Relationship between perceived social support and english academic achievement among adolescents: The sequentially mediating effects of grit and learning engagement

Sz Chin Chen, Huey Jiuan Chen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

In light of the crucial role of adolescence as a transitional stage of physical and psychological development and concerns regarding school learning during this time, educators have devoted their efforts to exploring the factors affecting adolescent development. Among all of the contextual factors, social support has been proven to promote students’ development and academic achievement (Vollet et al., 2017; Wang et al., 2011). Several researchers have further indicated that social support from different sources offers unique contributions (Song et al., 2015; Wentzel et al., 2016) and may offset each other in some circumstances (Chen & Chien, 2020). Therefore, this research, which is based on Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory, both separately and collectively considers parent, teacher, and peer support to provide additional empirical evidence of the relationship between social support and academic achievement. In addition to academic achievement, engagement has been considered the core element of motivation, which represents the quality of students’ participation (Skinner et al., 2009). Compared with academic achievement, learning engagement places more emphasis on the learning process, which encompasses students’ behavioral, cognitive, emotional, and agentic involvement (Fredricks et al., 2004; Reeve & Teng, 2011). Instead of disengagement, Skinner and his colleagues (2008) highlighted disaffection, which involves the maladaptive motivational states of learning. Numerous studies have suggested that engagement is associated not only with learning achievement but also with physical and mental health (Jang et al., 2016). More importantly, researchers have indicated that learning engagement and disaffection are not innate but rather the product of personal traits and contextual factors (Buhs et al., 2018), which implies that potential for academic success is potentially malleable. Thus, the current study suggests that students’ engagement can be increased through social support, which can also reduce disaffection, and that academic achievement is positively related to engagement and negatively related to disaffection. Recently, “grit” has emerged as a significant predictor of success (Duckworth et al., 2007). Although certain educational policies that have been implemented have included teaching methods for promoting the development of students’ grit, whether grit predicts academic achievement remains unclear. Several studies have indicated that grit reduces the risk of disaffection and effectively improves academic achievement (Datu et al., 2016a), whereas other studies have indicated that grit has little explanatory power in terms of academic achievement (Steinmayr et al., 2018). Several researchers have suggested that this difference may be caused by the perception of grit as either domain general or domain specific (Muenks et al., 2017). Duckworth (2016) elaborated that having grit implies not a dedication to all scopes of knowledge and activity but rather a focus on a particular long-term goal that a person has a passion for. Thus, the current study adopted the domain-specific perspective with the aim of clarifying the relationship among social support, grit, engagement, and academic achievement. In the current study, we explored the relationship between social support and English academic achievement among adolescents in upper secondary education and examined the mediating effects of grit and learning engagement. Hence, in terms of adolescents’ prior English achievement in the Comprehensive Assessment Program for junior high school students (the entrance exam for senior high school in Taiwan), we explored the sequentially mediating effects of grit and learning engagement-disaffection on perceived social support and English academic achievement, respectively. On the basis of the theoretical framework, the current study was designed to achieve the following aims: (1) clarify the current status of adolescents’ perceived social support, grit, learning engagement-disaffection, and English academic achievement and determine whether sex, school type (vocational-high school), or grade (freshman-junior) affects any of the aforementioned variables; (2) explore the relationship among social support, grit, learning engagement-disaffection, and English academic achievement among adolescents; and (3) examine the sequentially mediating effect of grit and learning engagement-disaffection on perceived social support and English academic achievement in terms of prior English academic achievement. Through stratified convenience sampling, 850 students (301 male and 549 female) were recruited from senior high schools and vocational schools in Taiwan. All participants completed the revised Social Support Scale, the Learning Engagement Scale, the Grit Scale, and an original English achievement test. We quantitatively analyzed the data using descriptive statistics, analysis of variance, Pearson correlation analysis, and sequential mediation analysis. The results indicated the following: (1) senior high school students exhibit significantly higher learning engagement, have higher levels of grit, and perceive higher levels of teacher support than do vocational school students. (2) Freshmen (tenth graders) are significantly more engaged in learning and perceive significantly more parental support than do junior students (eleventh graders). (3) Male students are significantly more disaffected in learning than female students are. (4) Female students perceive significantly more peer support than male students do. (5) Social support, grit, engagement, and English academic achievement among teenagers are positively correlated with one another, whereas disaffection is negatively correlated with social support, grit, and English academic achievement. (6) Parental, teacher, peer, and overall social support have positive effects on English academic achievement. (7) Grit and engagement have sequential mediation effects on social support and English academic achievement. (8) Grit and disaffection sequentially mediate the relationship between social support and English academic achievement both positively and negatively. On the basis of these findings, the current study provides suggestions for educational practitioners and offers directions for future research. The findings of this study reveal the importance of parents, teachers, and peers in collaboratively building a positive learning environment to support adolescents’ development. Moreover, because of the crucial role of grit in adolescents’ learning, fostering grit to increase learning engagement and reduce learning disaffection is key for adolescents. In addition, both engagement and disaffection warrant attention. In this study, most adolescents exhibited a high level of agentic disaffection; these passive learners urgently require more attention. Furthermore, this study confirmed that support from different sources provides unique contributions. Support from parents and teachers affects adolescents’ learning engagement and disaffection more significantly than other types of support do. The results indicated that support from older people plays an essential role in adolescents’ development. In future studies, the distinctiveness of the participants’ microsystem should be considered; accordingly, instruments should be properly modified to enhance construct validity. Although studies have primarily highlighted social support from parents, school teachers, and peers, several participants in our study indicated that they received more support from other family members, cram school teachers, or other peers. Moreover, assessment tools should correspond to participants and their living areas to ensure the value of the research. During adolescence, teenagers try to escape from parents’ protection and strive for independence. Whether perceiving more social support might cause opposite outcomes and compromise students’ self-identity is worthy of discussion. However, Datu and colleagues (2017) accounted for cultural differences, supplementing “adaptability to situations” as the third factor of grit. Future studies can modify their assessment tools according to these considerations and perform cross-cultural comparisons. Researchers can collect multiple types of data or long-term data to improve content validity and substantiate empirical evidence. Because this study adopted a self-report inventory, the data were vulnerable to personal response and social desirability bias. Although this study revealed a sequential mediation effect, the total effects were not substantial. Future studies can further explore other mediators to enrich theoretical knowledge on academic achievement and motivation theory. Upper secondary education is the first encounter that teenagers in Taiwan have with the decision-making aspects of different school systems. The study results indicated that vocational school students have lower levels of grit and engagement and lower English academic achievement than senior high school students do. We expect additional studies to examine the upper secondary education system to provide more practical advice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)857-884
Number of pages28
JournalBulletin of Educational Psychology
Volume52
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Keywords

  • English academic achievement
  • Grit
  • Learning engagement
  • Social support

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of 'Relationship between perceived social support and english academic achievement among adolescents: The sequentially mediating effects of grit and learning engagement'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this