The Impact of Student Goal Orientation in Physical Education Classes

By Solmon, Melinda A.; Boone, Jerry | Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, December 1993 | Go to article overview

The Impact of Student Goal Orientation in Physical Education Classes


Solmon, Melinda A., Boone, Jerry, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport


The theory of achievement motivation suggests that students whose goals are related to the mastery of a task are more likely to engage in adaptive patterns of behavior such as choosing challenging tasks and focusing on effort. Students whose goal orientations are ego-involved are more apt to avoid challenge and be unwilling to expend effort. The purpose of this study was to explore the impact that goal perspective has in physical education classes. Subjects (N = 90) were college students in beginning tennis classes. They completed a skill pretest and the Task and Ego Orientation in Sport Questionnaire (Duda, 1992). A system of contract grading was employed to yield an indication of students' selection of challenging tasks. The points earned toward the contracts were used as an indicant of in-class behavior. At the end of the semester, students completed a skill posttest and a cognitive processes questionnaire. A task-involved goal perspective was associated with the selection of more challenging tasks and positive scores on the questionnaire. Those two variables, in turn, were significant predictors of student achievement. The results suggest that goal perspective could be an important influence on students' thought and action in physical education classes.

Key words: achievement behavior, cognitive processing, student mediation

The investigation of students as active agents in their own learning has become an important area of inquiry in the study of the teaching-learning process (Lee & Solmon, 1992; Peterson, 1988). This research, which employs a cognitive mediational framework (Doyle, 1977), is grounded in the belief that learning from teaching is dependent on dynamic involvement on the part of the learner. Students enter instructional settings with attitudes, beliefs, and memories of past experience that affect their perception of instruction and their interaction during the learning process. From the framework of this prior knowledge, the learner, via a wide range of cognitive processes, mediates the effect of instruction on achievement. From this perspective, what the student does is a more important determinant in the learning process than what the teacher does (Schuell, 1986). Rather than directly influencing student behavior, the goal of the teacher is to create an environment that motivates students to think and act in ways that enable them to learn.

To gain a better understanding of how teachers can best approach this task, it is imperative to learn more about student attributes and thought processes that mediate learning in physical education. Cognitive theorists across many domains have formulated models that incorporate thoughts and beliefs to explain actions based on the assumption that cognition governs behavior. A construct that has yielded information useful in understanding academic achievement and appears to be parallel to the cognitive mediational framework is student goal perspective (Ames & Archer, 1988; Elliot & Dweck, 1988; Nicholls, 1984, 1989, 1992).

Based on a social cognitive viewpoint, this approach to the study of achievement motivation assumes the existence of two dimensions of goal perspectives. These dimensions are differentiated by their reference points for perceptions of success. The first dimension relies on a self-referenced criterion for success or competence. The focus is on learning, improving one's performance, and mastering a task. In contrast, in the second goal dimension, task mastery or the refinement of one's own skill is not sufficient to demonstrate competence or success. The assessment of proficiency depends on comparison of one's own performance with that of others.

Nicholls (1984, 1989, 1992) employs the labels task-involved and ego-involved to describe the two goal perspectives. He, as well as Duda (1992), contends that these constructs are independent of one another, whereas others have suggested they are bipolar (Dweck, 1986; Dweck & Legget, 1988). …

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