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Student Desire for Affect

Updated: Mar 21

Dave Rojeck, PhD

Catholic Educational Leadership/Policy Studies

Five students talking on a bench
There are more important things to discuss than academics.

I conducted research in numerous schools in the Diocese of Cleveland in 2012 on affective (non-academic) outcomes of students. The student survey instrument included 120 questions statements on social outcomes, commitment to nonviolence, student engagement, morality, and relationships with others. The last of the 120 questions on the anonymous student survey asked students a (yes) or (no) question: Do you think this survey can help students understand their own attitudes, values, and beliefs? Comments were optional. Of the 844 respondents (just 11 skipped the question), 84.2% (711 students) responded affirmatively. The 258 comments given were overwhelmingly positive.

Most schools do not formally assess non-academic aspects of students’ growth and development because of their overarching concern for academic achievement. More than one student commented on why their school had never asked them these relevant life questions before. These responses may suggest students’ desire for accelerated growth in the affective domain. Indeed, students get affect through sources outside of their classrooms, as in their families and friends, as well as the popular media which often leads young people astray with soothing messages of happiness, delight, and instant gratification. With countless teenagers having participated in techno-raves and taking a drug in pill form which fills them with a sense of empathy for hours on end, may this simply be a cry for authentic affect? It could be well for schools to pay additional attention to student affect so that students will less seek it out by other means not always in accord with authentic education. The singular emphasis on academics by many schools these days may be leaving students with an emptiness that algebra class simply cannot fill.

The Adolescent Wellness Academy (2018) reported disturbing evidence for teenagers with regard to mental health. Fifty percent of mental health cases start by the age of 14. Ninety percent of those with addiction began before the age of 18. Over half of teens had used alcohol in the past year.

Young people may benefit from a more holistic education that devotes adequate time to the affective domain. Indeed, young people are often willing to engage in group discussions on the meaning of life. A core component to holism is the spiritual, but public schools are unable to offer a holistic education because of laws against the teaching of religion in their schools. Thus, no public school can ever claim to offer a holistic education. So, in terms of holism in schools, the academic domain is certainly there, as well as offerings in the psychomotor realm, though success in interscholastic athletics does not necessarily connote a quality physical education program. But where are the programs of affect in the triangular graphic of learning domains, and if they are offered in character education programs or in religious education classes, do schools place them on a par with their emphasis on academics?

In order to contextualize the student opinions of the non-academic survey, it is necessary for the reader to first see the survey questions which is comprised of the Social Outcomes Survey (Performance Measurement and Review Branch, 2002), The Teenage Nonviolence Test (Mayton et al, 2001), The PISA Survey of Student Engagement (OECD, 2003) and two subscales from the Assessment for Catechesis and Religious Education (NCEA, 2001).


Social Outcomes Survey

Teenage Nonviolence Test

PISA Measurement of Student Engagement

"School is a place where ...

“How many times in the previous two weeks did you…”

ACRE Affective Statements

A Catholic grade school principal (grades 7-8) in Cleveland commented about the affective student survey:

“The comments showed that the students were very perceptive and the instrument made them think about their choices, attitude and daily responses to situations. The experience of taking the survey may just be an excellent teaching tool for helping youngsters evaluate their choices and also help them know themselves better. Another plus for being involved in this survey opportunity."

One student comments about the student survey (grades 7-12) from the pilot study:

"I thought all the questions were valid. I thought all of the questions were good questions that really make you stop and think about your actions in certain situations You think more about your answers, and you have to look at how you are and your life is. It will help understand values."

Below is the full listing of student comments to the question:

Do you think this survey can help students understand their own attitudes, values, and beliefs?

It is imperative that schools pay more attention to affect in both their instruction and environment. We must all pay more attention to what students say and how they act with regard to their attitudes, values, and beliefs. School safety is more important than state academic report cards. Emotional intelligence is more important than mere knowledge and skills. Peace and harmony in relationships are more important than test scores. Know love, know peace!

Adolescent Wellness Academy (2018). Teen and Adolescent Mental Health Facts and

Statistic. Retrieved from facts-statistics on March 24, 2021.

Mayton, D.M., II, Thompson, D., Garrison, T., & Caswell, R. (2001). Nonviolent tendencies

of adolescents across gender and grade. San Francisco, CA: 109th Annual Meeting of the American Psychological Association.

National Catholic Educational Association. (2001). NCEA ACRE Assessment Program:

Assessment of Catechesis Religious Education. Washington, D.C: Author.

Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development. (2003). Programme for

International Student Assessment: First results from PISA 2003. Retrieved from

Performance Measurement and Review Branch. (2002, January). Social Outcomes Survey:

Administration guide. Queensland Government, Australia.

Rojeck, D. (2014). Character as the Ultimate Measure: Aspects of Student Virtue in

Relation to Self and Others in the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program: [Doctoral dissertation, The Catholic University of America]. Washington, D.C. Retrieved from: datastream/PDF/view

Dr. Dave has worked in schools for over 30 years at home and abroad serving urban, suburban, and rural populations with affluent, middle class, and disadvantaged students in public, private, and religious contexts. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on affective outcomes of students. There is way more to Education than academics. Join his Facebook group Fresh Eyes on Teaching for more insightful and innovative ideas on Education.

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