The role of school in adolescents’ identity development

A literature review

Schools can play an important role in adolescents’ identity development. To date, research on the role of school in adolescents’ identity development is scattered across research fields that employ different theoretical perspectives on identity. The aim of this literature review was to integrate the findings on the role of school in adolescents’ identity development from different research fields and to provide schools and teachers with insights into how adolescents’ identity development can be supported. Using constant comparative analysis, 111 studies were analyzed.

We included articles on personal and social identity and on school-related identity dimensions. Three groups of studies emerged. First, studies on how schools and teachers unintentionally impact adolescents’ identity showed that, at school, messages may unintentionally be communicated to adolescents concerning who they should or can be through differentiation and selection, teaching strategies, teacher expectations, and peer norms. Second, studies on how schools and teachers can intentionally support adolescents’ identity development showed that different types of explorative learning experiences can be organized to support adolescents’ identity development: experiences aimed at exploring new identity positions (in-breadth exploration), further specifying already existing self-understandings (indepth  exploration), and reflecting on self-understandings (reflective exploration). The third group suggests that explorative learning experiences must be meaningful and situated in a supportive classroom climate in order to foster adolescents’ identity development. Together,
the existing studies suggest that schools and teachers are often unaware of the many different ways in which they may significantly impact adolescents’ identity development.


Verhoeven, M., Poorthuis, A. M. G., & Volman, M. (2019). The role of school in adolescents’ identity development. A literature review. Educational Psychology Review31(1), 35-63.

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