The Differential Effects of the Learning Environment on Student Achievement Motivation: A Comparision between Frontal and Complex Instruction Strategies

Article excerpt

Based on the postulates of "achievement goal theory," the present study compared the effectiveness of two instructional strategies, frontal instruction (FIS) and complex instruction (CIS), in promoting mastery goal orientation and adaptive motivational patterns. Three motivational variables, namely, the perception of the classroom goal structure, personal goal orientation, and achievement motivation patterns, were assessed by means of three separate questionnaires administered to 267 sixth-grade students from 5 CIS and 5 FIS classes. Overall, the results supported predictions that the two strategies led to differential effects on each of the three motivational variables, as well as on the relationships between them. The results provide further evidence for contextual effects on achievement motivation.

Research and theory on achievement motivation have focused on two goal orientations towards competence. These orientations have been contrasted as learning-oriented versus performance-oriented goals (Dweck & Leggett, 1988), task-- involved versus ego-involved goals (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Maehr & Nicholls, 1980; Nicholls, 1979, 1984) and mastery-oriented versus ability-focused goals (Ames, 1984; Ames & Ames, 1984). Ames and Archer (1987) argued that these achievement goal constructs are conceptually related to justify convergence into two classes, mastery goals (learning, mastery, task involvement) versus performance goals (performance, ability, ego involvement).

Achievement goal theorists posit that the type of goal adopted by individuals at the onset of a task creates the framework within which they interpret and react to events (Ames & Archer, 1987; Dweck & Leggett, 1988). The adoption of mastery goals produces an adaptive, mastery-oriented motivational and response pattern, whereby individuals are concerned with increasing their competence, prefer moderately challenging tasks, persist in the face of difficulties, have positive affect toward learning, value ability and normatively high outcomes, attach importance to developing new skills, see outcomes as dependent on effort invested, and strive to achieve mastery based on self-referenced standards (Ames, 1992; Ames & Archer, 1988; Butler, 1987; Diener & Dweck, 1978; Elliot & Dweck, 1988; Garner, 1990). Conversely, the adoption of performance goals results in a maladaptive motivational and response pattern, whereby individuals are concerned with gaining favorable judgments of their competence, prefer easy tasks, try to outperform others and to achieve success with little effort, withdraw in the face of difficulties, attribute failure to lack of ability, have negative affect toward learning, and need public recognition for their achievements (Covington & Omelich, 1984; Dweck, 1986; Dweck & Leggett, 1988; Jagacinski & Nicholls, 1987).

While the particular goal a student adopts may be influenced by individual factors such as prior experience, or the influence of his/her family, several investigators have argued that the classroom environment can exert a major influence on the salience of a particular goal and hence on its adoption (Blumenfeld, 1992; Ryan & Grolnick, 1986; Urdan, 1997). However, there has been little systematic analysis of the influence of classroom structure on students' motivational structure. Based on a survey of the relevant research literature, Ames (1992) derived three classroom structures which were found to impact a range of motivational variables and in particular the adoption of a mastery versus performance achievement goal orientation, namely, the design of the learning tasks, evaluation practices, and distribution of authority. According to Ames' analysis, a mastery goal will be salient when: (1) the task is characterized by a focus on the meaningful aspects of the learning activities, novelty, variety and diversity, is challenging, helps students to establish short-term self-referenced goals, and promotes the development and employment of effective learning strategies; (2) evaluation is characterized by focusing on individual improvement, progress and mastery, recognition of effort, providing opportunity for improvement, and viewing mistakes as a legitimate part of the learning process; (3) authority implementation is characterized by allowing students' participation in decision making, providing opportunities to develop responsibility and independence, and supporting the development of self-management and monitoring skills. …