Attitude and Behavior of Students

Attitudes are one of the challenges teachers have to wrestle within the classroom. This post will provide a more in-depth understanding of what an attitude is and the traits of attitudes.


A student’s attitude is their tendency to respond a certain way towards something. Naturally, the student’s response can be on a continuum of positive to negative or good to bad. When a teacher says that a student has a bad attitude, they mean that the student did not respond positively to something they were asked to do. The opposite is also true; a student with a good attitude is likely someone who has a cooperative spirit in terms of complying with what they are asked to do by the teacher.

It is essential to mention that attitude is considered a psychological construct. This means you can see the consequences of the attitude but not the attitude itself. In other words, the behavior is observed to determine the attitude. For example, a child who refuses to follow orders provides evidence that they have a bad attitude.

Components of Attitude

There are three main components of an attitude, and they are cognitive, affective, and intentional. The cognitive aspect of an attitude refers to what beliefs a student has about a person or object. The affective component relates to the feelings a student has towards a person or object. Lastly, the intentional component address the intentions a person has towards a person or object.

Naturally, there is some overlap in these components. If a student has negative beliefs about something, it is probably that they have negative feelings as well.

Attitude Formation

Three common approaches attempt to explain how attitudes are formed. These three approaches are called the dispositional approach, situational approach, and social information processing approach.

The dispositional approach views attitudes as almost the same as a personality trait. Students are born to have a positive or negative outlook in different situations. In other words, if they are happy, they are happy, and if they are sad, they are sad. From a teaching perspective, it is a random chance whether a student will enjoy your class. This is not overly optimistic in terms of changing a student’s viewpoint.

The situational approach states that attitudes emerge depending on the context. For example, if students struggle to understand math, they may develop a negative attitude about math. However, the opposite is also true in that success will cause the development of a positive attitude. This view allows a teacher to try to find situations in which students can have success so that they can shape a positive attitude.

Lastly, the social information processing approach views that attitudes are caught from the people around us. For example, if a student with a neutral attitude is surrounded by students with negative attitudes, they also will develop a negative attitude. Students pick up on the information about various topics from the environment, which can largely shape their attitude towards something.

Intentions vs. Action

Generally, students will try to maintain consistency between their attitudes and actions. Failure to do this can lead to trying to justify inconsistent behavior through excuses. This happens when students do something they know is wrong and blame it on something else or someone. This disconnect between attitude and action is sometimes called cognitive dissonance.


Attitudes are part of life but how we respond is up to us. Whether a student has a positive or negative attitude, it is up to the teacher to find ways to work with this student. The ideas presented here are simply a stepping stone in this process.

3 thoughts on “Attitude and Behavior of Students

  1. Pingback: Attitude and Behavior of Students | So, You Think You Can Teach ESL?

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