The task of description for developmental scientists involves depicting, portraying, or representing patterns of development in the target phenomena. As shown in Figure 2.1, this includes description of normative development, or typical quantitative and qualitative age-graded changes and continuities, as well as identifying the variety of different quantitative and qualitative pathways the phenomena can take. In the area of academic motivation, many decades of descriptive research reveals that, normatively, children’s enthusiasm, interest, valuing, and engagement in academic activities show quantitative declines, starting the day they enter academic classes and ending when they graduate from high school or drop out. These declines can be depicted as relatively steady linear decreases, punctuated by steeper declines at school transitions, typically around the transition to academic curriculum (during Kindergarten or first grade), around grade 3 (considered the transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn”), over the transition to middle school (about grade 6), and the transition to high school (grade 9).
In terms of differential pathways, these quantitative declines are less pronounced for girls, for high achieving children and youth, for white middle class students, and for students who attend schools that include kindergarten through eighth grade in the same building. In contrast, declines are more pronounced, and more likely to lead to dropping out prior to high school completion (which can be seen as a qualitative shift), for boys, for children and youth who struggle with the dominant language or academic material, for students who are low in socioeconomic status, or from some ethnic minority and immigrant groups, and for students who attend schools in districts that separate elementary from middle schools.