Task motivation at the beginning and the end of a school-year

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  • Task Motivation at the Beginning and the End of a School-Year

    John H. L. van den Bercken University of Nijmegen, Netherlands

    In Harters developmental theory of intrinsic motivation (Harter, 1978), the motivatio- nal orientation of a child is controlled by the affective and evaluative reactions of others on its mastery attempts. Task motivation in school will reflect the cumulative effects of eva- luative reactions. In Heckhausens model of achievement motivation (Heckhausen, 1977) self-evaluation and evaluation by others as a consequence of task performance are assumed to determine actual behaviour in achievement situations. The objectives of the present study were to investigate the effect of evaluation on task motivation and task performance in an educational setting and to find out whether general motivational attitude, task-specific moti- vation and task behaviour are different at the beginning and at the end of a school year.

    1. Method

    225 pupils (9 to 12 years old) in 1 1 groups from seven elementary schools participated in the study. Both at the beginning and at the end of a school year, the children completed a motive questionnaire and a specific task. The questionnaire, the Achievement Motivation scale of Gjesme and Nygard, served to measure the general motivational attitudes hope of success and fear for failure (GMS and GMF). The task consisted of a number of anagrams of varying difficulty levels and was administered in two varieties: a classroom version and an individual version, differing in the extent to which they allowed detailed measurement of task behaviour. In the classroom task the children solved two sets of six anagrams, in the individual task they solved six separately chosen anagrams. Task-specific motivational orientation was scored from a few questions immediately before starting the classroom task (SMS and SMF); the questions were adapted from the motive questionnaire and were word- ed in terms of the task. Actual task motivation was assessed from task behaviour: the chos- en level of (subjective) difficulty (= choice), the number of anagrams solved weighed by objective difficulty level (= effort), and the time spent in trying to solve a very difficult item (= persistence). With respect to the task, the groups of children were randomly assign- ed to one of two conditions. The ((No-Evaluationwcondition (NE) had 124 subjects (six groups from four schools), the ((Evaluationwcondition (E) had 101 children (five groups from three schools). The difference between both conditions was created by manipulating the instruc- tion and the procedure of administering the task. In the NE-condition there was no prior norm of success stated, an oportunity for informative feedback was offered which the chil- dren were free to use, and the experimenter did not check or evaluate the results. In the E-condition, the children had to state their subjective norm of success before they started the task, they had to compare their own solutions with the correct ones, and the results were checked by the experimenter. (For details see Van den Bercken, 1986). The data were analysed by means of a MANOVA for repeated measures, with evaluation-condition as a between-subjects factor and measurement occasion as the within-subjects factor.

    Acknowledgements: the present study was supported by a grant from the Dutch Foundation of Educational Research (SVO TP MO 642).


    2. Results

    The results are summarized in Table 1. Reported are the main and interaction effects of the factors evaluation (NE vs E) and time (beginning vs end of school year) on general motivational orientation (GMS and GMF), task-specific motivational orientation (SMS and SMF), actual task behaviour (choice, effort and persistence), and task results (number of anagrams correctly solved), expressed in percentage of variance explained (72).

    Table li: Effects of evaluation and time of measurement on task motivation

    Effect of: Evaluation Time Interaction

    General orientation GMS 0 GMF 0

    Specific orientation SMS SMF

    9- 11-

    29- 17-

    10- 27-

    0 0

    4 0

    Behaviour choice 2- 3 + 1 effort 10 + 7 + 4 persistence 8+ 6 + 2

    solved it.ems 12 + 19 + 1 Results

    Note: Entries arc percentages of explained variance (1'). The sign indicates the direction of the effect: for evaluation a plus means that mean scores are higher in the NE-condition than in the E-condition, for time a plus indicates that scores are higher at the end of the year. Only when a sign is present the effect is significant at a= .01 with df= 1 and 210.

    3. Discussion

    No statistical significant interaction effects of evaluation-condition and time were found. As to the effects of time, at the end of the school year the level of general and task-specific motivational orientation appears to be substantially lower than at the beginning, while actual task behaviour and task results were higher at the end of the year. The meaning of this differential change is not clear. That the results became better is perhaps not very sur- prising because the second time the task was familiar, even with new items. Although each subject's level of both general and specific motivational orientation was affected by time, his relative position in the sample was changed much less for general than for situation- specific motivational orientation, as may be seen from the test-retest correlations ( 3 3 for GMS and .54 for GMF against .U for SMS and .32 for SMF). From a theoretical point of view, the main effects of evaluation are important. The absence of an effect of evaluation- condition on general motivational orientation is in accordance with the design of the study: with respect to the questionnaire measurements all the children were treated in the same way, the factor evaluation was only manipulated in the presentation of the task. Their eval- uation had indeed an effect: task specific motivation was lowered, while task behaviour and task results were increased. Again a differential effect that is not easy to explain. The fact that task results (and behavioral indicators of motivation) are not reduced by evaluation, is in line with recent findings disproving claims based on the overjustification hypothesis (Hughes et al., 1985). Taken together, the finding that general and specific motivational orientation are affected differently from behavioral motivational indicators and task results, both by time and by evaluation conditions, confirms the fundamental dissociation between motive measures and behavioral indices of motivation as found earlier in correlational analyses (Van den Bercken, 1986).



    Harter, S. (1978). Effectance motivation reconsidered: Toward a developmental model. Human Development, 21,3464.

    Heckhausen, H. (1977). Achievement motivation and its constructs: A cognitive model. Motivotion and Emotion, I, 283-329.

    Hughes, B., Sullivan, H. J., & Mosley, M. L. (1985). External Evaluation, Task Difficutly, and Continuing Motiva- tion. Journal of Educational Research, 78, 210-215.

    Van den Bercken, J. H. L. (1986). Global and specific motive measurement in relation to task performance: Behavio- ral criteria for validating differences in achievement motivation. In J. H. L. van den Bercken, E. E. J. De Bruyn & Th. C. M. Bergen (Eds.), Achievement and Task Motivation (pp. 109-125). Lisse: Swets & Zeitlinger.



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