Universiteit Leiden

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PhD project

Student motivation and achievement in lower secondary education in a context of differentiated talent development

This project aims to analyze and increase student motivation and achievement during the first three years of secondary school with an intervention that focuses on development of students’ talents.

2013 - 2017
Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap


  • Lindy Wijsman MSc - PhD candidate
  • prof.dr. J.H. van Driel (Melbourne Graduate School of Education, The University of Melbourne) and prof.  M. Westenberg, PhD - supervisors
  • dr. N. Saab - co-supervisor

Project description


This project contains an educational innovation to stimulate achievement and motivation in lower secondary school. A combination of internal (talent development) and external (increased norm standard) stimulators are used. The research informs us on how this innovation works out.

The current view is that adolescents do not enjoy school, and want to achieve as much as possible with as little (time) investment as possible. This idea is what is called the culture of C’s (in Dutch: zesjescultuur). A C (or a six) is sufficient and enough to pass to the next grade. Then why would anyone spend extra time to achieve higher grades if this does not have any extra advantages?  In this project we try to stimulate students in such a way that they want to achieve higher and spend more time on their schoolwork.


The intervention (GUTS; Gedifferentieerd Uitdagen van Talent op School, differentiated talent development in school) implies that first year secondary school students themselves choose some subjects to develop their talents in, receive extra lessons in these subjects, and that the promotion standard is changed to an average seven (the Dutch grading system ranges between 0 (incredibly poor) and 10 (perfect)). In the present project we analyze general achievement developments in lower secondary school, and evaluate the effects of this intervention.


During school year 2013/2014 all first form classes ( Nstudents = 200) of one bilingual higher general secondary and pre-university education school started in the intervention. Students from two other schools ( Nstudents ≈ 350) participate as a reference group during this school year.

Both groups of students will be monitored for three years, by means of questionnaires at different points in time (at the beginning and end of first class, at the end of second class, and at the end of third class), and interviews (2016). Additionally achievement of students at the participating and other schools will be gathered in the form of report card grades ( Nschools  = 9).

We aim to replace overall declining motivation and achievement  tendencies with a persistently positive attitude towards learning and consistent achievement levels. In addition, we expect to increase motivation and achievement for self-selected subjects.

Foto: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Blend / Learning Pictures / Universal Images Group

This research project is one of two related projects. Central is an intervention with regard to differentiation and talent development. This first project evaluates the effects of the intervention on students. The second project, carried out by Saskia Stollman (ICLON), focuses on teacher development in light of the intervention.

Within this project we collaborate with Wolfert Tweetalig - a bilingual school in Rotterdam - where the intervention was first implemented in school year 2013/2014.

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