Positive experience in students leads to higher success in the classroom says new research

By: Kathryn Cockerill

John Froiland

John Froiland, Clinical Assistant Professor, Educational Psychology

In a recent research publication titled, “Positive and Negative Time Attitudes, Intrinsic Motivation, Behavioral Engagement and Substance Use Among Urban Adolescents”, Dr. John Froiland, Clinical Assistant Professor of Educational Studies, and Dr. Richard Olenchak, Professor of Educational Studies in Purdue University’s Department of Educational Studies, along with co-authors Dr. Frank Worrell of University of California, Berkley, and Dr. Monica Kowalski of University of Notre Dame, drive into how time attitudes, intrinsic motivation, and behavioral engagement of high school students affect their alcohol and marijuana use. Their article was published in Addiction and Research Theory for Taylor & Francis Online. In preparation to draft this article, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. John Froiland to gain a deeper understanding as to why this research matters, and how it is important to educators and parents.

As Dr. Froiland described, the main question was, “What if positive time attitudes, autonomous motivation to learn, and academic engagement work in concert to reduce high school students’ risk of alcohol use, marijuana use, and binge drinking?”  The inspiration for this study came from Dr. Froiland’s curiosity as to how “The Adolescent and Adult Time Inventory Time Attitude Scale” (AAIT-TA) would work in combination with the other constructs that he studies (Mello & Worrell, p. 1, 2016). According to Dr. Zena Mello and Dr. Frank Worrell, “The Adolescent Time Inventory was developed to measure how adolescents’ think and feel about the past, present, and future. The ATI consists of five components, including time meaning, time frequency, time orientation, time relation, and time attitudes (p. 1-2, 2016). However, the other source of inspiration was the high rates of teens who struggle with alcohol use, marijuana use, and binge drinking. According to Dr. Froiland, “In our large sample in California, 35% reported using marijuana in the last 30 days, 41.3% using alcohol, and 24% reported binge drinking within the last 30 days. Other studies in North America have found similar percentages.” These findings are extremely problematic as both alcohol and marijuana can not only impair memory, but also put students at-risk for alcohol use disorder and trying more dangerous drugs in the future. The researchers wanted to find out how these variables (time attitudes, behavioral engagement, and intrinsic motivation) were related to alcohol and drug use.

In their research, many different variables were measured, such as positive and negative time attitudes, intrinsic motivation, behavioral engagement, alcohol and marijuana use, and lastly, sex and GPA. In order to gather information, 1,961 students from the San Francisco Bay Area were surveyed for their feelings about their past, present, and future, as well as their drug and alcohol use. They concluded that, “positive time attitudes put adolescents at a somewhat lower risk for alcohol use, binge drinking, and marijuana use, by increasing the likelihood that they will be intrinsically motivated and behaviorally engaged with learning opportunities. Likewise, negative time attitudes put students at greater risk for lower behavioral engagement and more marijuana use, in part via lower intrinsic motivation to learn” (Froiland, et al., 2020). What this means is that students who look fondly at their past, present, and future experiences engage more in the classroom and have more inward motivation when it comes to school work. In turn, the students will be more likely to have a higher GPA and will be less likely to misuse alcohol and marijuana.

When asked what findings surprised him the most, Dr. Froiland answered with, “I was surprised that negative time attitudes (e.g., regret, discontentment, and pessimism) explained as much variance in the outcomes as positive time attitudes. This suggest that positive psychology interventions (e.g., gratitude journals, applying mindfulness theory, training teachers to be autonomy supportive, and setting intrinsic life goals) could help a lot, but so could interventions that address negative time attitudes and help youth restructure irrational thoughts.” Building on this, Dr. Froiland mentioned a few methods he believes are the best choices for teachers and parents to integrate into their routines. Dr. Froiland recommends, “The teacher autonomy supportive style (see Froiland, Davison, & Worrell, 2016), building positive teacher-student relationships (Froiland, Worrell, & Oh, 2019) combined with teaching parents to use the BEAR model of parent involvement (see Froiland, 2020).”

This study is coming at such an important time, as COVID-19 has taken away many of the opportunities for teens to make fond memories in and out of school, and online learning is keeping many students from engaging fully in their learning and classwork. Having this information is extremely important in order to help students not only achieve success in the class room, but also steer away from risky activities that can set them up for problems in the future. Educators and parents should try to incorporate the methods given by Dr. Froiland to help their students during these uncertain times. These methods ensure that students are receiving the necessary help from those they depend on to achieve their goals.