Youth Culture Paper

Here you go everyone... I attached the word file, and I am also putting the paper in the body of the blog post.  PICK YOUR POISON...  I have a few bugs yet to work out, and I still need to attach my resources page (IN APA... of course.)  Hope you enjoy the read.  Sorry if it is so long!


Roberto A. Molina                                                                                                      June 26, 2017

ED523 – Ardito                                                                                              Youth Culture Inquiry

What is Most Important to You?

The Study

            Being a teacher, although extremely difficult work, is one of the most rewarding professions a person can be a part of.  The rewards however, do not simply happen.  One must work tirelessly at reshaping his/her pedagogy in a way that meets the fundamental human needs of an ever-changing, ultra-diverse group of students.  In order to meet those needs, it is imperative that a teacher be familiar with his/her students beyond their test scores.  A good teacher will strive to form sound relationships with each of his/her students.  Part of forming those relationships is getting to know what is truly important to one’s students.  To that end, I have created a study that polls 6th grade students on what is most important to them.  The goal of the study is to gain a better understanding of what is really important to my students, in hopes of structuring future lessons and activities so as to better meet students’ needs.

image            The participants of this study was a diverse group of 52 sixth grade students (28 boys, and 24 girls) from the Anne M. Dorner Middle School (AMD) in Ossining, New York.  The school is the only middle school in the district.  It has a total enrollment of approximately 1,100 students.  AMD is home to approximately 75 full time teachers, and has a student to teacher ratio of approximately 15:1.  AMD is a culturally diverse school that is fortunate enough to have a generous mix of cultures in each and every classroom.  Approximately “551 students, or 52.5% of the student population at Anne M. Dorner Middle School identify Hispanic, making up the largest segment of the student body” 

            The Anne M. Dorner Middle School, as a result of its diversity is a school where tolerance and acceptance rule the day.  There is an ongoing effort in the school to remind students on a daily basis to “be kind.”  As a school wide initiative, “be kind” has caught on, and can often be heard on the lips of the students.  In my classroom where the study took place, the culture we have created is one of diligence, respect, and accountability.  In my classroom, students are expected to conduct themselves in a professional manner at all times.  Students are made aware from day one that respect is the cornerstone of our classroom culture and as such, it should guide all interactions, lessons, discussions, etc.  For the most part, students have “bought into” this philosophy, virtually eliminating the need to correct any behaviors beyond talkativeness.  As a result, students are able to better focus on their studies to a point where their studies have become the most important thing in their lives (as you will soon see).

            For the first part of the study, I created a questionnaire that listed several areas of importance expressed by the students during informal conversations.  These areas include: Role Models, Privilege (having a big house and/or money), relationships with teachers, popularity, sports, feelings (emotions), power, justice (the need for fairness), socializing, being known/unknown, academic success, and relationships with friends.  Students were asked to pick the three most important areas, and then rank those three in order of importance.  Students were also given a place to write in an area that was not found on the list.  Once I tabulated the results, I created a written questionnaire that took the two most voted for areas, and asked students to elaborate on why these particular areas are so important to them.  The results of the study were, at first, surprising but later, after reading some of the student responses to the second questionnaire, made much more sense based on the classroom culture. 


One of the limitations of this study is that it was conducted with a small sample size.  Had the pool of participants been larger, I might have seen slightly different results; especially if I conducted this study using various students from various different school districts of varying affluence.  After all, what is important to a student in a high-performing school district may not necessarily be what is most important to a student in an under-performing school district.  Another possible limitation of this study is that I administered the questionnaire to my own students.  Therefore, it is quite possible that they chose “academic success” assuming that I might be disappointed had they not.


            As stated earlier, students were asked to pick the three most important areas in their lives, and then rank them in order of importance.  To my surprise, “academic success” topped the list with 21 out of the 52 students (40%) ranking it as the most important area in their lives.  38 out of 52 students (73%) had “academic success” in their top 3.  The second most important area, with 11 out of 52 (21%) first place votes was “relationship with friends”.  31 out of 52 students (60%) had “relationships with friends” in their top 3. 

In response to student responses on the first questionnaire, I created a second questionnaire that focused solely on academic success and relationships with friends.  In this questionnaire, students were asked to explain what these specific areas mean to them personally.  Some of the student responses were expected while others were surprising.  When asked what academic success means to him, one student wrote, “My parents tell me all the time that doing well in school will get me a scholarship to college.” Another student wrote, “I need to have academic success because my older brother was successful so I need to be successful too.”  Another student wrote, “Academic success is important to me because I want to impress my teacher.”  Yet another student wrote, “Having academic success will hopefully lead to financial success.”

When asked about relationships with friends, and what this means to them/ why it is so important, one student wrote, “Having a good relationship with a lot of friends means that someone will always have my back.”  Another student wrote, “Relationships with friends are important because friends understand you better than adults do.”  Another student wrote, “Having lots of friends is important because it makes you popular.”  Yet another student wrote, “Relationships with friends is important because otherwise you would be lonely.”  In the next section of this study, I will interpret these findings/results, and attempt to justify those results using personal experiences and theory.


            The results of my study were both surprising and generally expected.  It came as no surprise that relationships with friends ranked highly in a typical middle school student’s priorities.  What did surprise me was the percentage of students whose first (most important) choice was academic success.  Regardless of which of the two areas was most important to students both areas are similar in that relationships with friends and academic success both allow for a student to receive some sort of extrinsic acceptance or approval.  Later, I will offer some reasoning as to how and why.

As noted in the previous section, some students were inclined to choose academic success because of pressures imposed on them by family, and by society at large.  As much as I want to celebrate this revelation, I cannot help but find it troubling.  Eleven year old children are not supposed to value academic success over friends, family, fame, power, sports, and etcetera.  However, in our common core, performance-based society, kids are afforded less and less opportunities to be… kids.  “The desire for successful children in a performance-based culture often consumes us before we realize it. “More is better” might innocently trickle into the mindset, but before you know it, the winner take all dynamics of a competitive society can easily become a part of our everyday lives” (  As my study suggests, academic success is very much at the forefront of students’ priority lists, however this motivation for success may be more a more controlled, extrinsic motivation as opposed to intrinsic.   “Within Self Determination Theory, when a behavior is so motivated, it is said to be externally regulated” (Gagne & Deci, 2005).  External regulation is a type of extrinsic motivation.  People who are externally regulated, “act with the intention of obtaining a desired consequence or avoiding an undesired one, so they are energized into action only when the action is instrumental to those ends” (Gagne & Deci, 2005).   That being said, it saddens me to think that children potentially see academic success not as something they are intrinsically motivated towards, but rather as a societal necessity that determines one’s identity in said society.  With that in mind, had my students chosen academic success as most important and justified their choices with reasons other than external forces, I might have been more encouraged.   As the teacher of these children, it is then my responsibility to mitigate these external forces by structuring my lessons and classroom interactions so that they can appeal to/meet students’ fundamental needs.  “That satisfaction of all three basic psychological needs (competence, relatedness, and autonomy) (is) associated with more satisfying learning experiences and greater academic achievement” (Niemiec & Ryan, 2009); more so than parents demanding success because college is looming, or because an older sibling set a precedent. 

            The other overwhelming area that students in my study regarded as important to them was relationships with friends.  This came as no surprise to me.  “Discovering who one is may be the most challenging and elusive journey for adolescents and although it is just the beginning, identity development is critically affected by middle school experiences” (Brown & Knowles, 2010).  The idea of developing interpersonal relationships in a new environment such as middle school can elicit a range of emotion from positive, to tumultuous, to downright frightful.  Regardless of how specific relationships are categorized or the emotions they elicit, each of them is necessary in my opinion.  With students struggling on a daily basis to form an identity amongst their peers, family, community, and etcetera, they need to be well-versed in the different emotions that drive them.  “Young adolescents experience different points of view, try out new ideas, and experiment with different ways of thinking and behaving as they search for personal identity as part of a group” (Brown & Knowles, 2010).  As a middle school teacher, I must always keep in mind that adolescents are emotionally volatile; especially when it comes to relationships with friends. 

Knowing now, as a result of my study just how important those relationships are will certainly inform my pedagogy.  Professionals such as myself “must find a way to relate comfortably to adolescents, and be flexible enough to accommodate the wide range of adolescents they are likely to encounter. And, professionals must recognize that developing effective communication with the adolescents with whom they work requires effort on their part” (APA, 2002). Regardless of how difficult the task may seem, we as teachers (the adults in their lives for a large portion of the day) “need to address young adolescents’ social and emotional concerns and identify issues through curriculum, school programs, and the development of a personal healthy relationship with each student” (Brown & Knowles, 2014).  As stated earlier, what this study has taught me is that we as middle school teachers need to know our students beyond their grades.  We need to make ourselves aware of what truly drives students, and augment our instruction so as to better meet their basic human needs.  Failure to do so may lead to widespread social apathy, and a generation of students who are not intrinsically motivated towards the success they regard as most important in their lives.



    • Alanna Kardon-Alkalay
      Alanna Kardon-Alkalay

      Hi Robert. Your paper has a nice flow and I was really interested in what you had to say. I think you may be an action researcher in disguise! I enjoyed your writing style as well.

      I like that you had some significant data in your paper.  It creates a nice structure . I am wondering if putting a few stories about your students in the "findings" section might personalize it a bit. Maybe you can remember some antidotes that can serve as qualitative data for the areas of academic and friends? I am thinking about conversations you may have witnessed or some of your own observations. Some narrative prose might work.

      Once the reader gets to the end of The Study section, it becomes very clear what you intend to investigate.  Since you structure you paper like actual research, perhaps you want to begin with something that resembles an abstract, but not exactly. I mention this because our rubric wants us to begin with a thesis. I would check in with Professor Ardito about the particulars.

      You make strong connections to our class discussions and readings. I like that you addressed self determination theory. It definitely has a place when thinking about motivation and academics. The good news is you probably shouldn't worry that your students are presently more motivated by outside influences than internal.  Since you are working with young adolescents they are still working on internalizing parts of themselves.  This is where you come in.  If the important people in your students' lives (parents, peers and teachers) support their competence, relatedness and autonomy in the academic arena, it is very likely they will be motivated intrinsically as time goes on (This is the social worker in me coming out). You write about this in your conclusion which is reflection of your own teaching. That is fantastic.

      I believe you constructed quite an insightful paper.



      • Jenna Crispo
        Jenna Crispo

        Hi Roberto,

        I enjoyed reading your paper and learning the process you took in achieving your findings. My favorite part is the conclusion and how you connect everything to the text with specific suggestions for the roles of teachers or schools. I agree with you that it is somewhat troubling to find that academic success is so important to young adolescent students. I would hope that middle schoolers do not feel overwhelmingly high demands or stress- I know some of mine didn't seem to report knowing or recognizing stress until the end of 8th grade heading towards HS. But they are all so concerned about the numeric grade! Perhaps you could even add in the conclusion a specific way to focus student engagement, progress, or product on their improvement, or gained learning experience, instead of a number. Lastly, I was drawn into your description of the school culture of respect and "be kind." When you say students have "bought into" this philosophy, I understand what you mean but feel that it could be supported more with an example of student behavior that represents a previous point before connecting to the philosophy, and what changed that they show a deeper interest in their studies as a result. 

        Overall, your paper is well-written and direct, addressing the task that academics and relationships are highly prevalent and significant in youth culture.