Graduation Year


Document Type

Master's Thesis


Master of Science



Program Director

Jennifer Lucko, PhD

First Reader

Jennifer Lucko, PhD

Second Reader

Rebecca Birch, EdD



Although various support systems are attempted by public schools to cause changes in student motivation and academic performance, students continue to consistently under perform and doubt their academic potential. A literature review revealed a growing body of research outlining a direct relationship between internal beliefs and performance outcomes. Yet little has been done to understand student thought patterns from their perspective, or to what extent they are able to recognize and address the internal systems of language, belief, and emotion that interact with learning. By analyzing a wide range of student perspectives, this study examines what tools and strategies students have for finding stability and powerfully navigating internal dialogue. This research utilized an exploratory–mixed methods, phenomenological approach, gathering over 1000 responses to open-ended questions from focus groups and anonymous surveys from an economically and culturally diverse student body at a public high school in San Francisco. Data included interviews, focus groups and randomized surveys to provide a dynamic range of student voices. Findings suggest students have not been taught effective strategies for overcoming negative thoughts that cause emotional disruption, and, as a result, lack the capacity for new action. These findings have implications for all students, especially those from communities predisposed to inequity, historical suffering, or psychological trauma. This work proposes that in order for a meaningful change in student self-confidence and academic achievement to occur, metacognitive agency and empowered learning systems must be explicitly addressed, not in isolated programs or lesson plans, but as the foundation upon which all learning rests.