The Relationships among Middle School Students' Motivational Orientations, Learning Strategies, and Academic Achievement

By McClintic-Gilbert, Megan S.; Corpus, Jennifer Henderlong et al. | Middle Grades Research Journal, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

The Relationships among Middle School Students' Motivational Orientations, Learning Strategies, and Academic Achievement


McClintic-Gilbert, Megan S., Corpus, Jennifer Henderlong, Wormington, Stephanie V., Haimovitz, Kyla, Middle Grades Research Journal


The present study examined the extent to which middle school students' (N=90) learning strategies mediated the relationship between their motivational orientations and academic achievement. Survey data revealed that higher degrees of intrinsic motivation predicted the use of both deep and surface learning strategies, whereas higher degrees of extrinsic motivation predicted the use of superficial strategies. Students' semester grade point averages indicated that academic achievement was negatively related to both extrinsic motivation and the use of superficial learning strategies, but surprisingly unrelated to intrinsic motivation and the use of deep learning strategies. As predicted, the negative relationship between extrinsic motivation and achievement was fully mediated by the use of superficial learning strategies.

Motivation to learn is an essential component of academic success, particularly at the middle school level, which is marked by declines in school grades, competence beliefs, the quality of teacher-student relationships, and the perceived value of school (Barber & Oleson, 2004; Eccles & Midgley, 1989; Eccles et al., 1993; Guttman & Midgley, 2000; Harter, Whitesell, & Kowalski, 1992; Wigfield et al., 1997). However, the form that motivation takes is just as important as the amount of motivation students have (Deci & Ryan, 2000; Vansteenkiste, Lens, & Deci, 2006; Vansteenkiste, Sierens, Soenens, Luyckx, & Lens, 2009). Researchers have long distinguished between intrinsic and extrinsic forms of motivation, arguing that they have distinct consequences for learning (e.g., Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 1999; Harter, 1978; Sansone & Harackiewicz, 2000). Indeed, intrinsic motivation (i.e., learning for the sake of learning) predicts regular homework completion (Otis, Groutzet, & Pelletier, 2005), cognitive engagement (Walker, Greene, & Mansell, 2006), high classroom grades (Boiché, Sarrazin, Grouzet, Pelletier, & Chanal, 2008; Gottfried, 1985, 1990; Lepper, Corpus, & Iyengar, 2005), and strong standardized test scores (Gottfried, 1985; Lepper et al., 2005). Extrinsic motivation (i.e., learning as a means to an end), by contrast, tends to serve as a negative predictor of these same achievement outcomes (Lepper et al., 2005; Vansteenkiste et al., 2009).

What is the mechanism by which these forms of motivation predict achievement? One possibility is that students are more attentive to and engaged with material that they find to be intrinsically interesting (Harackiewicz, Barron, Tauer, Carter, & Elliot, 2000; Stipek, 2002). Theortically, this leads to richer conceptual understanding and better performance. This perspective is supported by work within the literature on interest development (Hidi & Renninger, 2006; Schiefele, 1991, 2009). On the other hand, students pursuing schoolwork as a means to an extrinsic end may adopt more superficial strategies that involve minimal effort and focus on simple task completion. In short, motivation orientation may shape students' tendency to act as self-regulated learners who employ cognitive and metacognitive strategies that affect learning and performance (see Pintrich & DeGroot, 1990; Schunk, 2008; Zimmerman, 2008; Zimmerman & Schunk, 2001). Understanding the specific ways in which intrinsic and extrinsic motivations translate into strategic action and thus achievement may be crucial for designing interventions to improve learning outcomes.

Although the relationships between strategy use and more general patterns of motivation have been examined (e.g., Bouffard, Vezeau, & Bordeleau, 1998; Järvelä, Järvenoja, & Malmberg, 2012; Pintrich & DeGroot, 1990; Shih, 2005; Wolters, 2004; Wolters & Taylor, 2012), little work has explored the connection between such strategies and the specific forms of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. This particular connection may be critical for understanding the link to academic achievement given the important role of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations in both pedagogical philosophy and classroom settings (e. …

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