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Motivational Influences on Student Participation in Classroom Learning Activities


by Julianne Turner & Helen Patrick - 2004

This study examined how one type of student work habit - classroom participation - is related to a combination of both student factors (math achievement, personal achievement goals, perceptions of classroom goal structures, and teacher support) and features of the classroom context (teachers' instructional practices, average perceptions of classroom goal structures). We focused on the participation of two students in mathematics class during both sixth and seventh grades. Differential teacher expectations, calling patterns, and instructional and motivational support and nonsupport interacted with beliefs and behaviors of both students, and those interactions were associated with different patterns of participation each year. Results suggest that student participation is malleable rather than stable and emphasize the potential of teacher practices to both support and undermine the development of student work habits.

This study examined how one type of student work habit—classroom participation—is related to a combination of both student factors (math achievement, personal achievement goals, perceptions of classroom goal structures, and teacher support) and features of the classroom context (teachers’ instructional practices, average perceptions of classroom goal structures). We focused on the participation of two students in mathematics class during both sixth and seventh grades. Differential teacher expectations, calling patterns, and instructional and motivational support and nonsupport interacted with beliefs and behaviors of both students, and those interactions were associated with different patterns of participation each year. Results suggest that student participation is malleable rather than stable and emphasize the potential of teacher practices to both support and undermine the development of student work habits.


How do students develop positive work habits in school? Popular notions tend to focus on one of two responses: One explanation is that some students are naturally motivated to learn and that they are the ones who succeed. Those who aren’t smart or motivated (of whom there are many) will not be successful achievers. Another explanation is that there are ‘‘good’’ and ‘‘bad’’ teachers. Parents in the know jockey to place their children in the good teachers’ classrooms, assured that work habits and achievement will follow. Fortunately or unfortunately, the situation is much more complex than these beliefs imply. Work habits, like other behaviors, arise from the interaction of both characteristics of students and of the learning environment.


Our research focused on studying teachers and students in classrooms to better understand the complex interactions that support student learning and learning-related beliefs and behaviors. In fact, learning outcomes are usually not straightforward. For example, it happens that even ‘‘smart’’ students don’t always develop productive work habits, while students with lower achievement often do. We have observed that even good teachers may inadvertently fail to engage some students but may help others to develop strong motivation to learn and positive work habits.


In this study we describe and analyze the joint contributions of both student characteristics and teacher instruction to the development of an important student work habit—participation in classroom learning activities. Participation is both a productive work habit, likely to contribute to learning, as well as evidence of student motivation to learn. We argue that neither teacher behavior nor student characteristics can adequately account for students’ participation but rather that students’ behavior is a unique outcome of the interaction between these two factors. Specifically, we analyze the participation of two students in their sixth and seventh grade mathematics classes. We demonstrate how different interaction patterns in each class were related to changing patterns of participation for both students. We conclude with a discussion of the necessity of considering person-environment relationships and instructional practices if we are to better understand how to foster productive student motivation and work habits.

PARTICIPATION AS A PRODUCTIVE WORK HABIT


Participation in lessons facilitates learning. There are a number of ways that students can participate overtly, including offering their ideas and thoughts spontaneously, volunteering to answer questions, answering questions when called on, demonstrating at the chalkboard, talking to peers or the teacher about tasks, and completing written work. Students may also participate without these behavioral indicators of involvement by watching, listening, and thinking. In the current study we focus on participation that is explicit and observable.


Participation in learning activities is a valuable work habit for several reasons. It provides students with opportunities to learn and practice new knowledge and strategies, to explain their reasoning, and to examine their thinking processes and recognize the need to revise thinking. It also allows teachers a window into student thinking processes and learning, allows them to diagnose learning problems or evaluate student progress, and provides teachers an opportunity to scaffold, or provide cognitive and affective supports, for students’ understanding. Despite these benefits, participation varies among students, and for some opportunities to learn do not arise. Important factors regarding whether students participate include students’ motivation to learn and the kinds of environments and supports for participation offered through classroom instruction. We discuss each of these in turn.

MOTIVATION TO LEARN


We studied students’ motivation to learn through the lens of achievement goal theory. Achievement goal theory describes different purposes that students adopt for engaging in academic tasks. Research has shown that these purposes are related to different patterns of student thinking, emotions, and actions and also to achievement (Ames, 1992; Midgley, 2002). Researchers focused predominantly on two different types of goals: mastery goals and performance goals. Mastery goals are focused on increasing competence, whereas performance goals are focused on demonstrating competence. Each of these goals can be held by individual students (i.e., personal goals) and also be perceived as being emphasized in the classroom (i.e., goal structures) (see Kaplan, Middleton, Urdan, & Midgley, 2002, and Urdan 1997, for reviews).

Personal Goals


Students with personal mastery goals want to increase their competence and are concerned about mastering the material. The standard for improvement is one’s past performance rather than the performance of others (Ames, 1992; Maehr, 1984; Nicholls, 1989). Students with mastery goals believe that putting forth effort and persisting, even when learning is difficult, are worthwhile, and they view mistakes as opportunities to learn, not as failures. Students exhibit mastery goals when they show interest and diligence when working on a task or express excitement when learning new skills or knowledge (Kaplan et al., 2002).


Students who adopt personal performance goals are focused on demonstrating their competence (performance-approach goals) or avoiding demonstrating their incompetence (performance-avoid goals) (Middleton & Midgley, 1997; Skaalvik, 1997). Students who endorse performance goals are especially concerned with how they perform in comparison to other students or in relation to established standards (like grades or SAT scores). Within this framework, putting forth effort and making mistakes tend to be related to lower ability (Nicholls, 1989), so students with performance goals may prefer easy tasks that make them look able by succeeding with little effort. Performance goals can be seen when students focus on grades and comparing themselves to others.


Results from many studies have shown that holding mastery goals is associated with many positive outcomes, including choosing challenging tasks, using adaptive learning strategies, seeking help when needed, and holding positive attitudes and emotions in relation to tasks, the classroom environment, and the self (see Ames, 1992; Kaplan et al., 2002; Urdan, 1997, for reviews). Both performance-approach and -avoid goals are associated with anxiety, a disorganized approach to studying, use of superficial learning strategies, and low exam performance. Performance-approach goals are also linked to efficacy beliefs and effort and persistence while studying, whereas performance-avoid goals are also associated with avoiding engaging actively in task requirements (Elliot, McGregor, & Gable, 1999; Kaplan et al., 2002; Urdan, Ryan, Anderman, & Gheen, 2002).

Classroom Goal Structures


Goal theory assumes that students’ motivation is influenced not only by their individual personal dispositions and beliefs but also by the classroom environment (Ames, 1992). Classroom environments communicate purposes and meanings for engaging in academic tasks to students, and students’ perceptions of these messages are related to how they participate in class. Similar to the meanings associated with personal goals, a mastery goal structure conveys a perception that students’ learning and understanding, in contrast to mere memorization, are valued and that success is accompanied by effort and indicated by personal improvement. A performance goal structure conveys to students that learning is predominantly a means of achieving recognition, and that success is indicated by outperforming others, surpassing normative standards, or looking smart (Ames, 1992). Classrooms that are perceived as having a strong emphasis on mastery goals have been shown to be most adaptive. They have the lowest rates of students’ cheating, self-handicapping, being disruptive, and avoiding seeking help. Classrooms that are perceived as highly performance-focused tend to have more negative outcomes, including higher rates of student cheating, disruptive behavior, self-handicapping, and avoiding seeking help (Kaplan et al., 2002; Turner et al., 2002; Urdan et al., 2002).


Because participation in lessons often takes effort and sometimes involves taking risks or making mistakes, it follows that it would be most likely to occur with students who have personal mastery goals and least likely with students who have performance-avoid goals. We expect that participation from students with performance-approach goals would depend on their ability and confidence in that ability; those wanting to look smart would participate if they felt that giving answers would have that effect. We also expect that the classroom focus on mastery and performance goals will moderate the effects of students’ personal goals, so that participation from all students will be facilitated with a classroom emphasis on mastery goals.

Multiple Goals


Most research in goal theory focused on the independent effects of different goals. However, a few researchers (e.g., Meece & Holt, 1993; Pintrich, 2000; Wentzel, 1991) considered the effects of combinations of personal goals and how they may unfold in concert—with one either complementing or undermining another. Almost all research on classroom goal structures has considered mastery and performance structures separately. In the only exception we know of, researchers examined two classrooms with both a high mastery and high performance goal structure (Turner, Meyer, Midgley, & Patrick, 2003). In the current study we consider combinations of personal goals that students hold, combinations of classroom goal structures perceived by students, and ways that students’ multiple personal goals interact with the classroom multiple goal structures.

TEACHER INSTRUCTION AND ACHIEVEMENT GOAL STRUCTURES


Teachers’ instructional practices and discourse contribute to their students’ perceptions of goal structures (Ames, 1992). Our observational research investigated how middle grade teachers communicate classroom goal structures. In classrooms perceived as having a high mastery goal structure, teachers expressed enthusiasm for learning and expectations that all students would learn. They required all students to participate actively and communicated both academic and socioemotional support. In classrooms perceived as having a high performance goal structure teachers conveyed, among other things, messages that not all students would be successful (i.e., differential expectations), that learning would be difficult, and that active participation in lessons was not necessary for learning (Patrick, Anderman, Ryan, Edelin, & Midgley, 2001; Patrick, Turner, Meyer, & Midgley, 2003).


Our research using analysis of teacher discourse led to similar findings. Patterns of teacher discourse, or what teachers say and how they say it, are related to students’ intrinsic motivation to learn (Turner et al., 1998) and reports of avoiding participation (Turner et al., 2002). The most facilitative teacher discourse patterns involve (a) emphasizing the importance of understanding and helping students understand; (b) holding students accountable for what they have learned (e.g., asking students to explain their understanding); (c) encouraging student effort and persistence and viewing mistakes as learning experiences; (d) expressing positive emotion and enthusiasm about learning; and (e) encouraging students to help each other. Discourse patterns related to lower motivation to learn and higher reports of avoidance behaviors include (a) emphasizing right answers or following directions rather than understanding; (b) emphasizing work completion and ‘‘perfect’’ performances, rather than learning; (c) expressing negative affect, such as threats or sarcasm; and (d) using social comparison (e.g., implying that some students are better or smarter than others).


Based on the research reviewed, we expect that students would be most willing to participate in classrooms where teachers expressed enthusiasm about learning, communicated a belief that all students can learn, and provided academic and emotional support for students’ understanding.

THE ASSOCIATION BETWEEN PERSONAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS


Most research in motivation privileged the individual perspective, neglecting or ignoring the influences of the environment on individual motivation (e.g., Elliot et al., 1999; Patrick, Ryan, & Pintrich, 1999; Pintrich, 2000). Other research, ours included, examined contexts for learning but did not investigate how the same classroom environment might interact with individuals differently (e.g., Patrick et al., 2001; Turner et al., 1998, 2002). However, as we discussed, both personal factors (e.g., students’ achievement goals) and environmental factors (e.g., certain instructional practices and types of discourse) together influence a student’s willingness to participate in learning activities. Therefore, to understand how student and environmental factors work in concert, we need to consider students in their classrooms.


Person-in-context perspectives attempt to explain how environments and individuals act on each other (Lemos, 2001; Magnusson & Stattin, 1998; Vauras, Salonen, Lehtinen, & Lepola, 2001). This perspective prompts such questions as the following: How does student behavior reflect the interaction of both personal and contextual features? How do persons and contexts change in response to each other? What accounts for changes in behaviors and environments over time? For example, researchers using sociocultural theories examine how children become socialized into the existing systems of meanings, as in a classroom, and how they internalize, or incorporate, those meanings into their own (e.g., Brown & Campione, 1994). They assume that ‘‘the child and the social world are mutually involved to an extent that precludes regarding them as independently definable’’ (Rogoff, 1990, p. 28). In another approach, aptitude treatment interaction research (ATI; Cronbach & Snow, 1977) involved investigating the effects of a treatment (or environmental conditions) on students with different aptitudes (or propensities to think or behave differently). ATI research also sought to determine whether using different approaches with different subgroups of students would reduce variability in educational outcomes. This theory was revised recently to acknowledge developments in theory and research, with the coining of the term aptitude-in-person-in-context (Corno et al., 2002). Similar to those views, in the current study we also used a person-in-context perspective to guide our interpretation of individuals’ behaviors in classroom environments and explanations of how they influenced each other.

THE PRESENT STUDY


In the study we report here, we attempt to explain students’ participation in classroom learning activities by simultaneously considering the interaction of personal and environmental factors. We asked the following research question: How do personal level factors (math achievement, personal goals, perceptions of teacher support, perceptions of the classroom goal structure) and features of the classroom context (teachers’ instructional practices, average perceptions of classroom goal structures) help explain students’ participation in both years?

METHOD

PARTICIPANTS


To best answer our research question we focused both on different students in the same context and on the same students in different contexts, as suggested by Lemos (2001, p. 132). Therefore, we selected two students, Justin1 and Shanida, from the same sixth grade classroom, who subsequently moved into different types of mathematics classes (accelerated and average) in seventh grade. All teachers were using the Connected Mathematics curriculum (Lappan, Fey, Fitzgerald, Friel, & Phillips, 1998).


Justin (a European American boy) and Shanida (an African American girl) were both in Ms. Weber’s sixth grade classroom. Ms. Weber taught a heterogeneous sixth grade in a midsize Midwestern urban school district. She taught mathematics as well as most other subjects to her homeroom class of 24 students, 21 of whom completed surveys. Ms. Weber had been teaching for 8 years.


During seventh grade Justin was in Ms. Carleton’s accelerated, prealgebra class. There were 28 students in that class, including 9 who had participated in the study the previous year. Ms. Carleton had been teaching for 23 years. Shanida was in Ms. Butler’s average level mathematics class, as were 28 other students. Of those students, nine had participated in the larger study the previous year and therefore had completed surveys. Ms. Butler was a middle-aged woman completing her first year as a teacher.

MEASURES AND PROCEDURE

Survey Data


Students were administered a battery of survey measures in their regular classes in the spring semesters of both sixth and seventh grades, as part of a larger study (e.g., Turner et al., 2002). Students were told to think about math class when answering, and all items were specific to math. For this study we used scales measuring students’ personal achievement goals for mathematics and their perceptions of teacher support and the goal structures within their mathematics class. The format for all items was a 5-point scale, ranging from 1 = not at all true through 5 = very true.

Personal Goals


The measures of personal goals were taken from the Patterns of Adaptive Learning Survey (PALS; Midgley et al., 1996). The measure of mastery goals (five items, αs = .85 and .89, in sixth and seventh grades, respectively) refers to the extent to which students endorse doing their math work to develop their competence. A sample item is "It’s important to me that I improve my math skills this year." The measure of performance-approach goals (five items, α = .89 in sixth grade; four items, α = .89 in seventh grade) refers to the extent to which students endorse doing their math work to demonstrate their competence relative to other students in the class. A sample item is "It’s important to me that I look smart in math compared to others in my class." The measure of performance-avoid goals (five items, α = .79 in sixth grade; four items, α = .82 in seventh grade) refers to the extent to which students endorse doing their math work to avoid looking inferior relative to other students in the class. A sample item is ‘‘One of my goals is to keep others from thinking I’m not smart in math.’’

Teacher Support


The measure of teacher support refers to perceptions of teacher caring (four items, αs = .81 and .82, in sixth and seventh grades, respectively) and was taken from the Teacher Socioemotional Support subscale of the Classroom Life Measure (Johnson, Johnson, & Anderson, 1983). A sample is ‘‘Can you count on your teacher for help when you need it?’’ Responses to those items were 1 = almost never to 5 = often.

Classroom Goal Structures


The measures of classroom goal structures were also taken from the Patterns of Adaptive Learning Survey (PALS; Midgley et al., 1996). The mastery goal structure scale (six items, αs = .75 and .84, in sixth and seventh grades, respectively) refers to perceptions that the teacher encourages and values students’ understanding and personal improvement. A sample item is ‘‘My teacher thinks mistakes are okay in math as long as we are learning.’’ The measure of classroom performance goal structure (five items, αs = .82 and .84) refers to perceptions that the teacher encourages competition and comparison among students around academic tasks. A sample item is "My teacher lets us know which students get the highest scores on a math test."

Mathematics Achievement


Students took a standardized math achievement test during approximately the second month of school in both years. In sixth grade the students took the state achievement test and in seventh grade they took a nationally standardized test. Students’ test scores were collected from their records at the end of each year.

Teacher Discourse


Mathematics instruction was observed and audiotaped during the same two units of instruction in each of the classrooms. During sixth grade we sampled five lessons in the fall and five lessons in the spring. During seventh grade we sampled three lessons in the fall and three lessons in the spring.


Teachers were told that we were interested in observing classrooms to better understand student motivation in mathematics and were assured that all information would remain confidential. In addition to audio-recording all classroom discourse, a researcher sat at the back of the room and wrote notes about what was occurring to supplement or explain the discourse. The audiotapes were transcribed, and the notes were integrated into the transcripts.


We coded the teacher discourse within all transcripts using three broad a priori categories: instructional, motivational, and organizational discourse.2 For the current study we used only the instructional and motivational categories. Each category was further divided into supportive and nonsupportive subcategories. Supportive instructional discourse included two types of statements: those that helped students understand and those that required students to explain their thinking, not just give a correct answer. Nonsupportive instructional discourse included statements that asked for mostly ‘‘right answers’’ with no explanation of why the answer was correct or statements that told students how to perform a procedure but did not offer an explanation of why the procedure was appropriate or why it worked. This discourse was viewed as nonsupportive because it did not help students who did not understand. Supportive motivational discourse was characterized as encouraging student interest and persistence (keeping a focus on learning), positive emotions, and social collaboration. Nonsupportive motivational discourse was characterized by messages that mistakes were detrimental to learning, impersonal or negative affect (e.g., impatience, frustration), and an emphasis on comparing students to one another.


We computed the percentage of time that teachers used supportive and nonsupportive instructional and motivational discourse. The percentages were computed within each category of discourse for each teacher based on 10 observations. Therefore, reporting that 24% of a teacher’s discourse was nonsupportive instructional discourse means that across all 10 observations, 24% of the teacher’s total instructional discourse during whole class instruction was categorized as nonsupportive. The percentages do not add up to 100% because we do not report the proportions of a third category, organizational discourse, nor do we report teacher discourse with small groups and individuals.

Student Participation


To determine the individual students’ participation in the math classes, we identified all the occurrences of that student’s talk or behavior, and teacher talk or behavior directed at that student, from the transcribed discourse and observers’ notes. We did this by using the software’s word-search feature to search for each student’s name. We created a chart for each student, and for each lesson we copied all the references to him or her into the chart, adding details about the nature, content, and place in the lesson of the specific behaviors or talk. We then summarized across lessons for each student.

RESULTS


To describe the interaction between the student and the classroom environment, we moved through three stages of analysis at both grade levels for each of the two students. First, we considered the student’s profile of mathematics achievement, multiple personal achievement goals, perceptions of teacher support and perceptions of the classroom goal structure, as shown in Table 1. Second, we considered the student’s general classroom environment. In order to determine how the students in that classroom who were in the study perceived the classroom goal structures, we averaged all their responses to obtain a composite score (see Table 2). We also analyzed teacher discourse and instructional practices in each classroom (see Table 3). Third, we considered the student’s participation across all observed mathematics classes at each year.


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JUSTIN

Individual Level: Sixth Grade Multiple Goals and Achievement


In the spring of sixth grade Justin reported moderate mastery goals (3.00), in addition to high performance-approach (5.00) and low performance-avoid (1.60) goals (Table 1). Justin’s perceptions of the goal structures in his classroom were similar to his personal goals. He perceived his sixth grade class as having a low to moderate mastery goal structure (2.67)—somewhat lower than the student average in that class, and a high performance goal structure (5.00)—higher than the classroom student average. Justin also perceived low support from his teacher (1.75). He was a high achiever on the sixth grade state achievement test, having scored at the 84th percentile, and he scored at the 76th percentile on a nationally normed standardized mathematics test in the seventh grade.

Classroom Level: Sixth Grade Context


On average, students perceived the classroom as emphasizing performance goals (M = 4.28) somewhat more than mastery goals (M = 3.78) (Table 2). Discourse analyses tended to support these perceptions (Table 3). They showed that a good deal of Ms. Weber’s discourse was directed to helping students build understanding (31%) and become more autonomous learners (13%). Thus her instructional behaviors were often supportive of mastery goals. However, she also had a tendency to emphasize accuracy and speed over understanding (24%). For example, during a problem-solving exercise she asked the class, "Who else feels they have it exactly and would like to read their explanation?" This emphasis on the importance of correct answers might be interpreted as evaluative and could heighten social comparison concerns among students, leading them to perceive a high performance goal structure in the classroom.


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Although Ms. Weber called on both volunteers and nonvolunteers, she did not support all students equally when they responded. Therefore a practice that could have communicated confidence in all students as learners may have failed to accomplish its goal. Despite this wide calling, when the question was difficult or when students did not understand, the teacher tended to call on a select few higher achievers. Thus, there appeared to be differential expectations and treatment for students in this classroom.


When students had difficulty, the teacher urged them to try harder, apparently not considering that lack of understanding, rather than effort, could be the reason. In addition, we saw evidence of teacher frustration when students did not give correct answers or did not understand. When some students did not answer correctly, Ms. Weber often called on another student to answer, rather than diagnosing the difficulty or providing help. These instructional interactions seemed to support student perceptions of a high performance goal structure and differential treatment.


Percentages of supportive motivational discourse were relatively low (7%), and percentages of nonsupportive motivational discourse were relatively high (5%), in this classroom compared to other classrooms we have studied (e.g., Turner et al., 1998, 2002). Previous research (Turner et al., 2002) showed that ratios of 20 to 1 (supportive to nonsupportive discourse) are characteristic of classrooms where students perceive an emphasis on mastery goals. In Ms. Weber’s classroom, these ratios were approximately 1 to 1. The relatively low proportion of supportive motivational discourse implied that Ms. Weber often failed to appreciate students’ improvement, progress, and effort. At the same time, the relatively high proportion of nonsupportive motivational discourse, as compared with other teachers, revealed frequent instances of negative affect and some impatience with students when they did not respond quickly and willingly. For example, when a student expressed some reluctance to go to the board to factor a number, the teacher commented, ‘‘Stop acting like a baby.’’ Thus, the positive affect and support in the classroom was relatively low, possibly making the teacher’s negative affect and frustration more noticeable to the students.

Justin’s Participation in the Sixth Grade Mathematics Class


Justin was visible and participated a lot in all 10 observed lessons. For example, on November 10th, the teacher called on him more than 10 times. However, across all lessons his participation was mostly the result of being called on and it was often reluctant; he rarely volunteered.


Ms. Weber appeared to see Justin as quite able at math, expressed high expectations, and often made public statements referring to his math ability, such as ‘‘Two people got 100 on yesterday’s quiz. Justin and Ciara were the only ones who got 100.’’ On another occasion she mentioned that only two students, including Justin, had received all the points on a difficult quiz question. In addition, she mentioned twice that he was on the school Quiz Bowl team and reminded him publicly that he would be in the (advanced) prealgebra class the next year. During one lesson Justin reported that another student had beaten him in a geometry game, to which Ms. Weber replied ‘‘Shame on you,’’ apparently implying that he was beaten by a less able student. Another indication of her high expectations for Justin was that Ms. Weber typically provided continuous help to him while he worked through problems at the board, and she came back more than once to check on his understanding later; she apparently expected that he could learn. She did not do this for many other students, including Shanida. Although he often appeared to want to shirk responsibility for thinking, Ms. Weber insisted that he think. For example, after arguing with him about his characterization of a problem as ‘‘impossible,’’ Ms. Weber prodded him to propose a method for solving the problem.


Despite her convictions about his ability, Ms. Weber often found herself exhorting Justin to expend effort. At times she sounded frustrated when Justin had trouble with math because she thought he had the ability but needed to work harder. In an attempt to encourage Justin to try, the teacher reminded him that ability alone was not sufficient. She said, "Did you really think that you could get a [reward]? Justin, you don’t get it automatically just because you’re smart. You get it when you work hard."


Justin’s performance in math class was uneven, both in the fall and in the spring. In the 10 lessons we observed he answered as many questions incorrectly as he did correctly. Sometimes he had difficulty with seemingly elementary material, such as identifying a 90-degree angle. It was not clear if he really could not do the homework, if he did not want to expend the effort in doing the homework, or if he expected that by giving cursory excuses the teacher would move on, as she typically did with many other students. He often expressed minimal interest in the content, such as when he asked Ms. Weber why they would go to the trouble of looking up the definition of an angle. She replied, "Don’t you want to learn? I know you do. You’re going to be in the Quiz Bowl for math problem solving." He also complained, in reference to a question from the teacher, that she was asking him to do eighth grade work rather than sixth grade work. Despite his mixed class performance and apparent low effort and interest in math, when it came to final assessments Justin often demonstrated that he had learned the material. On at least two occasions Justin was one of two students to score very high on quizzes and tests, as mentioned earlier.


In summary, Justin’s high performance approach goals and moderate mastery goals may have indicated that he valued opportunities to demonstrate his competence, especially with easy questions, as his apparent lack of effort may have implied. However he did not withdraw or assume a low profile when the math was challenging, as might be expected, perhaps because the teacher pressed and supported him, thus helping to ensure his success. Similarly, the classroom context, focused as it frequently was on correctness and low instructional and motivational support, might not have provided many opportunities for students to demonstrate competence. However, the differential treatment in this classroom was an asset for Justin because the teacher expected him to do well, helped him to achieve, and compared him favorably to other students. Therefore, understanding both Justin’s multiple personal goals and the teacher’s instructional behaviors in relation to him, help explain Justin’s behavior. It appeared to be the way the teacher directed special instructional and motivational support to him—support not offered to others—that may have enabled him to participate successfully and achieve. We suspect that, despite his goal to demonstrate competence, if left to his own devices Justin may not have been as successful academically as he was.

Individual Level: Seventh Grade Multiple Goals and Achievement


In the spring of seventh grade Justin’s reported mastery goals were unchanged from the previous year (3.00). He did report lower performance approach (4.00) and performance-avoid (1.00) goals than he did one year earlier. Justin’s perceptions of the goal structures in his classroom were somewhat different from his personal goals, and quite different from how he perceived his sixth grade classroom. He perceived his seventh grade math class as having a high mastery goal structure (4.33) and a moderate to low performance goal structure (2.40). Justin also perceived high support from his teacher (4.25).

Classroom Level: Seventh Grade Context


On average, students perceived Ms. Carleton’s classroom as having a moderately high mastery goal structure (M = 3.89) goals and a low performance goal structure (M = 2.13). Discourse analyses showed a supportive pattern, both in terms of instructional and motivational discourse. Ms. Carleton’s instructional behaviors were supportive of both helping students understand (28%) and asking them to explain their understandings (13%). Although a high proportion (28%) of her discourse was coded as nonsupportive instructionally in that it sometimes emphasized right answers, this pattern can be useful when used in conjunction with high proportions of supportive instructional discourse during activities such as reviewing difficult concepts (Turner et al., 2002). That is, Ms. Carleton made sure both that students knew what the right answer was and why it was correct.


Ms. Carleton tended to call on students who volunteered to answer questions in class, although she sometimes called on nonvolunteers and also encouraged students to volunteer. For example, she said to the class, ‘‘I love calling on the people whose hands are up, but I would like to, you know, call on others too.’’


Ms. Carleton’s math instruction was also characterized by a pattern of high levels of supportive (12%) and low levels of nonsupportive (3%) motivational discourse. She exhibited excitement about mathematics, and attempted to help students see that learning math could be both enjoyable and useful. She commented that ‘‘math is one of those marvelous subjects that does teach you to think and problem solve.’’


Ms. Carleton also used humor well as part of her instruction, and this may have helped to support students’ efficacy and lessen student anxiety regarding learning difficult new content. An example is when she spoke jokingly about how she sometimes makes mistakes, with the implication that students should not feel concerned about being incorrect:


What is going to happen is that you are going to learn by looking at your mistakes, you are going to learn by hearing your classmates come up with possible answers and you are going to learn by having to do the work on the board and sharing. Don’t be afraid of making an error—we all do it. I do. Okay? How many times am I at the board and my brain is working faster than my hand, and I will put something else down and wonderfully somebody catches me. So, if you see me making a big faux pas up here say, ‘‘Hey, Mrs. Carleton, something is the matter up there.’’ Okay?

Justin’s Participation in the Seventh Grade Mathematics Class


In contrast to the previous year, Justin did not seem prominent at all in his seventh grade math class. We observed him volunteering to answer a question only once in the six lessons, and he was called on two other times; one time he was incorrect initially and the other time he was interrupted by another student’s question before he could answer. Furthermore, from the few comments we heard Ms. Carleton make to Justin, it seemed that he had established a pattern of not putting forth full effort. For example, after he asked a question about homework she replied, "You have to read carefully," and after he gave an incorrect answer in class her response was, ‘‘No honey, you are not following again.’’ However, Justin did not miss out completely on participating in class talk. We observed one exchange when Ms. Carleton called on Justin; he answered incorrectly and another student volunteered to answer, but the teacher continued with Justin and with her assistance he came to the correct answer. The exchange proceeded as follows:


Ms. Carleton: We said we found out that the one third distance of 560 miles was how many miles?


Justin: 187.


Ms. Carleton: 187. What did we do then to find out how many hours it took them to travel that 187 miles?


Justin: (unclear)


Ms. Carleton: Why 60?


Justin: (unclear)


Ms. Carleton: Correct. So we divided the rate into itself and then into the miles and then came out with the time.


When Ms. Carleton did speak directly to Justin it was mostly with reference to his behavior, particularly not paying attention. She also tended to mention his name as she called the class to order or asked students to refocus on her. For example, she paused while explaining something to the class to admonish Justin for talking: ‘‘I have a very rude young man here, and I’m not appreciating this at all. I expect better. Am I understood?’’


In summary, Justin volunteered answers infrequently during seventh grade and garnered most teacher attention for his behavior, particularly not paying attention. His engagement did not seem consistent with the pattern of personal goal orientations that he expressed, including high performance-approach, moderate mastery, and low performance-avoid goals. That is, his goals suggest that he would answer questions to appear smart but not be especially concerned about learning and not intend to avoid engagement. In a class where the content was not easy, though, and when the teacher emphasized understanding in addition to having the correct answer, there were presumably few opportunities for him to demonstrate competence easily. Understanding the classroom context provides additional information useful in explaining Justin’s participation. Although classrooms that tend to be perceived as having a high mastery goal structure and a low performance goal structure, as Ms. Carleton’s was, are believed to promote adaptive patterns of engagement, we did not see this with Justin. The teacher’s pattern of mostly not requiring Justin to participate verbally in whole-group lessons seemed to allow him to avoid participation. Interestingly, Justin reported high levels of support from his teacher, despite her reprimands about his behavior. This may reflect that she did not call on him often to answer questions, unlike Ms. Weber in sixth grade. Unfortunately, though, we suspect that this also afforded him fewer opportunities to grapple with and understand the mathematics.

SHANIDA

Individual Level: Sixth Grade Multiple Goals and Achievement


In the spring of sixth grade Shanida reported holding an adaptive pattern of personal goals. She reported high mastery goals (4.40), in addition to low performance-approach (2.00) and performance-avoid (1.80) goals. In addition, Shanida perceived Ms. Weber’s classroom as having both a relatively high mastery (4.17) and performance (4.80) goal structure. Her perceptions of both goal structures were somewhat higher than the average perceptions of participating students in her class. She reported low teacher support (1.75). Shanida’s mathematics achievement was at the low to low-average level; she scored at the 36th percentile on the state achievement test at the beginning of sixth grade and at the 32nd percentile on a nationally normed achievement test in seventh grade.

Classroom Level: Sixth Grade Context


As noted in the section about Justin, Ms. Weber’s mathematics class tended to be perceived by students as emphasizing performance goals (M54.28) somewhat more than mastery goals (M53.78). The discourse analyses tended to support those perceptions.

Shanida’s Participation in the Sixth Grade Mathematics Class


Shanida appeared in 6 out of our 10 classroom observations in Ms. Weber’s classroom. Classroom transcripts reveal that Shanida was not called on often in this class, but when she was called on she participated by answering. She did not volunteer frequently during whole-class lessons. However, she appeared to work steadily and in an engaged way during partner work, which was frequent in this class. For example, she and her partner identified the most factor strings on a worksheet one day, and they participated in an engaged way during several geometry lessons even though their answers were often incorrect. She answered questions correctly most of the time in the fall but only about half the time in the spring. In at least three instances from the transcripts, the teacher moved on to another student rather than help Shanida to understand when she was gave an incorrect answer. As we noted, the opposite pattern occurred with Justin. We recorded only one instance of teacher praise for Shanida’s participation during the 10 observed lessons and this was for a rather minimal accomplishment, explaining what a problem asked students to do.


Shanida’s perceptions of low teacher support appear to be borne out in some of her interactions with the teacher. When Shanida responded that she did not know how she had solved a problem, the teacher appeared to assume she had not tried: "You said, ‘Oh, forget this!'? ‘I have to check ninety nine numbers, forget this’?’’ On another occasion, during a circles and angles game, the teacher scolded Shanida and her partner for labeling the degrees on angles rather than computing the degrees of the angles mentally. (The game was more challenging if students had to remember or calculate mentally that moving across three 30 degree angles put one at 90 degrees.)


Erase the degree numbers! I told you, it becomes a first grade game at that point. We may as well just throw these away and I’ll give you a big page of computations. Would you like that? [long pause] Erase those better.


Later in the same class Ms. Weber discovered that Shanida and her partner, Jennifer, had mistakenly played a game employing 45-degree angles as if they were 30-degree angles. She announced publicly, and in a somewhat frustrated and incredulous manner, to the teacher aide, ‘‘Mrs. Wilson, they played this game by 30s!’’ Shanida, who clearly did not understand, asked, ‘‘Ms. Weber, does it make a difference?’’ Instead of helping her understand, the teacher exclaimed, "They’re not the same! Jennifer, are these 30-degree angles?"


In summary, Shanida’s behaviors in class seem somewhat consistent with her mastery goals and her perceptions of the classroom as having a relatively high mastery goal structure. She participated in the class when called on and sometimes volunteered, despite the fact that her achievement in mathematics was somewhat low. However, Shanida did not appear to be as engaged in mathematics class as her professed high mastery goals would predict. This may be because, as her interactions with the teacher suggest, there may have been more constraints than supports for her in this classroom. One might predict that the emphasis on performance goals, correctness, and relatively low motivational support would discourage a lower achieving student’s participation in class and lead to more avoidance behaviors, but Shanida appeared to maintain, perhaps at a muted level, her participation and effort in class. Therefore, Shandia’s behavior seems to reflect some response to the classroom environment, in that she did not often volunteer. Her behaviors seemed to reflect unique responses to the combination of classroom supports and constraints and her own mastery orientation to learn.

Individual Level: Seventh Grade Multiple Goals and Achievement


By the spring of seventh grade, Shanida’s high mastery/low performance pattern was more accentuated. She reported higher personal mastery goals (5.00) and lower personal performance-approach (1.40) and performance avoid goals (1.75) than 1 year earlier. Shanida viewed Ms. Butler’s classroom as only moderately focused on mastery goals (2.50), lower than that of her peers, and lower than her rating of her sixth grade class. She perceived a relatively high focus on performance goals (4.20), higher than did her peers, but lower than her rating of her sixth grade class. She also perceived teacher support in Ms. Butler’s class to be low (1.50).

Classroom Level: Seventh Grade Context


On average, other students in the class perceived Ms. Butler’s classroom as having a moderate emphasis on both mastery (M = 3.20) and performance (M = 3.02) goals. Discourse analyses showed a supportive pattern, both in terms of instructional and motivational discourse. Ms. Butler’s instructional behaviors were supportive of both helping students understand (25%) and holding them accountable for learning (14%). She called more on volunteers than nonvolunteers, but many volunteers needed support in answering questions or demonstrating their thinking. When students were at the board explaining homework problems, she prompted and questioned them if they became confused so that they could successfully complete their explanations. She also emphasized effort. For example, during a homework check, she answered a student’s question about grading this way:


No, I give you points if you did it, but I can see that you tried. I can see that is almost all done, so I can see that you worked on that. That is what I give you points for and we go over it in class and you need to correct it yourself.


Ms. Butler asked her students to explain their thinking more often than most of the seventh grade teachers we observed, thus putting an emphasis on understanding and strategies rather than rote or algorithmic learning. Similarly, she emphasized ‘‘right answers’’ less often (14%) than most seventh grade teachers in our larger study and tended to emphasize the ‘‘why’’ rather than the answer itself. For instance, she asked students to ‘‘explain the reasoning you used or the way you solved the problem’’ and commented, "There are lots of ways to find the answer.’’ However, her press for thinking and holding students accountable may have been viewed by some students as evaluative (see Lemos, 2001, p. 141) and may be related to Shanida’s report of low teacher support in this classroom. For example, she discouraged students from depending on her to tell them what to do. "What don’t you get? You can’t say ‘I don’t get it’. That means that you are not trying and you expect me to just tell you. . . . Ask me a question. . . . I want to know that you are thinking about this enough to come up with a question.’’ When the student did not do so, she walked away.


Ms. Butler also demonstrated higher levels of supportive (12%) and lower levels of nonsupportive (2%) motivational discourse when compared to most of the other observed seventh grade teachers. She was clearly focused on supporting her students’ learning. As she moved from student to student during problem solving exercises, she encouraged students with comments like ‘‘That is a good strategy’’ and ‘‘If you start with those that is a really good start.’’ At the end of a class of difficult, but successful problem solving, she announced to the class, ‘‘I am real proud of you, you have done a really good job . . . you are awesome.’’

Shanida’s Participation in the Seventh Grade Mathematics Class


Our observations of Shanida indicated that she participated in mathematics lessons more frequently during seventh grade than in the previous year. During the three winter observations, Shanida often volunteered to demonstrate problems at the board. When at the board, she frequently had difficulty explaining her procedures, and the teacher consistently provided both instructional and motivational support. In the following example, Shanida volunteered to explain how she solved the problem 2/315/6. As she stumbled, ‘‘I multiplied 3 times 6 because 2 is . . .,’’ the teacher prompted, ‘‘Okay, why did you want 6?’’ When Shanida admitted, ‘‘I don’t know,’’ the teacher joked, ‘‘Just sounds like a good number?’’ but then proceeded to scaffold her further: ‘‘No, why did you want 6?’’ The teacher provided further instructional support, confirming Shanida’s emerging explanation:


Shanida: Because I just thought I had to make this equal 6 . . . and . . . (pause)


Ms. Butler: Exactly, your other denominator is 6, so you want them to be the same.


Shanida: 3 times 2 is 6 . . . so . . . times 2


Ms. Butler: Okay, so you multiplied your denominator by 2 and then . . .


Shanida: Multiplied my numerator times 2 and that was 4 and that . . . came out to 2 and I added the 4 and 5 and got 9.


Toward the end of this exchange, as Shanida was reducing her final answer, the teacher asked, ‘‘Are you nervous? ‘‘ When Shanida replied ‘‘yeah,’’ the teacher reaffirmed her progress encouragingly by saying, "You knew that!"


Shanida also demonstrated genuine engagement during problem-solving activities. During a difficult problem-solving activity, Shanida explained to the teacher a strategy that she and her partner had designed. The teacher responded, "That is exactly how you would do it. One way to do it." And then she added, ‘‘Ohhhhhh, this is a clever girl. That is a good strategy.’’ Shanida smiled broadly. Later, the teacher commented that Shanida and her partner were doing a ‘‘really good job’’ and moved another student to work with them. By the end of the third observation in the winter, Shanida seemed to be participating increasingly successfully in the unit, and the teacher had recognized her accomplishments several times.


By the spring, Shanida appeared to be participating even more, often volunteering. She still showed some difficulty understanding basic procedures, and she sometimes guessed, but she had made progress since the winter. For example, in one observation she was able to give a coherent explanation of the strategy she used to find a new common denominator for two fractions, something she had had difficulty with earlier in the school year. The teacher continued to support her by giving her hints when she was uncertain (e.g., ‘‘It is the right number; it is in the wrong place.’’) and by praising her when she demonstrated understanding (e.g., ‘‘Perfect. That is a good explanation.’’). By the third observation in the spring, Shanida had clearly taken an active and autonomous student role in the classroom. The teacher had assigned a class project in which students were to make comparisons of consumer preferences between products using ratios, percentages, and fractions. The teacher had planned to provide made-up numbers for the consumer preference data, though students were allowed to choose the products they would compare. Shanida and her partner explained to the class that they planned to compare preferences for Skittles and M & M’s. The teacher replied by telling them to pretend to survey between 250 and 500 people; however, both girls appeared dissatisfied. Instead, they began to actually survey the students and the teacher. Finally, the teacher called the class’s attention and allowed Shanida to survey everyone. At this point, many students began making whole class surveys, and a trend had begun. By the end of the class period, most groups had conducted surveys of their classmates. It seemed that Shanida and her partner had helped transform a rather mechanical project into one that had meaning and interest for the students.


In summary, this classroom appeared to offer more opportunities and support for Shanida’s participation, a good match between her high mastery goals and the emphasis on learning, understanding, and teacher motivational support in the classroom. In seventh grade, Shanida’s participation was more confident, more frequent, and more engaged compared to the previous year. By the end of the year, she took a leadership role in her mathematics class. This was true despite that she continued to have some difficulty with the math content and it took her a while to master basic processes. Although the teacher had high expectations, and Shanida was not a strong math student, the teacher supported her instructionally and motivationally and Shanida continued to profess strong mastery goals. The teacher even consented to change the procedures of a class assignment to respond to Shanida’s innovations.

DISCUSSION


Research involving student motivation has tended to follow two paths. The most common has been to explain student behavior based mostly on motivational characteristics of individuals. More recent research focused on the effects of classroom environments. In this study we attempted to consider how the student acts in the classroom by exploring the interaction between both. Thus, we examined how students with different patterns of personal goals participated in different classroom mathematics contexts in sixth and seventh grades. Although one might predict that the most able students would be likely to participate most, our motivational analysis demonstrated how and why adaptive motivational beliefs, such as high mastery goals, can explain the active participation of students who are not high achievers. We found that, despite their personal achievement goals being rather consistent from sixth to seventh grades, both students’ patterns of participation changed markedly from one year to the next. This study illustrated how student participation reflects unique interactions between personal factors (e.g., personal goals, achievement histories, and perceptions of goal structures in their seventh grade classroom) and the opportunities and constraints of the classroom context (e.g., their communication with the teacher and with teacher practices).


In applying achievement goal theory to student participation in lessons, it is expected that students with high mastery goals will participate actively because of a desire to learn and improve. Furthermore, it is expected that students with high performance goals will be most likely to focus on how they appear to others and will thus participate publicly in the service of their image. That is, they will answer questions or demonstrate procedures when they believe it will reflect well on their ability and lie low when not. This study indicated that these expectations are tempered by the opportunities that are made available to, or required of, students by the teacher. More specifically, teacher differential expectations and differential calling patterns appeared to influence the way that students’ achievement goals played out in patterns of participation. For example, despite Justin’s moderate mastery goals and high performance-approach goals in sixth grade and his obvious reluctance to grapple with understanding the mathematics, the teacher called on him frequently and supported him until he could answer correctly. It seemed that this pattern was related to her expectations that he was capable at mathematics but lazy and therefore needed frequent and persistent prodding. It appeared that Justin learned the mathematics, apparently as a result of the teacher’s interaction with him; however, he did not seem to enjoy the experience and did not view her as supportive. His patterns of personal goals were similar in seventh grade, but because he was not called on often and did not volunteer he was allowed to participate infrequently. Thus, he could maintain the appearance of ability in the challenging environment. Despite Shanida’s high mastery goals and low performance goals and her seeming desire to participate, she received little opportunity, encouragement, or support to participate in sixth grade, perhaps because the teacher had little confidence in her ability. However, during seventh grade Shanida did receive support and encouragement from the teacher which, when added to her high mastery goals, manifested in active participation and signs of enthusiasm and initiative.


Research in goal theory has found unequivocally that the most positive student outcomes occur in classrooms with high mastery goal structure. However, the current study indicates that teacher practices, particularly patterns of calling on students (e.g., unequal calling, volunteers vs. nonvolunteers), can attenuate those positive messages by limiting opportunities for some students to participate and be involved in the learning process. All three classrooms in this study were viewed by the class on average as having a moderately high to high mastery goal structure. However, despite this apparent similarity, we saw evidence that both Ms. Weber and Ms. Carleton did not either encourage or require active participation of at least some of their students. Thus this study complicates the general finding that mastery goal structures are adaptive by suggesting that certain instructional practices, such as wide calling, can influence whether and how a mastery-oriented classroom can facilitate student participation and presumably learning.

IMPLICATIONS FOR TEACHING


Teachers do not choose their students. They therefore must strive to motivate and educate students who differ in every way. This study implies that although teachers do not have control over the individual characteristics of their students, they do have control over the kind of classroom environment they construct with their students and the kinds of instructional practices they use. In this way, Shanida and Justin are interesting cases in point. Although their personal beliefs and achievement patterns were very different and did not change much over the 2 years we studied them, their engagement behaviors did. We suggest that this was related to the environments and the instructional practices in their classrooms, and how they interacted with the students’ personal beliefs and experiences. Thus this study provides some evidence that teachers’ instructional behaviors can contribute to the development of students’ work habits by encouraging and supporting them to participate in classroom activities. The affordances and constraints of the classroom can radically change the work habits that students develop and demonstrate from one year to the next. We hope this study provides tangible evidence for teachers that what they do and how they communicate with students can have measurable effects on student work habits.


This research was supported by a grant to Julianne Turner and Carol Midgley by the Spencer Foundation. We thank Debra K. Meyer for her insightful contributions. Parts of this article were presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, April 2003, Chicago.

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JULIANNE C. TURNER an associate professor in the Institute for Educational Initiatives and the Psychology Department at the University of Notre Dame. Her research interests include the relationship of classroom contexts and student motivation in mathematics and literacy, teacher discourse, and the role of emotion in motivation theory. Recent publications include ‘‘The Classroom Environment and Students’ Reports of Avoidance Strategies in Mathematics: A Multi-Method Study,’’ in Journal of Educational Psychology (with C. Midgley, D. K. Meyer, M. Gheen, E. A. Anderman, J. Kang, & H. Patrick) and ‘‘Teacher Discourse and Students’ Affect and Achievement-Related Behaviors in Two High Mastery/High Performance Classrooms,’’ in Elementary School Journal (with C. Midgley, D. K. Meyer, & H. Patrick).


HELEN PATRICK is an assistant professor in educational psychology at Purdue University. Her research interests include student motivation and self-regulated learning and ways that teacher practices and students’ perceptions of their classroom environment are related to student motivation and learning. Recent publications include ‘‘How Teachers Establish Psychological Environments During the First Days of School: Associations With Avoidance in Mathematics,’’ in Teachers College Record (with J. C. Turner, D. K. Meyer, & C. Midgley) and ‘‘Teachers’ Communication of Goal Orientations in Four Fifth-Grade Classrooms,’’ in Elementary School Journal (with L. H. Anderman, A. M. Ryan, K. Edelin, & C. Midgley).




Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 106 Number 9, 2004, p. 1759-1785
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11669, Date Accessed: 1/25/2022 7:07:39 PM

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