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Motivational change in transition contexts: Students' theories of success in story writing and mathematics

MacCallum, Judith AnneORCID: 0000-0002-0212-3341 (1997) Motivational change in transition contexts: Students' theories of success in story writing and mathematics. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This research project examined the nature of motivational change and its relation to the contexts in which change occurs. A goal approach to motivation provided the conceptual framework for examining a number of different facets of motivation. In this approach it is the meaning students ascribe to their experiences that is crucial for their motivation and motivational change. The motivation constructs used included students' personal motivational goals, students' perceptions of their teacher's goals, students' beliefs about the causes of academic success, students' self-perceptions of competence and enjoyment, and achievement or school grades. In addition, students' perceptions of the importance of different aspects of knowledge (substantive and conventional), which are not usually considered to be motivational in nature, were also examined.

In studying change or development, researchers traditionally have taken an 'individual' perspective, virtually ignoring the contexts in which learning occurs, or have focused on short term change in laboratory-type settings. This research explores motivational change from a wider perspective, over both a significant 'natural' transition, the transition from primary school to secondary school, and a substantial period of time. Motivational change was explored in different ways depending on the constructs used to examine it and the level of the context considered. Four main views of change were examined: intraindividual change over time and over school contexts, intraindividual change (variation) across regular subject area and challenge contexts, interindividual differences in intraindividual change in the transition context (patterns of change), and intraindividual-in-context change.

Using a longitudinal design, data were collected from two cohorts of students over a period of 12 months. The main cohort made the transition from primary to secondary school, while the second cohort was studied over the last two years of primary school. Each student was surveyed about two academic classroom contexts, mathematics and story writing (English) on three separate occasions, once before and twice after the transition. In addition, a subgroup of high ability students were asked about the 'challenge programme' for talented students they attended. Finally, a small group of students exhibiting particular motivational patterns were interviewed before and after the transition to secondary school.

The findings support the notion that different aspects of student motivation change in various ways over the transition to secondary school, within different subject area contexts and during the school year. As motivational change varied for different students, only considering group change can mask interindividual differences in change. Even within groups of students with similar patterns of motivational change the context and the student interrelate in different ways. At the individual level, not only do students with different goals have different concerns in learning settings, but they appear to create, and respond to, their own contexts of change. It appears from the findings that an ego orientation may play a role in the development of task goals and that the value placed on different aspects of knowledge may be important in the decline of task-involved goals.

The unique contribution of this research is the investigation of a range of motivation constructs using different views of motivational change with the same group of individuals over time-related contexts and within different contexts, allowing a broader conceptualisation of motivational change to be formed. This holistic view shows motivational change to be multifaceted and complex. It is concluded that educators need to acknowledge the diversity and breadth of students' motivational goals and the multiple contexts in which motivational change occurs for individual students. Rather than considering transitions as having a negative impact on student motivation, school administrators and teachers need to take advantage of the opportunities for facilitating students' task involvement over within-school and new school transitions.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Education
Supervisor(s): Renshaw, Peter, Volet, Simone and Straton, Ralph
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