International Self-Determination Theory Conference edition:4 location:Ghent date:13-16 May 2010
Previous research has extensively illustrated the benefits of offering an autonomy-supportive classroom environment for elementary school children and adolescents (e.g. Reeve, 2006). The present study expands previous research in three ways. First, we included structural (organisational) aspects of the classroom environment. Second, data collection took place in kindergarten. Third, we included differential effects (i.e. differences between at-risk and not-at-risk children). Observations took place in 139 kindergartens, involving 2360 5-year old children, as part of the longitudinal SiBO study in Flanders. Observers rated interpersonal teacher style (autonomy-support, instructional support and emotional support), and structural educational aspects (time spent to free-choice activities, the number of choices, use of interest-based projects, attractiveness of classroom environment, etc). Pupils learning gain (language and arithmetic skills), and non-cognitive functioning (engagement, well-being and selfregulational skills, as reported by the teacher) were assessed. Multilevel linear regression analyses were conducted (Raudenbush and Bryk, 2002). Initial results show significant positive main effects of interpersonal style and a rich environment on children’s engagement; of the time spent on free-choice activities on selfregulated functioning, and of instructional support on gain in language skills. Furthermore, significant interactions were found. At-risk children benefit from instructional support, a stimulating teacher closes the gap between at-risk and not-at-risk children. However, at-risk children generally have lower levels of well-being, selfregulation and engagement when their teacher adopts an autonomy-supportive style, offers much free-choice, creates projects based on interests, and generates a rich classroom environment. We discuss some explanations of these findings.