Trajectories of Learning Dispositions and Attitudes in Upper Primary Schools in Northern Ireland: What exactly is going on?

Paul Wilson, Carol McGuinness, Elizabeth Sproule, Angela Eakin

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


There is increasing research and policy interest in the importance of attitudes to learning, learning orientations and learning dispositions (however they are labelled), not only because they influence traditional measures of school achievement but also because they facilitate how well children function at school, with implications for their future learning. This paper reports the findings on pupils’ learning dispositions and attitudes from two separate cohorts of pupils as they progress through upper primary school (Key Stage 2) in 50 schools in Northern Ireland. (These data are drawn from two different longitudinal studies and the data collection period predates the introduction of the new Northern Ireland Curriculum.) Approximately 1200 pupils completed seven scales from the Assessment of Learner-Centred Practices, ALCPs (McCombs and Lauer, 1997) at three time points, at the end of P5 (9 year olds), at the end of P6 (10 years olds) and at the end of P7 (11 year olds). ALCPs draws on an extensive research base that has identified cognitive and motivational dispositions and attitudes that are associated with a positive orientation to learning, and ultimately with positive progress in school (Alexander and Murphy, 1998). Although each scale can be considered separately, the seven scales cluster into two groups: self-efficacy, mastery orientation, active learning strategies and curiosity are all predicted to be pro-learning; and challenge avoidance, work avoidance, and – to a lesser extent – performance orientation, are predicted to be negatively associated with learning. The general trajectory in the children’s self-evaluations shows that they are becoming less pro-learning over time, with significant decreases in their self-ratings of active learning, curiosity, mastery orientation and self-efficacy. At the same time, there is some evidence that they work harder and put more effort into their work but this is not accompanied by maintaining their previous pro-learning motivations and strategies. The pattern is consistently more negative for boys than for girls. There are very few differences between the two cohorts indicating that the pattern is not confined to a specific cohort. These findings are challenging and will be interrogated with regard to two questions – are the changes related to the influence of the children’s school experiences per se or are they more related to developmental differences as children adopt more critical appraisals of their personal attributes and efforts as they get older? Whatever the reason, these learning dispositions and attitudes are important as they contribute significantly to school achievement even when the more traditional predictors like gender and ability are taken into account.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2014
EventImproving Children’s Lives: An International Interdisciplinary Conference. - Queen's University Belfast, Belfast, United Kingdom
Duration: 20 Feb 201422 Feb 2014


ConferenceImproving Children’s Lives: An International Interdisciplinary Conference.
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


Dive into the research topics of 'Trajectories of Learning Dispositions and Attitudes in Upper Primary Schools in Northern Ireland: What exactly is going on?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this