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Academic Goal Orientations

Goal-orientation theory (Ames, 1992; Dweck, 1986; Maehr, 1984; Nicholls, 1984) has been an important theoretical perspective on students’ motivation in school (Anderman & Wolters, 2006; Elliot, 2005; Kaplan & Maehr, 2007; Meece, Anderman, & Anderman, 2006; Pintrich & Schunk, 2002). This theory provides a framework for extensive research on motivational orientations that aims to understand students’ engagement in academic learning. Further, the theory highlights environmental characteristics that foster these motivational orientations (Meece et al., 2006; Midgley, 2002; Pintrich & Schunk, 2002).

Defining Academic Goal Orientations

Academic-goal-orientations theorists focus on students’ intentions or reasons for engaging, choosing, and persisting at different learning activities (Meece et al., 2006). Academic-goal theory argues that the goals or reasons students adopt when engage in academic tasks can be used to understand students’ learning and achievement in academic contexts (Ames, 1992; Pintrich & Schunk, 1996). Early research on academic goal orientations focused on pairs of goals that have been labeled: learning versus performance (Dweck & Elliot, 1983), task involved versus ego involved (Nicholls, 1984), mastery versus ability focused (Ames, 1992; Ames & Archer, 1988), and task focused versus ability focused (Maehr & Midgley, 1991). Although there has been some debate as to whether these goal pairs represent similar constructs (Thorkildsen & Nicholls, 1998), most researchers view these goal pairs as having sufficient overlap to be treated as conceptually similar constructs (Pintrich & Schunk, 2002). In the present study, “mastery” and “performance” are used to describe these different goal orientations. Mastery goal orientation refers to an individual’s reason for developing competence (Ames, 1992). Mastery-goal-oriented students focus on developing one’s abilities, mastering a new skill, trying to accomplish something challenging, and trying to understand learning materials. Success is evaluated in terms of self-improvement, and students derive satisfaction from the inherent qualities of the task, such as its interest and challenge. By contrast, performance-goal orientation refers to the purpose of demonstrating competence (Ames, 1992; Dweck, 1986).

Performance-oriented students focus on demonstrating high ability relative to others, striving to be better than others, and using social comparison standards to make judgments of ability and performance. A sense of accomplishment comes from doing better than others and surpassing normative performance standards.

Academic Goal Orientations and Achievement-related Behavior Mastery goal orientation has been found to be associated with positive outcomes such as self-efficacy, effort and persistence, SRL, positive affect, and well-being (Kaplan & Maehr, 2007). The linking of mastery goal orientation with such positive outcomes is supported in numerous studies. Previous studies show that students who pursue and adopt mastery goals: persist at difficult tasks (Elliott & Dweck, 1988; Stipek & Kowalski, 1989); report high levels of task involvement (Harackiewicz, Barron, Tauer, Carter, & Elliot, 2000); show high levels of effort and persistence (Grant & Dweck, 2003; Miller, Greene, Montalvo, Tavindran, & Nichols, 1996; Wolters, 2004); and use deeper cognitive strategies (elaboration and organization) and metacognitive strategies (e.g., Ames & Archer, 1988; Elliot & McGregor, 2001; Grant & Dweck, 2003; Wolters, 2004). Students who adopt mastery goals have more adaptive motivational beliefs towards themselves and towards the tasks. Mastery goals have been found to be associated with: positive perceptions of academic ability and self-efficacy (Midgley et al., 1998; Roeser, Midgley, & Urdan, 1996; Wolters, 2004); positive emotions (Elliott & Dweck, 1988; Roeser et al., 1996); and the prediction of interest and continuing motivation (e.g., Cury, Elliot, Da Fonseca, & Moller, 2006; Harackiewicz, Barron, Tauer & Elliot 2002). As for the relationship of mastery goal orientation to academic achievement, the findings of previous studies were inconsistent. Some correlational studies found positive relations between mastery goals and classroom achievement (e.g., Brookhart, Walsh, & Zientarski, 2006; Kaplan & Maehr, 1999), whereas other studies, conducted mainly in college settings, did not find such relations (e.g., Harackiewicz, Barron, Carter, Lehto, & Elliot, 1997; Harackiewicz et al., 2000). With regard to the effect of mastery goal orientation on motivational regulation, Wolters and Rosenthal (2000) found that mastery goal orientation correlated significantly to each of the five motivational regulation strategies examined.

In the case of performance goals, however, greater discrepancy exists regarding their effects on motivation and SRL. In many studies, findings have been inconsistent, and even contradictory. Some studies showed that performance-goal orientation was associated with a set of factors harmful to learning, ranging from cognitive, motivational/affective, to behavioral. That is, students who focus on performance-oriented goals have been found to use more surface level cognitive strategies, display a preference for less challenging tasks and a tendency to give up when faced with difficult tasks (Ames, 1992; Meece, 1991). Wolters et al. (1996) found, for instance, that students who reported a greater focus on performance goals were less likely to report using self-regulatory strategies. On the contrary, some research has found a positive relation between a performance-goal orientation and positive outcomes such as self-efficacy, use of effective learning strategies, grades, and positive attitudes and affect (Elliot, 1999; Harackiewicz, Barron, & Elliot, 1998; Pintrich & Garcia, 1991; Urdan, 1997). Some research, however, found that performance-goal orientation was unrelated to various task performance outcomes (e.g., Button, Mathieu, & Zajac, 1996; Radosevich, Vaidyanathan, Yeo, & Radosevich, 2004). For example, Radosevich et al. (2004) found that performance-goal orientation was unrelated to self-regulatory strategies. As regards the relations of performance- goal orientation with motivational regulation, the study of Wolters and Rosenthal (2000) found that performance-goal orientation could predict three of the five motivational regulation strategies examined; students who reported a greater orientation toward performance goals would more frequently try to regulate their motivation by providing themselves with extrinsic rewards, increasing their situational enjoyment of the task, or purposefully highlighting their desire to reach specific performance goals.

Several researchers, most notably Elliot (1997, 1999), argued that the inconsistent pattern of results concerning the relations of performance goals with adaptive outcomes may stem from failing to account for a distinction between “approach” and “avoidance” orientations within performance goals. Currently, with the new reconceptualization of goal theory, performance goals were differentiated into performance-approach goals and performance-avoidance goals (Elliot, 1997; Elliot & Harackiewicz, 1996). Performance-approach goal-orientated students focus on demonstrating personal competence and gaining favorable judgments of their ability and competence relative to others; while performance-avoidance goal-orientated students orient towards the avoidance of demonstrating incompetence and negative judgments relative to others (Elliot

& Harackiewicz, 1996; Rawsthrone & Elliot, 1999). Therefore, it has emerged that the effects of performance goals on motivation and on task performance vary according to different types of performance goals: performance-approach goals and performance-avoidance goals.

In general, findings indicated that performance-approach goals were positively related to positive aspects of motivational indices such as increased effort, persistence, increased efficacy and intrinsic motivation (Elliot & Church, 1997; Elliot & Harackiewicz, 1996; Middleton & Midgley, 1997; Wolters, 2004) and of cognition (use of cognitive and metacognitive strategies) as well as achievement (Wolters, 2004). However, it has also been shown that the tendency to emphasize performance-approach goals can have its costs. Performance-approach goal orientation has been related to negative processes and outcomes such as test anxiety (emotional component only), extrinsic motivation, and an unwillingness to seek help with schoolwork (Elliot, McGregor, & Gable, 1999; Middleton & Midgley, 1997; Urdan, Ryan, Anderman, & Gheen, 2002). In recent years, some researchers argued that performance-approach goals could be beneficial in certain contexts (e.g., a competitive college setting) and for older students (Harackiewicz et al., 1998, 2002). However, other researchers argued that performance- approach goals would lead students to focus on strategies that aim at enhancing demonstration of ability rather than at learning, and therefore might contribute to grades but not necessarily to understanding and deep processing (Midgley, Kaplan, & Middleton, 2001).

In contrast, performance-avoidance goals have associated with a motivational, affective, cognitive and behavioral pattern that is very harmful to learning and motivation (Pintrich, 2000). For example, students with performance-avoidance goals: do not make an effort to use cognitive and metacognitive strategies and they limit themselves to completing the minimum requirements of the task; attribute failure to internal, stable factors, such as lack of ability; have low selfefficacy beliefs; they show a negative interest and value towards the task; experience much anxiety regarding tests and academic performance; show low levels of effort and persistence in tasks, as well as in behaviors related to seeking academic help; and also demonstrate poor academic achievement (Dweck, 2002; Jiang & Liu, 2005; Middleton & Midgley, 1997; Midgley & Urdan, 2001; Radosevich et al., 2004; Ryan & Pintrich, 1997).

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