Academic journal article International Education Studies

Students' Perceptions of the Goal Structure in Mathematics Classrooms: Relations with Goal Orientations, Mathematics Anxiety, and Help-Seeking Behavior

Academic journal article International Education Studies

Students' Perceptions of the Goal Structure in Mathematics Classrooms: Relations with Goal Orientations, Mathematics Anxiety, and Help-Seeking Behavior

Article excerpt

Abstract

This study explores relations between students' perceptions of the classroom goal structures, their personal goal orientations, mathematics anxiety, and help-seeking behavior in mathematics classes. The respondents were 309 Norwegian middle school students. The data were analyzed by means of structural equation modeling (SEM). The analyses revealed that a mastery goal orientation was associated with lower levels of anxiety and more use of help-seeking behavior whereas performance-avoidance orientation predicted higher levels of anxiety and less use of help-seeking behavior. We found no direct relation between goal structure and mathematics anxiety or help-seeking behavior. However, the perceived goal structure was indirectly related to these variables, mediated through personal goal orientation.

Keywords: classroom goal structure, students' goal orientation, mathematics anxiety, help-seeking behavior

1. Introduction

Both teachers and students receive mixed signals about what is most important in school. For instance, E. Skaalvik and S. Skaalvik (2013a) found large variations between teachers when they explained how they knew if they did a good job, indicating important differences in their perceptions of goals and values in school. These contradictory signals may have implications for both teachers' instructional practices and students' perceptions of the learning environment at school. One prominent framework for analyzing which signals are received, in our case by the students, is achievement goal theory.

According to achievement goal theory students engage in schoolwork for different reasons. They also have different reasons for showing low involvement in schoolwork (e.g., Ames, 1992; Patrick, Kaplan, & Ryan, 2011). Three subtypes of reasons or goal orientations have typically been explored: mastery orientation, performance-approach orientation, and performance-avoidance orientation (e.g., Skaalvik, 1997; Walker, 2012). Research consistently shows that students' goal orientations are associated with a number of emotional and behavioral outcomes as well as student achievement (Meece, Anderman, & Anderman, 2006).

An assumption in achievement goal theory is that classroom characteristics influence students' goal orientations. One such characteristic emphasized in achievement goal theory is the classroom goal structure. Goal structure refers to the type of achievement goals emphasized by the current educational practices within a learning environment (Wolters, 2004). Contemporary research has been concerned with two dimensions of goal structures: a mastery goal structure emphasizing the development of competence and a performance goal structure emphasizing the demonstration of competence (Patrick, et al., 2011). Previous studies clearly indicate that the classroom goal structure is related to student motivation, including goal orientation (e.g., Karabenick, 2004; Meier, Reindl, Grassinger, et al., 2013; Nolen & Haladyna, 1990; Polychroni, Hatzichristou, & Sideridis, 2012; E. Skaalvik & S. Skaalvik, 2013b; Walker, 2012; Wolters, 2004).

This study explores relations between students' perceptions of the mathematics classroom goal structure, students' personal goal orientations in mathematics classes, mathematics anxiety, and help-seeking behavior in mathematics lessons. An important research question for the study was whether and to what degree the relations between classroom goal structures and students' mathematics anxiety and help-seeking behavior are mediated through their personal goal orientations.

2. Theoretical Perspectives

2.1 Goal Structure

In research on goal structure a distinction is made between a mastery and a performance goal structure (Ames, 1992; Meece et al., 2006; Patrick et al., 2011). A mastery goal structure is characterized by an environment where teachers focus on student effort, emphasize understanding, and value improvement. …

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