Motivation goals during adolescence: A cross-sectional perspective
Caroline F. Mansfield
RWTH Aachen University, Germany
Goal theory perspectives on motivation are at the forefront of research regarding adolescents' motivation in learning contexts, focusing on the purposes (both academic and social) individuals perceive for engaging in achievement related behaviour. Much research however, has focused on early adolescence, meaning there is limited research regarding late adolescence or the relevance of particular goals as students mature. This study examines the achievement and social goals of secondary school students at early and late adolescence, using quantitative and qualitative data to explore differences in goals and goal relationships at each age level. Participants were 128 junior (ages 12-13) and 67 senior (ages 15-17) students from two metropolitan secondary schools in Western Australia. Results showed that junior students scored higher than senior students on all achievement goals and relationship goals, yet there were no significant differences between the groups for status and responsibility goals. In addition, mastery, relationship and responsibility goals were related for junior, but not for senior students. Implications for future research are discussed.
Goal theorists have investigated both the achievement goals (Ames & Archer, 1988; Elliot, 1999) and the social goals (L. H. Anderman, 1999b; Urdan & Maehr, 1995) that influence adolescents' motivation at school. Research shows that adolescents are concerned about developing and demonstrating competence (achievement goals) and that social goals to form relationships, demonstrate responsibility and achieve status within the peer group also influence students' motivation. Even so, much research has engaged participants who are early adolescents or tertiary students and there are few studies focusing on students during late adolescence. Consequently there is a limited understanding of for example, whether the achievement goals endorsed by early adolescents are equally relevant to adolescents at the end of their school careers? Similarly, are the social goals students pursue equally important during both stages? The purpose of this research is to investigate the academic and social goals' pursued by early (12-13 year old) and late (15-17 year old) adolescents attending secondary school and to examine similarities and differences in the goals pursued at each level. Focusing on the goals of students at early and late adolescence, this study contributes to the existing literature by providing insights into the relationships between goals of students at both these stages.
Social goals have been investigated from both a content perspective i.e. what social goals are students trying to achieve at school (Wentzel, 1991) and the social goals students pursue with regard to their school achievement (i.e. for what social reasons do students aim to succeed at school). Such goals include responsibility (desire to comply with the social requirements of the classroom, including following rules and instructions), relationships (desire to form and maintain good friendships at school) and status (desire for acceptance and status within the peer group) (L. H. Anderman & Anderman, 1999).
Although much research has focused on either achievement goals or social goals, increasingly researchers are finding that using a multiple goals perspective (Boekaerts, de Koning, & Vedder, 2006; Dowson & McInerney, 2003; Levy-Tossman, Kaplan, & Assor, 2007; Mansfield, 2009; Wosnitza & Volet, 2009) allows investigation of the relationships between particular goals and how these might influence achievement and learning behaviours. With regard possible relationships between achievement and social goals, interesting findings have emerged. For example, in a study of 5th and 6th grade students (in the United States) L.H. Anderman and Anderman (1999) found that responsibility goals were associated with mastery goals, so that students who aimed to develop competence in their academic work were also likely to follow rules and expectations in the school environment. They also found a positive relationship between performance, relationship and status goals, meaning that students aiming to demonstrate competence were also likely to focus on developing relationships at school and attaining status in their peer group. These findings have been well supported in the literature and other studies have explored relationships between academic motivation and social relationships (L. H. Anderman, 1999a; Levy-Tossman, Kaplan, & Assor, 2007; Patrick, Anderman, & Ryan, 2002). The majority of this research, however, has relied exclusively on survey measures to explore relationships and has focused on students during early adolescence (L. H. Anderman & Kaplan, 2008). Questions remain about the relationship between social and achievement goals for students as they reach late adolescence.
While there is evidence, at least in other countries, that there are differences in students' goals at various stages of schooling, there is also evidence of goal stability. For example, Middleton, Midgley and Kaplan (2004) found that goal orientations in mathematics were moderately stable between 6th and 7th grade. Wolters, Yu and Pintrich (1996) also found moderate to high stability of goals of 7th and 8th grade students from start to end of academic year in Maths, English and Social Studies. In one Australian study of final year students goal orientations were found to be a stable construct when scores from the start of the year to prior final exams were considered (Smith, 2004). In each of these longitudinal studies showing goal stability, the data were collected within a 12 month period, the greatest time being between consecutive spring seasons (Middleton, Kaplan, & Midgley, 2004). Few studies have examined goal stability over a greater period of time.
As there is evidence that dimensions of a learning context can have a powerful impact on students' goals, it would seem reasonable that there may be differences in goal emphases between early and late adolescence. During this time schools typically increase emphasis on final year results, and indeed at the time of this study, junior students experienced outcomes-based curriculum, whereas senior students experienced more traditional tertiary entrance focused curriculum. Along with developmental changes that occur during adolescence it is possible that goals will have different structures or relevance at different stages of schooling, yet few studies have investigated this issue. Specifically, there has been little research investigating goal differences during adolescence in the Australian context.
Given this context and the ongoing discussion in the literature regarding academic and social goals during adolescence, this study uses a cross-sectional design to investigate the differences or similarities of achievement and social goals of students during early and late adolescence. The following research questions are addressed.
After responding to the scaled items for achievement goals, students rated six of the items as either very important, important, or not important. The six items equally represented mastery goals (e.g. "it is important to me that I learn and understand new concepts this year), performance approach goals (e.g. "it is important to me that I look smart in comparison to other students in my class) and performance avoidance goals (e.g. "it is important to me that I avoid looking like I have trouble doing the work"). Students then wrote explanations about why they had rated items in a particular way. This activity was designed to elicit students' explanations about why particular goals were more important than others. Similarly, after responding to the scaled items for social goals, students completed the same style activity this time using statements representing relationship (e.g. "it is important to me that I form one or two really close friendships at school"), responsibility (e.g. "it is important to me that I follow class rules") and status goals (e.g. "it is important to me that I fit in with the popular group at school"). For the purposes of this paper, students' explanations about the relative importance of particular goals are used to help explain some of the findings in the quantitative data.
For each scale, a scale average was calculated. The resulting six scale-measures entered the analysis. The data underwent independent sample t-tests to compare junior and senior students and canonical correlations to find out if and how a relationship between social and achievement goals exists.
In addition to the coding of students' comments according to goal, goal importance and year level, percentages were calculated to show the percentage of students from each year level rating goals at the three levels of importance. These percentages are only used in this paper to show trends which are then supported by students' explanations.
Research question 1: How do junior and senior secondary students differ with regard to their achievement goals and social goals?
The quantitative data shows differences in the achievement goals and some social goals pursued by junior and senior secondary students.
As shown in Table 2 below, the achievement goal of mastery, and the social goals of relationship and responsibility are relevant goals for both groups. On the other hand status, performance and avoidance goals were not as relevant for both groups of students.
Group differences between junior and senior students were examined using independent sample t-tests. The tests showed significant differences between the two groups of students (junior, senior) for mastery goals (junior: M=4.40, SD=.59; senior: M=3.91, SD=.74; p=.000), performance approach goals (junior: M= 2.75, SD=.88; senior: M=2.35, SD=.87; p=.003), performance avoidance goals (junior: M=2.91, SD=.91; senior: M =2.45, SD =.86; p =.001) and relationship goals (junior: M =4.10, SD =.61; senior: M =3.88, SD =.52; p =.011). Interestingly, for every goal the junior students rated the relevance of the goal higher than the senior students. Cohen's d for each significant difference shows strong to moderate effects between d=.732 and d= .388. The strongest effect was found for mastery goals where the average mean difference is Md=.49. There were no significant differences for status and responsibility.
|Mastery||M=4.40, SD=.59||M=3.91 SD=.74||-5.026||193||.000||.732|
|Performance approach||M=2.75, SD=.88||M=2.35, SD=.87||-3.003||193||.003||.457|
|Performance avoidance||M=2.91, SD=.91||M=2.45, SD=.86||-3.440||193||.001||.519|
|Relationship||M=4.10, SD=.61||M=3.88, SD=.52||-2.46||193||.011||.388|
|Responsibility||M=3.93, SD=.77||M=3.74, SD=.75||-1.69||193||.092||.250|
|Status||M=2.19, SD=.73||M=2.08, SD =.85||-.966||193||.335||.139|
Research question 2: What relationships might emerge between achievement and social goals for junior and senior secondary students?
The relationship between achievement goals and social goals was examined using a canonical correlation analysis where one set of variables consisted of achievement goals (mastery, performance approach, performance avoidance) and the other of social goals (relationship, responsibility, status). Two of three possible roots were significant (R1=.47, chi2=61.63, df=9, p=.00; R2=.25, chi2=14.58, df=4, p=.005; R3=.10, chi2=1.87, df=1, p=.17). According to Warmbrod (2003) any canonical weight greater than r=.3 is meaningful. Therefore, when examining the first canonical root, mastery goals (r=.91), relationship (r=.36) and responsibility (r=.84) were the only meaningful variables for this root. Consequently, the correlation between achievement goal orientation and social goals of (R=.46) is defined by mastery goals on the one side and responsibility and relationship on the other side, where responsibility has a strong contribution to this correlation and relationship has a weaker contribution.
The second root, which involves six types of goals, however, explains only 6% of the variance. The correlation between achievement goals and social goals (R=.25) is defined by a positive contribution of performance approach (r=.76) and performance avoidance (r=.32), moderated by a negative influence of mastery (r=-.53) on the one side. On the other side the positive contribution of relationship (r=-.52) and status (r=.66) is moderated by a negative contribution of responsibility (r=.-45). According to this result the main part of the variance is explained by the relation presented in root 1 of the canonical correlation (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Canonical correlation - all students
Since there were differences between the group means of the junior and senior students we also expected a difference in the relationship structure of the two groups. For the junior students the structure is very similar to the overall canonical correlation (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: Canonical correlation: Junior students
Two of three possible roots were significant (R1=.65, chi2=77.77, df=9, p<.00; R2=.27, chi2=10.59, df=4, p=.03; R3=.10, chi2=1.15, df=1, p=.28). When examining the first canonical root, mastery goals (r=.93), relationship goals (r=.31) and responsibility goals (r=.83) were the only meaningful variables for this root meaning that the correlation between achievement goal orientation and social goals of (R=.65) is defined by mastery goals on the one side and a strong contribution of responsibility and a weaker contribution of relationship on the other side.
The second root, which involves five types of goals, however explains only 7% of the variance. The correlation between achievement goal orientation and social goals (R=.27) is defined by a strong positive contribution of avoidance (r=.84) and a negative contribution of mastery (r=-.39) on the one side and positive contribution of relationship (r=.86) and status (r=.40), moderated by a negative contribution of responsibility (r=.-60) on the other side.
Similar to the overall analysis, the main part of the variance is explained by the relation presented in root 1 of the canonical correlation.
Interestingly while the junior students show a strong relationship between achievement and social goals, the senior students show no significant correlation at all (R=.32, chi2=7.66, df=9, p=.57).
These ratings were supported by students' comments where they explained why they had rated mastery goals as very important. The majority of explanations included reference to a desire for learning and improvement which is typical of mastery goals. The explanations, however, were able to shed some light on other reasons why mastery goals were so important, such as the belief that learning and improvement would have a positive impact on achievement and future opportunities, positive wellbeing (feeling happy, satisfied, positive self-esteem), and approval from parents and teachers.
I go to school to learn and improve in new areas (junior 47)These explanations suggest that pursuit of mastery goals may be also associated with pursuit of other goals, including future goals and wellbeing goals.
To learn new concepts this year is really important to me because I must learn to improve my school work (junior 08)
I want to learn new things and it is important because I need skills to get into a career (senior 18)
If I want to have a future where I can support myself and be independent and happy I need to improve all the time to help my future aspirations (senior 31)
The finding that junior students also scored higher on performance approach and avoidance goals is reflected in the rating activity (and shown in Table 3) where more junior students than senior students rated performance approach goals as either very important or important.
I think it is good that others think I look smart because it also makes me feel good, it motivates me (junior 48)Likewise, juniors also rated performance avoidance goals as very important or important.
I don't want people to think that I'm dumb, I don't want students and teachers to think that I'm really struggling in school (junior 77)Given that performance goals involve social comparison whereby students either aim to demonstrate high levels of competence (approach) and/or avoid demonstrating low levels of competence (avoidance) it seems reasonable to expect that these goals might be more evident in students when they enter a new learning context, as these students had. It seemed that for the senior students, however, there was a clear rejection of goals involving social comparison. 85% of the senior students rated approach and avoidance goals as not important, compared to 63% of juniors. Such comments gave reasons that emphasised the future and self-satisfaction.
What others think doesn't matter. I concentrate on my work only and how I'm achieving because it's going to be my career. It's my future (senior 04)These explanations suggest that as students become older and indeed, are very familiar with their learning context (including the school and the peer group), social comparison may become less important. Interestingly, in both groups there were also comments about the advantages of others seeing students having trouble, namely, that they would be helped by teachers or peers.
I don't like comparing myself with others because everyone has different capabilities. I don't care if others think I'm having trouble because if I am then I need help (senior 34)
How I compare to others doesn't matter because the only person I'm competing against is myself (senior 16)
If I look like I'm doing well when I'm not, people won't be able to help me and then I could really fail (junior 17)The finding that junior students endorsed relationship goals more strongly than senior students is reflected in Table 4 which shows the percentage of junior and senior students who rated social goals in each of the three ways. To an extent such a finding might be expected, given their relative stages of schooling. Indeed some junior students saw this as a critical time for forming "friendships to last through school and later life" (junior 45). Junior students were concerned about establishing relationships to help support them through the next five years of schooling and beyond. Furthermore, these students had mostly come from different primary schools and were still becoming familiar with other students in their year group. Forming relationships was very much at the forefront of many students' minds. On the other hand, senior students were more concerned about maintaining rather than forming new friendships, particularly those that may stay with them in the years beyond school.
If I don't understand I say it because then it gets explained and it sinks in better (senior 13)
If I don't understand something, I have no problem admitting to it, and looking a little dumb: it means that I have shelved my pride, asked for help, and can then do better (senior 24)
I believe close friends are important because they offer support and guidance now and in the future (senior 03)
I want to have my friends when I leave school (senior 18)
It's good to get along with everyone and I want to because that way we're all friends and even after school we can remain friends (senior 21)
Interestingly, no significant differences were found between the groups for responsibility and status goals, yet the rating results suggest that responsibility was very important for more junior than senior students. This may be in part explained by the actual statements the students were rating ("I follow class rules" and "I keep quiet while other kids are trying to study") whereas in the survey students responded to 5 items about responsibility. Another explanation, however, may be that as students are becoming accustomed to a new learning environment they are more aware of new rules and the expectation that they comply with the demands of the new academic and peer environment.
The final key finding from the quantitative data was that a relationship exists between mastery, relationship and responsibility goals for junior students. These relationships were supported by the qualitative data, both in the students' explanations and in the number of students who rated each of these goals as very important. Furthermore, the qualitative data help explain the relationships further by showing that students perceived causal relationships between these goals.
For example, 61% of juniors rated mastery and relationships as very important. These students also explained that relationships were important so they could help and support each other in learning. In addition, students perceived that the formation of relationships enabled them to learn more effectively.
A good social relationship at school can work wonders for you're academic marks. It makes you have greater self-esteem (junior 70)In this way there appeared to be a bi-directional relationship between these goals whereby striving for one goal would support the other goal and vice versa.
I don't want to worry about not having friends when I'm doing my work (junior 71)
Similarly, 45% of juniors rated mastery and responsibility statements as very important, particularly when it came to their own and others' learning.
I want to learn and so I don't want to disturb others' learning (junior 39)Relationship and responsibility goals were rated very important by 33% of juniors and they explained that following rules that respected others was important for maintaining good relationships. Again, striving for one goal assisted possible achievement of the other.
Everyone's trying to learn at school. I don't want to spoil it for others (junior 47)
I think it's not fair that if I be noisy and others want to study they can't learn and get good grades (junior 01)
I need to get along with everyone and make some good friends. I need to follow class rules so I can get along with people and respect them. Then they will be my friends (junior 78)Finally, 33% of juniors rated all these three goals as very important, confirming the relationship between wanting to learn, wanting to comply with the demands of the learning situation and wanting to form and maintain friendships. Students' explanations show that there is a bi-directional and possibly three way relationship between these goals (whereby responsibility and forming relationships will contribute to learning and improvement) which may enhance the strength of the goals in particular learning situations.
The study provides evidence that junior and senior students differ in their endorsement of particular achievement goals and social goals, namely, mastery, performance approach, performance avoidance and relationship goals. The key difference in this study, however, was that junior students rated the relevance of the goal higher than senior students. The finding that junior students score higher on all goals scales than senior students suggests that how younger students respond to such survey items may differ from the way in which older students are inclined to respond. Similarly, Bong (2009) found that young children "expressed stronger endorsements to all other achievement goals, compared with their older counterparts" (p. 891). Bong argues that younger children tend to "provide higher ratings on survey items" (p. 891), especially prior to developing differentiated conceptions of ability, at approximately ages 10-11 (Nicholls, 1984). Interestingly, the junior students in this study were aged 12-13, suggesting that either such conceptions were still developing or that the context in which the students were learning supported mastery, rather than performance goals. The extent to which learning contexts support particular goals and the impact this may have on students' conceptions of ability is an interesting issue for further research.
While there were differences for the four goals mentioned above, there was no significant difference for responsibility and status goals between the groups. Students endorsed responsibility goals in both forms of data and similarly rejected the importance of status goals. Junior and senior students both remarked that the need to fit in with a particular peer group was not important to them. This clear rejection of status goals along with endorsement of mastery and relationship goals reflects associations between these goals found in other studies (L. H. Anderman, 1999a; L. H. Anderman & Anderman, 1999; Levy-Tossman, Kaplan, & Assor, 2007; Levy, Kaplan, & Patrick, 2004). Although the extent to which these goals may have been promoted (or otherwise) in the school environments was not fully investigated in this study, the consistency with which students in both schools responded suggests that there may have been some broader social or cultural variables that influenced students' goals in this regard. A close examination of how contextual variables may influence such results is an important issue for future research.
The relationship between mastery, relationship and responsibility goals for junior students is supported by both qualitative and quantitative data in this study. The particular value of the qualitative data, however, lies in explaining how these goals are related and that bi-directional and possible three-way relationships exist between the goals. While positive associations between mastery, responsibility and relationship goals for early adolescents have been established in the literature (L. H. Anderman & Anderman, 1999), there is very limited research exploring relationships between these goals for older adolescents. It seems that for the senior students of this study, social goals and mastery goals are independent from each other, a finding that is unique in the available literature. Since the study was not specifically designed to identify reasons for an absence of relationship between these goals, it can only be speculated that for older students at the end of their secondary schooling, peer groups in schools are becoming less relevant and consequently, the relationship between social goals and achievement goals is becoming less relevant. Future studies are needed to explore this inconsistency and ascertain whether or not this finding is generalisable. If so, the reasons for the differences in relationships between goals during early and late adolescence need further investigation. Nevertheless, the absence of a relationship in this study reflects again the results shown by other studies that not only goals (Anderman & Midgley, 1997; Bong, 2009) but also goal structures can be different in different age groups.
Finally, the qualitative data explaining why particular goals were important revealed comments in which students alluded to other goals such as future and wellbeing goals. While these other goals are not the focus of the present paper, the comments do suggest that other goals may influence and perhaps underpin specific achievement and social goals. Although future goals have been the focus of some recent research (Malka & Covington, 2005; Phalet, Andriessen, & Lens, 2004) the extent to which they may have a positive impact on achievement or social goals during adolescence is an issue that requires further research.
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|Authors: Dr Caroline Mansfield is a lecturer in learning and assessment in the School of Education at Murdoch University, Western Australia. Her research interests focus on teaching and learning processes in primary, secondary and tertiary contexts, with specific focus on motivation, efficacy, beliefs, emotions and resilience. |
Dr Marold Wosnitza is Professor for Education at RWTH Aachen in Germany. Before that he was Senior Lecturer in Educational Psychology at Murdoch University. His research and teaching expertise lies in the area of learning and assessment, research methods, motivational and emotional processes, collaborative learning in face to face and online settings.