (4) I have bad luck, (5) my teachers don't like me, and (6) I don't do my work the right way. Each response choice on our questionnaire fits into one of the cells of attributional causes and dimensions F a l l 2 0 0 6 v o l 5 0 N o 4 2 8 7 Participants
The sample consisted of 4,901 gifted students (grades 311) who participated in a university-based academic talent search (grades 36) or qualified for a university-based summer residential program (grades 711) for gifted students. Each student received a questionnaire in the mail prior to attending the program. Of the participating students, 3, 280 students returned the questionnaire, yielding a response rate of 67%. Talent search participants (grades 36) were selected for the talent search because they had scored at or above the 95th percentile on at least one subtest of a grade-level achievement test. Their participation in a universitybased Academic Talent Search for elementary students occurred during the 20002001 academic year. The talent search students represented 61.8% (n = 2,028) of the respondents. The older (grades 711) participants represented 38.2% (n = 1,252) of the respondents and participated in one of the university's summer programs for gifted precollege students during the summers of 20002003. These programs are residential and occur on the campus of a large, Midwestern, public university. The academic nature of the programs vary in content and scope, are based on student strengths in academic or artistic areas, and are offered in the subjects of mathematics, science,
G I F T E D c H I l D Q u a R T E R l y Downloaded from http://gcq.sagepub.com by on October 24, 2007 2006 National Association for Gifted Children. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. aT T R I B u T I o N a l c H o I c E S o F S u c c E S S a N D F a I l u R E T a b l e 2 Percentage of Respondent Attributional Choices for Success and Failure
Academic Area General School Success (N = 3,274) General School Failure (N = 3,248) Math Success (N = 3,272) Math Failure (N = 3,241) Science Success (N = 3,266) Science Failure (N = 3,241) Language Arts Success (N = 2,936) Language Arts Failure (N = 3,230) Ability 35.1% .6% 35.1% 1.4% 32.6% 1.3% 24.7% 1.6% Long-term Effort 46.6% 56.7% 41.1% 40.5% 46.0% 51.3% 44.3% 53.0% Task Difficulty 6.8% 15.8% 10.3% 21.5% 9.7% 19.0% 17.0% 15.9% Luck .3% 2.4% 1.1% 4.2% 1.7% 4.8% 3.0% 4.0% Instructor Favoritism 0.0% .6% .1% .4% .2% .7% .3% .8% Situational Effort 11.2% 24.3% 12.3% 32.1% 9.8% 22.8% 10.7% 24.6% Note. Bold cells are the attributional choices with the highest percentage of responses by academic area. presented in Table 1. The attributional response choice of smart for academic success or not smart enough for academic failure corresponds to an attributional cause of ability; working hard or not hard enough refers to longterm effort; doing work the right way refers to situational effort; teacher liking or not liking the student corresponds to instructor favoritism; easy or hard task corresponds to task difficulty; and being lucky corresponds to luck. A force-choice questionnaire such as the one we designed provides a format that is straightforward with respect to data analysis; however, this simplicity also presents a major limitation to the study in that students could not supply a reason for perceived success or failure, but could choose only one response from among the six options. Results Attributional Choices for Success and Failure
Table 2 details the percentage of students and their attributional choices for success or failure for school in general, mathematics, science, and language arts. For all areas, the least common attributional choices for success or failure were luck and instructor favoritism (in these two areas, no percentages were greater than 4.8%). The other four categories: ability, long-term effort, task difficulty, and situational effort had varying percentages depending upon whether the attributional choices were for failure or success. Attributional Choices for Success. When making attributional choices for success in school in general, 11.2% of the total sample chose "doing work the right way" (situational effort), 35.1% chose "smart" (ability), and the largest percentage, 46.6%, chose "working hard" (long-term effort) for general school success. Subsequent questions asked about attributional choices for success in the specific academic areas of mathematics, science, and language arts. The pattern for the total sample was similar for attributional choices for success for math and science: v o l 5 0 N o 4 Data Analysis
The data were analyzed using SPSS. Frequencies were generated for each response on each item. Chi-square analyses were then conducted to determine significant sex differences. Post-hoc analyses of the significant chisquare tests were conducted to clarify on which response choices males and females differed in their responses.
2 8 8 G I F T E D c H I l D Q u a R T E R l y F a l l 2 0 0 6 Downloaded from http://gcq.sagepub.com by on October 24, 2007 2006 National Association for Gifted Children. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. aT T R I B u T I o N a l c H o I c E S o F S u c c E S S a N D F a I l u R E T a b l e 3 Chi-Square Values and Percentages of Respondent Attributions for Success and Failure by Sex
Academic Area Sex Ability Long-term Task Effort Difficulty 38.5% 54.9% 55.8% 56.6% 32.4% 49.9% 41.0% 39.9% 37.2% 55.0% 51.3% 51.3% 44.4% 44.2% 52.7% 53.2% 7.5% 6.0% 14.2% 17.4% 10.7% 9.8% 18.2% 24.8% 9.9% 9.5% 16.5% 21.6% 14.9% 19.1% 16.3% 15.6% Luck Instructor Situational Favoritism Effort 0% .1% .7% .6% .1% .1% .7% .1% .2% .2% 1.0% .4% .3% .4% 1.0% .6% 11.9% 10.4% 25.6% 23.0% 11.6% 13.0% 32.9% 31.2% 8.9% 10.6% 23.3% 22.4% 11.3% 10.0% 23.5% 25.9% 2 df Sig* General School Success General School Failure Math Success Males (n = 1,651) Females (n = 1,622) Males (n = 1,642) Females (n = 1,605) Males (n = 1,651) Females (n = 1,620) 41.8% 28.4% .5% .7% 44.0% 26.1% 1.1% 1.6% 42.5% 22.6% 1.3% 1.3% 24.6% 24.9% 2.1% 1.1% .3% .2% 3.1% 1.6% 1.2% 1.1% 6.0% 2.4% 1.3% 2.1% 6.7% 3.0% 4.6% 1.3% 4.4% 3.6% 94.688 (N = 3,273) 15.947 (N = 3,247) 138.184 (N = 3,271) 51.157 (N = 3,240) 161.161 (N = 3,265) 38.352 (N = 3,240) 35.040 (N = 2,935) 10.642 (N = 3,229) 5 0.000* 5 0.007* 5 0.000* Math Failure Males (n = 1,634) Females (n = 1,606) 5 0.000* Science Success Science Failure Language Arts Success Language Arts Failure Males (n = 1,648) Females (n = 1,617) Males (n = 1,637) Females (n = 1,603) Males (n = 1,492) Females (n = 1,443) Males (n = 1,628) Females (n = 1,601) 5 0.000* 5 0.000* 5 0.000* 5 0.059 Note. Cells with percentages in bold represent the attributional choices for which differences between boys and girls in percentage of responses were statistically significant. * p < 0.05. the smallest percentages were for "easy task" and "did work the right way" (situational effort); the differences between these two attributional choices were negligible; over 30% of the total sample chose to attribute success in math and science to "being smart" (ability); and the greatest percentage of students (more than 40%) chose to attribute success in math and science to "working hard" (i.e., long-term effort). Attributional choices for success in language arts, similar to choices for success in school in general, math, and science were greatest for long-term effort and ability; however, the percentage of students choosing "easy task" was greater than the percentage of students who chose "doing work the right way" (situational effort) as the attributional choice for success. Attributional Choices for Failure. The pattern of attributional choice for failure differs from the pattern for attributional choice for success reported above. The three most common attributional choices for failure in all academic areas were to long-term effort, "not working hard enough" ( 56.7%); situational effort, "not doing the
G I F T E D c H I l D work the right way" ( 32.1%); and task difficulty "the work is hard" ( 21.5%). As a group, the sample of gifted students did not make the attributional choice of lack of ability or instructor favoritism ( 2.1% for either attribution) for failure for school in general or in the specific content areas of math, science, or language arts. The percentage of respondents choosing bad luck as their attributional choice for general school failure, as well as other academic areas, was also low ( 4.8%). Sex Differences
Table 3 describes the percentage of boys' and girls' attributional choices and chi-square values for success and failure by sex. The pattern of responses for boys and girls was similar to the patterns found for the total group; however, there were significant sex differences for school in general and each subject area except with respect to attributional choices for language arts failure. Attributional Choices for Success by Sex. Attributional choices for general school success differed significantly F a l l 2 0 0 6 v o l 5 0 N o 4 2 8 9 Q u a R T E R l y Downloaded from http://gcq.sagepub.com by on October 24, 2007 2006 National Association for Gifted Children. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. aT T R I B u T I o N a l c H o I c E S o F S u c c E S S a N D F a I l u R E for gifted males and females, 2 (5, N = 3,273) = 94.688, p = .000. Proportionately larger percentages of females (54.9%) made the attributional choice of "working hard" (long-term effort) for general school success than did males (38.5%). Proportionately larger percentages of males (41.8%) made the attributional choice of "I am smart" (ability) for general school success than did females (28.4%). This pattern (i.e., more girls make the attributional choice for long-term effort; more boys make the attributional choice for ability) was also found for success in math and science, but not for language arts. For success in language arts, the percentage for boys (44.4%) is similar to that for girls (44.2%) for attributional choice of "working hard" (long-term effort). Attributional Choices for Failure by Sex. Percentages of boys' and girls' attributional choices for failure also are reported in Table 3. Unlike the pattern of attributional choices for success, there were few meaningful differences between percentages of boys and girls in their attributional choices for failure. "Not working hard enough" (long-term effort) was the most common attributional choice for failure in school in general or in specific subjects for both boys and girls. More than 50% of respondents (both boys and girls) made the attributional choice of "not working hard enough" (long-term effort) for failure in school in general, science, or language arts. For failure in math, "not working hard enough" was still the most reported attributional choice; however, it was less than 50% (41% for boys and 39.9% for girls). Consistently, the attributional choices of luck ( 6.7%) or instructor favoritism ( 1%) for failure in all subject areas and school in general were rare for both boys and girls. The percentage of students choosing "hard task" (task difficulty) was always less than the percentages who chose "did not do my work the right way" (situational effort) for failure in school in general, as well as for specific subject areas. For all significant main chi-square tests, post-hoc analyses were conducted to see on which item responses males and females differed. For each item, the response was recoded as "yes" if the subject selected that choice when answering the item and "no" if not. For example, responses from those subjects who chose "smart" as their response for general academic success were recoded as a "yes." Responses from subjects who chose one of the other five options (i.e., "working hard," "easy task," "lucky," "my teacher likes me," or "do my work the right way") for success were recoded as "no." This was repeated for each of the six response choices for each of the eight items. A 2 x 2 chi-square test was then conducted for each of these recoded response choices. A Bonferroni procedure was used to correct for Type I error. The original
2 9 0 G I F T E D c H I l D Q u a R T E R l y F a l l 2 0 0 6 alpha of .05 was divided by the number of post-hoc analyses per item (6) to provide an adjusted alpha of 0.008. Follow-up analyses for attributional choices for all items regarding success, with the exception of language arts, confirmed that the statistical significance in the overall chi-square results can be attributed to differences in male and female selection of "I am smart" (ability) and "I work hard" (long-term effort). For the item referring to language arts success, as well as for all failure items, except language arts failure, follow-up analyses demonstrate the significance in the overall results can be attributed to differences in male and female selection of "the task was hard" (task difficulty) and luck. Interestingly, there also was a statistically significant difference between males and females with respect to choice of "my teacher does not like me" (instructor favoritism) for failure in math; however, the percentages reported are so negligible, the difference does not seem to be very meaningful. The cells with the attributional responses that had statistically significant differences between boys and girls are in boldfaced type in Table 3. Development of Attributional Style
Figure 1 illustrates the percentage of subjects' attributional choices of "I am smart" or "I am not smart" (ability) or "I work hard" or "I did not work hard enough" (long-term effort) for success or failure for school in general within a particular grade level. Grade levels were grouped according to elementary (grades 36), middle (grades 78), and high school (grades 911). Success in School in General. As represented in Figure 1, the proportion of girls at each grade level who made attributional choices of "I am smart" (ability) for their general school success was less than that for boys. The differences between the proportions of boys and girls who attributed success to ability increased with grade level. In grades 36, a greater proportion of boys (37.6%) selected "I am smart" for school success compared to girls (24.7%), a difference of 12.9%. In grades 78, the percentage of boys was 47.8% and girls was 33.2%; and in grades 911, the percentage of boys was 54.4% and girls was 34.8%, differences of 14.6% and 19.6%, respectively. With respect to attributional choice of ability for success, the proportion of girls at each grade level was consistently less than boys; the case is reversed for percentages making attributional choices of working hard for general school success. The percentages of girls was always greater than those for boys for the attributional choice of working hard for success, and the differences increased at each grade level. In grades 36, 57.3% of girls and 42% v o l 5 0 N o 4 Downloaded from http://gcq.sagepub.com by on October 24, 2007 2006 National Association for Gifted Children. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. aT T R I B u T I o N a l c H o I c E S o F S u c c E S S a N D F a I l u R E Figure 1. Attributional choices to explain success in school in general by gender and grade
of boys made the attributional choice of working hard (long-term effort) for general school; in grades 78, the grade percentages were 54.9% for girls and 38.5% for boys; and in grades 911, 49% of girls and 25% of boys made the attributional choice of working hard for school success in general. These represent differences of 15%, 16.4%, and 24%, respectively. Failure in School in General. As reported in Figure 2, virtually no students of either sex made the attributional choice of not being smart enough (ability) for failure in school. The most common attributional choice for failure among all grade levels and both sexes was not working hard enough (long-term effort). In Figure 2, the proportions of girls at each grade level who selected not working hard enough (long-term effort) as the attributional choice for their general school failure was about the same as that for boys; in addition, the proportions differed negligibly (not greater than 6.7%) at each grade level. In the elementary grades, 54.3% of girls and 53.3% of boys chose not working hard enough (longterm effort) as the attribution for general school failure. In grades 78, the proportion of girls was 59.1% and the proportion of boys was 57.9%; and in grades 911, the proportion of girls was 62.2% and boys was 68.9%.
G I F T E D c H I l D Figure 1. Attributional choices to explain success in school in general by gender and
Discussion Describing the choices gifted students make for their successes and failures in school is an important component to understanding how they perceive their daily school lives. Understanding those attributional choices gives us insight into how gifted students may be similar to, as well as different from, other students. Also, awareness of gifted students' attributional choices within the context of attribution theory may allow insight into motivational patterns that could benefit or hamper their potential, especially with respect to gender. All students in our sample had been recognized publicly for their ability. By participating in an academic talent search or summer academic program on a university campus, as a minimum, these students are aware that they have high academic ability and so we assume this knowledge plays a role in their attributional choices. Gaining insight into the pattern of attributional choices of gifted students whose academic ability was publicly recognized broadened our interpretation of the results. On the other hand, it also presented a limitation as it may not be representative of the attributional choices that would be made by gifted students who have not been recognized by a postsecondary institution as being gifted. The pattern of attributional choices for success in academics was strongly represented by items "I work F a l l 2 0 0 6 v o l 5 0 N o 4 2 9 1 Q u a R T E R l y Downloaded from http://gcq.sagepub.com by on October 24, 2007 2006 National Association for Gifted Children. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. Attributional Choices of Success and Failure 1
aT T R I B u T I o N a l c H o I c E S o F S u c c E S S a N D F a I l u R E Figure 2. Attributional choices to explain failure in school in general by gender and grade
hard" (long-term effort) and "I am smart" (ability). This term perception. This limitation is a subset of the study's Figure 2. Attributional choices to explain failure in schoolmajor limitation, namely, the forced-choice nature of the in general by gender and grade seems adaptive, as well as accurate, because these students recognize they have ability, but overall it's the application subject's responses. Therefore, when it comes to underof ability that is paramount. standing a student's view of a failure situation resulting in When asked to select an attributional choice for failgifted underachievement it will be necessary to determine ure in academics, a different pattern emerges. There is no if he or she perceives failure as lack of effort for a specific balance between "not working hard enough" (long-term situation or a more pervasive lack of long-term effort-- effort) and "not being smart" (ability); rather, ability is simthat is, a personality trait. Although underachievers may ply not the attributional choice for failure. The choice of recognize effort as internal, as well as controllable, when "did not work hard enough" (long-term effort) in comit is situation specific, a lack of effort represents an attribination with "not doing work the right way" (situational bution that is variable. On the other hand, when undereffort) and "the task was hard" (task difficulty) were the achievement is seen as long term, it may be because the main attributional choices for failure. It was surmised individual sees it (effort) as a personality trait that is interthat these students, who have been publicly recognized as nal and controllable, yet stable and difficult to change. gifted, realize "smart" may be necessary but not sufficient, This information is more appropriately obtained through and challenging tasks require effort and knowledge, as well open-ended responses. as ability. It is also possible that attributional choice may Another interesting point in the pattern of attribube related to past rewards for high or low efforts at specific tional choice for failure is that it contradicts the hypothesis tasks. Eisenberger (1992) reported that past reward patset forth by McNabb (1997, 2003) whereby she assumed terns help to explain differences of effort among students that gifted students form an identity based on ability and of equivalent ability and even motivation. thus would question this ability when confronted with Another scenario might be that students may recogacademic failure and then manifest this "ability-identity" nize long-term effort, or the lack of it, as a personality by withholding effort. While there is "common sense" to trait. In lay terms, not working hard is often called "lazithe hypothesis, our findings discount it. Long-term effort ness," while educators call it underachievement. For this (i.e., "did not work hard") in combination with "did study, students' attributional choices on the questionnaire not do my work the right way" (situational effort) and included not doing work the right way and not working "the task was hard" (task difficulty) were consistently the hard enough; however, a limitation of the present study attributional choices for failure across all academic areas. included the fact that we did not elucidate whether the Making the choice of "not being smart enough" (ability) item stem referred to a specific situation or to a longerwas virtually nonexistent. In other words, when forced
2 9 2 G I F T E D c H I l D Q u a R T E R l y F a l l 2 0 0 6 v o l 5 0 N o 4 Downloaded from http://gcq.sagepub.com by on October 24, 2007 2006 National Association for Gifted Children. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. aT T R I B u T I o N a l c H o I c E S o F S u c c E S S a N D F a I l u R E to choose among six options for failure attributions, and with "not being smart enough" as one of the options, gifted students did not summarily question their ability in the face of failure; yet, they were willing to acknowledge their ability when they experienced success. We see this as adaptive and hopefully such an attitude would minimize discouragement after failure experiences. Our analysis by sex yielded some compelling results. Boys were much more attuned to ability as a basis for their success while higher percentages of girls focused on working hard. It is a bit difficult to interpret this finding. Are gifted boys more willing to call a "spade a spade" and accept that being gifted means you have ability and this ability is a tail wind for academic success? We have no reason to assume gifted boys have inflated self-concepts or elitist tendencies. Rather, we think boys are being accurate in their self-assessment. The girls had to meet the same standards as boys for entry into all the programs and thus there is no reason to assume differentiation in the sample by ability. A higher percentage of girls chose "I work hard" (long-term effort) over "I am smart" (ability) for success. Is this a "humbleness factor" and, perhaps more so, a hesitancy to assess oneself accurately? We see potential negatives for girls who do not accurately recognize their academic abilities. They may be more tentative about undertaking challenges or putting themselves in competitive situations. We encourage research on gifted girls to assess how they approach highly challenging tasks and competitive situations compared to boys. However, another interpretation may be that gifted girls are astute and realize that working hard, as a personality trait, is an important factor when considering success. With regard to failure, an attributional choice of "not doing work the right way" (situational effort, therefore variable) is seen as generally positive in the literature. We found consistency among the patterns of attributional choices for success and failure for boys and girls in all academic areas except in language arts. In other words, for school in general, math, and science, significantly greater proportions of boys (41.8%, 44%, 42.5%, respectively) made the attributional choice of ability for success than did girls (28.4%, 26.1%, 22.6%, respectively). However, for language arts, the percentage of boys (24.6%) drops to that of girls (24.9%). We see two important implications from the findings regarding language arts. First, even with years of public recognition that girls outperform boys in verbal areas, this did not offset the strong pattern of high percentages of girls making the attributional choice of working hard rather than ability for success. That girls made the attributional choice of working
G I F T E D c H I l D hard for success, even in areas where they are traditionally strong (i.e., language arts), is profoundly ingrained. Second, in language arts, the percentages of boys making the attributional choice of ability for success drops and is inconsistent with their attributional choices for success in the other academic areas. Given the evidence that boys are not more able than girls in language arts, it may be that boys are "realistic" when they make the attributional choice of working hard rather than ability for their success in language arts. With so much publicity over the past years regarding boys as better in math and science (especially at the most advanced levels) it was logical to hypothesize that, for girls, math and science might trigger attributional choices of ability for failure. This (we think, fortunately) was not borne out by the evidence. For girls, failure still remained an issue of not working hard enough. Lastly, there is somewhat of a developmental component to the findings. The force-choice nature of the item responses as a study limitation has been previously acknowledged; an additional limitation to our study is that it was not a longitudinal study. We cannot draw conclusions about the changes over time experienced by a specific sample; however, by collecting data from three age groups, we have a developmental snapshot of three different groups of students whose talent was recognized and who vary in age. Task difficulty and doing work the right way (situational effort) played a more significant role with older students. Older students may realize that with more complex academic tasks, failure could be attributed to task difficulty, not having the skills (know-how) to solve the tasks, or not working hard enough in a specific situation. The research reported here, especially given the robustness of the sample, provides insight into attributional choices by gifted students in grades 311 for successes and failures in their academic worlds. The findings provide avenues to ask more detailed questions for future research on attributional choices of the gifted. For example, what are the attribution patterns among a sample of students who are exceptionally strong in specific academic domains (e.g., math)? Are ability attributions for success more or less adaptive than effort attributions? How do gifted students compare to random samples of sameage cohorts on attributions? How does a group of gifted students who have been publicly recognized, such as the sample for this study, compare with a matched sample of gifted students who have not been publicly recognized? Because these students spend such a major part of their lives in school, future research is important for a contin F a l l 2 0 0 6 v o l 5 0 N o 4 2 9 3 Q u a R T E R l y Downloaded from http://gcq.sagepub.com by on October 24, 2007 2006 National Association for Gifted Children. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution. aT T R I B u T I o N a l c H o I c E S o F S u c c E S S a N D F a I l u R E ued understanding of attributional choices by gifted students for academic success and failure. References
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This note was uploaded on 04/18/2008 for the course ECE 3313 taught by Professor Ursits during the Fall '07 term at Kennesaw.
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