Sunday, August 28, 2011

Beyond IQ Series #8: What is "academic goal setting" and why is it important for learning?

Background comment regarding this series

Interest in social-emotional learning and resiliency training (click here and here for just two examples) in education has shown a recent uptick on activity. Given this activity, IQs Corner is starting a series to explain the previously articulated Model of Academic Competence and Motivation (MACM), which was a model ahead of it's time (IMHO). The imporance of non-cognitive (conative) characteristics in learning have been articulated since the days of Spearman, the father of the construct of general intelligence. Richard Snow's work on the concept of "aptitude," which integrates cognitive and conative individual difference variables, is the foundation of the Beyond IQ MACM. Non-cognitive (cognitive) characteristics of learners are important for learning and are more manipulable (more likely to be modified via intervention) than intelligence. Thus, the MACM components make sense as potential levers for improving school learning and pursuing more well rounded life-long learners. This material comes a larger set of materials on the web (click here).

Current MACM Series Installment

This eighth installment in the Beyond IQ series defines academic goal setting and summarizes implications for learning. [All installments in this series (and other related posts and research) can be found by clicking here.

Academic Goal Setting: Definition and Conceptual Background

A person’s ability to set, prioritize and monitor progress towards appropriate and realistic short-(proximal) and longterm (distal) academic goals that serve to direct attention,effort, energy, and persistence toward goal-relevant activities (and away from goal-irrelevant activities).

Goal setting is the ability to set, prioritize and monitor progress towards appropriate and realistic short-term (proximal) and long-term (distal) goals that serve to direct attention, effort, energy, and persistence toward goal-relevant activities (and away from goal-irrelevant activities) (Locke & Latham, 2002). Goals (e.g., academic goals) are the object or aim of an action or behavior and typically include a specified time limit and standard of proficiency. The act of setting goals is based on the assumption, supported by approximately 4 decades of research, that conscious goals will affect action or behavior (Locke & Latham, 2002). According to goal- setting theory, goal-setting facilitates higher levels of academic performance via: (a) direction of attention and efforts toward goal- relevant activities; (b) energizing effort; (c) increasing persistence and more sustained effort; and (d) indirectly leading to the discovery and use of task-relevant strategies (Locke & Latham, 2002).

Academic Goal Setting: Implications

Research has consistently suggested that the two types of academic goal orientations produce significantly different adaptive or nonadaptive learning-related behaviors (Maehr, 1999). According to Covington (2000), “one’s achievement goals are thought to influence the quality, timing, and appropriateness of cognitive strategies that, in turn, control the quality of one’s accomplishments” (p. 174). In general, the research suggests (Anderman et al., 2002; Covington, 2000; Eccles & Wigfield, 2002; Kaplan & Maehr, 1999; Linnenbrink & Pintrich, 2002b; Maehr, 1999; Newman, 2000; Pintrich, 2000b, 2000c; Skaalvik & Skaalvik, 2002; Snow et al., 1996):

A performance goal orientation is associated with nonadaptive learning behaviors which include hiding self-perceived incompetence, self-handicapping, greater worry and anxiety, increased behavior problems, a concern for establishing superiority relative to others, a focus on obtaining grades for grades' sake or other external reasons, less adaptive subsequent motivation, negative self-evaluations and affect, poorer and disorganized strategy use, and poorer academic performance. A performance goal orientation has been associated with students demonstrating a pattern of “helplessness” and the avoidance of challenging situations in order to maintain positive self-perceptions of ability (when compared to others). “Success…is evaluated in social comparison terms. In terms of developing self-esteem, this is a decidedly hazardous situation. By definition, success is a limited commodity. Only a few, at best, can win a competitive game” (Maehr, 1999, p. 331).

A learning goal orientation is associated with more adaptive learning behaviors: positive affect (e.g., pride and satisfaction), higher levels of efficacy, interest, task effort and engagement, the use of more creative and deep self-regulatory learning strategies, and better academic performance. When learning results in stress and frustration, learning goal oriented students tend to view the situation as a challenge, are often energized by the challenge, maintain a positive and optimistic outlook, persevere, and demonstrate the ability to be strategically flexible in their problem solving strategies.

The adoption of a particular learning goal orientation is predictive of, and related to, the attainment of important and valued educational outcomes for children and adolescents. According to Covington’s (2000) review, “the accumulated evidence overwhelmingly favors the goal-theory hypothesis that different reasons for achieving, nominally approach and avoidance, influence the quality of achievement striving via self-regulation mechanisms” (p. 178). A learning goal orientation is a key student attribute that should be assessed and fostered in learning environments. A learning goal orientation is associated with environments that define success as progress and improvement, value effort and learning, and accept mistakes as an inherent component of learning. Learning goal oriented environments stress personal goals, internal comparisons, and a focus on past performance as a frame of reference. In contrast, educational practices that encourage normative ability social comparisons (comparisons that highlight and accentuate competency differences) are believed to foster performance goal orientations and associated maladaptive learner behaviors. Classroom and school incentive systems, which specify how students are evaluated and how rewards (e.g., grades, praise) are distributed, can have a significant impact on a student’s adoption of a specific academic goal orientation.

The reader is referred to Covington (2002) for a summary of the research on the two major categories of classroom incentive structures (ability vs. equity game structures).

Recently, some goal achievement research has differentiated between two subtypes of performance goal orientation. Performance- approach goals are hypothesized to be present when a student’s purpose for learning is focused on demonstrating their competence and abilities. Performance-approach orientations have been associated with both adaptive and maladaptive learning outcomes. It is hypothesized that for some students, a focus on doing better than others and publicly demonstrating their competence (performance- approach) can contribute to higher levels of motivation, task engagement, and academic success, particularly when the student also displays intrinsic interest in the task. However, there is disagreement in the field regarding the positive and negative consequences of a performance-avoidance goal orientation (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002). A performance- avoidance goal orientation is present when a student’s purpose or goal for achievement is to avoid the demonstration of incompetence (i.e., avoid looking stupid). Performance- avoidance goals have been linked with maladaptive educational and behavioral outcomes.

Developmental research has revealed significant differences and changes in a student’s goal orientation over time, largely in response to students adapting to new environments. In general, the developmental goal orientation research literature suggests that changes occur more as a function of changing learning environment, and not enduring personality traits (Anderman et al., 2000).

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