Motivational Interviewing with Middle School Students

Gerald Gill Strait, University of South Carolina


Motivational interviewing (MI) is an effective method of promoting change in adults, but its efficacy with children has not received much research attention. This study provides a novel test of the efficacy of MI for promoting academic achievement in middle school students. It also examines theoretically specified mechanisms of action for MI such as cognitive dissonance theory, self-efficacy, empathy, and reactance theory. Participants were 103 sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students who were randomly assigned to either an MI (n=50) or wait list control condition (n= 53). Students in the MI condition participated in a single 50-minute MI session during the 7th and 8th week of the second semester. Major outcomes included changes in grades and self-reported academic behaviors, attitudes, and self-efficacy. Potential mediators, moderators, and outcome variables were measured at three different times, starting 4 weeks into the second semester and repeating approximately every 4.5 weeks. In comparison to the control group, students in the treatment group demonstrated significant improvements in their class participation and overall positive academic behavior following the treatment. Similarly, students in the treatment group obtained significantly higher 4th quarter math grades in comparison to the control group after accounting for pretreatment math grades and clustering within teacher. Pretreatment Desired GPA was found to strengthen the effect of the treatment on math grades. No other predicted moderators (e.g., pretreatment self-efficacy and attitude-behavior discrepancies) were found to significantly influence the strength of the treatment. Mixed results were found regarding the importance of empathy and reactance in regards to grade outcomes for the treatment group. Finally, results indicated that predicted mediators (e.g., post treatment self-efficacy and attitude-behavior discrepancies) were not significantly related to the treatment's effect on tested outcomes.