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Extension > Family > School success > Professionals > Research on school success > Research on the factors for school success > Modeling

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Research on the factors for school success

mother helping young son with homework


Sandra L. Christenson, Ph.D, College of Education and Human Development and Cathryn Peterson, Teacher, Armstrong High School, Robbinsdale, MN

Revised June 2013 by Kathleen A. Olson, Program Director — Partnering for school success.

Modeling refers to how adults demonstrate desired behaviors and commitment/value toward learning and working hard in their daily lives. Student success at school is enhanced when teachers establish an academically demanding classroom that has clearly defined objectives, explicit instructions and an orderly and efficient environment, and when the parent(s) or other adults read, ask questions, discuss the importance/value of education, set long term goals, and are able to intervene and be involved with youth's school.

What Do We Know?

Selected Research Findings

A positive family correlate of academic achievement is the degree to which parents model learning by reading or using math in the home (Hess & Holloway, 1984). Eagle (1989) also found that higher achieving students came from homes that emphasized family reading.

According to Maccoby and Martin (1984), children attend to, respond to, and follow the behavior of salient models more than they model verbal instruction or demands when the words and actions of parents are incongruent. Thus, parents who are observed reading, improving themselves, and taking an interest in their children's education have a greater impact on their learning than those who do not model such behaviors.

Parental modeling of the value of learning, self-discipline, and hard work by asking questions and engaging in conversations about achievement resulting from hard work has been associated positively to students' academic performance and persistence on tasks (Clark, 1993; Rumberger, 1995).

Based on a review of the parent involvement literature, Becher (1984) concluded that children with high achievement scores have parents who set expectations for their performance, respond and interact with them frequently, and view themselves as "teachers" of their children. Grolnick, Benjet, Kurowski, & Apostoleris (1997) recently showed that mothers of third and fifth graders who felt efficacious, who saw their roles as that of teacher, and who viewed their children as less difficult, were more involved in cognitive, school-related tasks at home.

An authoritative parenting style appears to mediate children's competence through discussion around schoolwork and everyday events, use of problem-solving and negotiation skills, and facilitates learning through support and expectations for success (Steinberg, Mounts, Lamborn, & Dornbusch, 1991).

In a study of Indochinese refugee families, one of the strongest predictors of GPA was the love of learning present in the students' homes (Caplan, Choy, & Whitmore, 1992). In another study investigating the experiences and attitudes of Indochinese refugee families, researchers found the stronger the values related to education held by the parents, and the more supportive intervention behaviors performed by parents, the higher the children's academic achievement. The authors concluded that three factors influence the connection between parents' values and behavior: strong, consistent values about the importance of education, willingness to help children and intervene at school, and ability to become involved (Mitrosomwang & Hawley, 1993). Modeling appears to be influenced by both parents' attitudes and behaviors.

Effective teachers model a task-oriented attitude for their students. They establish an academically demanding climate, conduct an orderly, well-managed classroom ensuring student success, implement instructional practices that promote student achievement, and provide opportunities for student leadership and responsibility. Teachers who establish academic objectives elicit higher student achievement than teachers who fail to establish clear objectives, are unable to accomplish academic objectives due to poor management skills, or establish primarily affective objectives (Brophy, 1986).

The importance of explicit instruction is highlighted in research in reading comprehension. In a review of 60 separate studies comparing explicit approaches to the more conventional approach (i.e., demonstration-practice-assessment) for teaching comprehension skills, Pearson and Dole (1985) found student performance on practice and application activities to be superior when teachers took the time, through extended discussions, to make clear to students the what, how, why, and when of necessary skills. The studies reviewed included training both elementary and junior high students in the use of specific strategies for improving reading comprehension; in most cases, the effects proved to be durable over periods ranging up to six months. Additionally, Duffy et. al. (1986) found that teachers who used instructional talk that made "visible their invisible thinking" while teaching reading comprehension, had students who performed better on reading assignments and achievement tests.

The availability of positive role models within ethnically diverse communities is associated with the degree to which the community places value on educational and vocational achievement (National Commission on Children, 1991).

When adults, including teachers, model higher order moral reasoning and thinking skills during stressful or difficult situations, they demonstrate how to handle difficult situations for youth (Garbarino, 1995).

Youth, especially poor or disadvantaged children, benefit from living in diverse or economically mixed communities. Less affluent children have role models that can demonstrate other ways of living and provide them with additional resources and opportunities, such as baseball tickets, visits to a museum and trips to the zoo. In addition, more affluent children can gain by being able to identify negative stereotypes that are often associated with less affluent people (Garbarino, 1995).

The Search Institute studies have found that the most positive impact occurs when most youth do not actually see or witness people modeling a negative or risky behavior. Unfortunately it seems that presence of positive behavior is much less influential on community health. Seventy-three percent of youth in the healthiest communities reported that they do not see their friends skip school, drink frequently, use illicit drugs, or attend drinking parties. This is compared to 66% of youth in moderately healthy and 59% of youth in the least healthy communities, when asked about the same risk factors (Blyth, 1992).

Focus Group Comments

How Do We Do This?

At Home

Value of Education

Goals and Problem-Solving

Role Models in the Home

In School

Within Community


Becher, R. M. (1984). Parent involvement: A review of research and principles of successful practice. Urbana, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 247-032)

Blyth, D. (1992). Healthy communities; healthy youth: How communities contribute to positive youth development. Minneapolis, MN: The Search Institute.

Brophy, J. E. (1986). Teacher influences on student achievement. American Psychologist, 41, 1069-1077.

Caplan, N, Choy, M. H., & Whitmore, J. K (1992, February). Indochinese refugee families and academic achievement. Scientific American, 36-42.

Clark, R. M. (1993). Homework-focused parenting practices that positively affect student achievement. In N. F. Chavkin (Ed.), Families and Schools in a Pluralistic Society (pp. 85-105). Albany: State University of New York Press.

Duffy, G. G., Roehler, L. R., Meloth, M. S., Vavrus, L. G., Book, C., Putnam, J., & Wesselman, R. (1986). The relationship between explicit verbal explanations during reading skill instruction and student awareness and achievement: A study of reading teacher effects. Reading Research Quarterly, 21(3), 237-252.

Eagle, E. (1989, March). Socioeconomic status, family structure, and parental involvement: The correlates of achievement. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco.

Garbarino, J. (1995). Raising children in a socially toxic environment. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Grolnick, W. S., Benjet, C., Kurowski, C. O., & Apostoleris, N. H. (1997). Predictors of parent involvement in children's schooling. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89(3), 538-548.

Hess, R. D., & Holloway, S. D. (1984). Family and school as educational institutions. In R. D. Parke, R. M. Emde, H. P. McAdoo, & G. P. Sackett (Eds.), Reviewing Child Development Research: Vol. 7: The Family (pp.179-222). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Maccoby, E. E., & Martin, J. A. (1984). Socialization in the context of the family: Parent-child interaction. In P. H. Mussen (Ed.). Handbook of Child Psychology: Socialization, Personality, and Social Development (Vol. 5). New York: Wiley.

Mitrsomwang, S. & Hawley, W. (1993). Cultural adaptation and the effects of family values and behaviors on the academic achievement and persistence of Indochinese students. Final report for Grant No. R 117E 00045, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, Washington DC: U.S. Department of Education.

National Commission on Children (1991). Beyond rhetoric; A new American agenda for children and families. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Pearson, P. D., & Dole, J. A. (1985, April). Explicit comprehension instruction: The model, the research, and the concerns. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association, Chicago.

Rumberger, R. W. (1995). Dropping out of middle school: A multilevel analysis of students and schools. American Educational Research Journal, 32(3), 583-625.

Steinberg, L. Mounts, N. S., Lamborn, S. D., & Dornbusch, S. M. (1991). Authoritative parenting and adolescent adjustment across ecological niches. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 1, 19-36.

Additional Readings

Benson, P. L. (1997). All kids are our kids. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Brophy, J. E., & Good, T. L. (1986). Teacher behavior and student achievement. In M. L. Wittrock (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Teaching (3rd ed.) (pp. 328-375). New York: MacMillan.

Carlson, C., & Christenson, S. L. (Eds.). (2005). Evidence-based parent and family interventions in school psychology [Special issue]. School Psychology Quarterly, 20(4).

Christenson, S. L., Rounds, T., & Gorney, D. (1992). Family factors and student achievement: An avenue to increase students' success. School Psychology Quarterly, 7(3), 178-206.

Henderson, A. T., & Berla, N. (Eds.). (1994). A new generation of evidence: The family is critical to student achievement. Washington, DC: National Committee for Citizens in Education.

Henderson, A. T., & Mapp, K. L. (2002). A new wave of evidence: The impact of school, family, and community connections on student achievement. Austin, TX: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory.

Mattingly, D. J., Prislin, R., McKenzie, T. L., Rodriquez, J. L., & Kayzar, B. (2002). Evaluating evaluations: The case of parent involvement programs. Review of Educational Research, 72(4), 549-576.

McKee, W. T., & Witt, J. C. (1990). Effective teaching: A review of instructional, and environmental variables. In T. B. Gutkin, & C.R. Reynolds (Eds.), The Handbook of School Psychology (2nd ed.) (pp. 821-846). New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Redding, S. (2000). Parents and learning. Educational Practices series — 2. Geneva, Switzerland: International Bureau of Education.

Shepard, J., & Carlson, J. S. (2003). An empirical evaluation of school-based prevention programs that involve parents. Psychology in the Schools, 40(6), 641-656.

Task Force on Education of Young Adolescents (1989). Turning points: Preparing American youth for the 21st century. Washington D.C.: Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development.

Ysseldyke, J. E., & Christenson, S. L. (2002). FAAB: Functional assessment of academic behavior: Creating successful learning environments. Longmont, CO: Sopris West.

Ysseldyke, J. E., & Christenson, S. L. (1993). TIES II: The instructional environmental system-II: A system to identify a student's instructional needs. Longmont, CO: Sopris West.

Related resources

Monitoring Tips — Get a better understanding of what monitoring is, why it's important, and modeling strategies you can use to build parent-child relationships.

Standards and expectations — Review what the research says about standards and expectations, and how parents and teachers can use standards and expectations to facilitate children's school success. Part of the Research on the factors for school success series.

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