A mixed methods study of the relationship between student

Pdf File 853.15 KByte,

RMLE Online-- Volume 38, No. 4

David C. Virtue, Ph.D., Editor University of South Carolina Columbia, South Carolina

2014 ? Volume 38 ? Number 4

ISSN 1940-4476

A Mixed Methods Study of the Relationship between Student Perceptions of Teacher-Student Interactions and Motivation in Middle Level Science

Julie B. Smart, Ph.D. Presbyterian College


This mixed-methods study examined the relationship between middle level science students' perceptions of teacher-student interactions and students' science motivation, particulary their efficacy, value, and goal orientation for learning science. In this sequential explanatory design, quantitative and qualitative data were collected in two phases, with quantitative data in the first phase informing the selection of participants for the qualitative phase that followed. Results from phase one indicated that students' perceptions of teacher interpersonal behaviors were positively correlated with their efficacy for learning science, value for learning science, and mastery orientation. Results from phase two revealed themes related to students' construction of their perceptions of teacher interpersonal behavior and dimensions of their efficacy and task value for science. Theoretical implications, implications for educational practice, and future research directions are also discussed.

Keywords: classroom research, middle schools, motivation, science education, teacher-student interactions

Teacher-student interactions have the potential to affect students on many levels, including achievement,

motivation, and adjustment to school (den Brok, Levy, Brekelmans, & Wubbels, 2005; Pianta, 1999; van den Oord & Van Rossem, 2002). Research on teacherstudent interactions in early childhood, elementary,

and secondary settings has shown that some types of classroom interactions can have a positive effect on various outcomes, including students' academic development, achievement, and attitudes toward learning (Burchinal, Peisner-Feinberg, Pianta, & Howes, 2002; O'Conner & McCartney, 2007; Pianta, 1999; Pianta & Nimetz, 1991). In addition, these teacher-student interactions can be predictive of student achievement and motivation as early as

the elementary years (Pianta & Nimetz, 1991) and potentially continuing into the middle grades (den Brok et al., 2005; O'Conner & McCartney, 2007). The purpose of the current study was to examine the relationship between middle level science students' perceptions of teacher-student interactions and students' science motivation, particulary their value, goal orientation, and efficacy for learning science.

? 2014 Association for Middle Level Education


RMLE Online-- Volume 38, No. 4

Teacher-Student Interactions

Domain-Specific Motivation

Defining the characteristics of high quality teacherstudent interactions is critical to examining their impact on student outcomes. Gardiner & Kosmitzki (2008) defined high quality teacher-student interactions as consistent, stable, respectful, and fair interactions that facilitate the students' view of their teacher as a secure base. Students who view their teacher as a secure base are more likely to engage in help-seeking behaviors that, in turn, positively correlate with student achievement. High quality teacher-student interactions can also be typified by rich communication in instructional exchanges between the teacher and student (Cabell, DeCoster, LoCasale-Crouch, Hamre, & Pianta, 2013; Pianta, 1999). Open communication between the teacher and students can enable students to engage more deeply with content through classroom discourse and seek teacher assistance more confidently. Perceived emotional support is also a characteristic of highquality interactions and has links with increased student achievement and academic motivation (Pianta, La Paro, Payne, Cox, & Bradley, 2002).

Drawing from Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Model (Bronfenbrenner, 1977), Pianta and Walsh (1996) developed the Contextual Systems Model (CSM) for analyzing children's experiences in school. The CSM provides a framework to view teacher-student relationships as situated within the broader context of classroom interactions. This framework posits that the following four main systems interact to influence the development of the child: the individual child, the family, the classroom, and the culture. Within the classroom level of the CSM, research indicates that teacher-student interactions are influential in student outcomes in science (den Brok et al., 2005). Specifically, students' perceptions of interactions with their teachers are highly correlated with students' attitudes towards science (Brekelmans, Wubbels, & van Tartwijk, 2005; den Brok, Fisher, Rickards & Bull, 2006; Fraser, 1991).

Research on teacher-student interactions in science has focused primarily on secondary science students and on students' general attitudes toward science. The present study seeks to extend this research to middle level science education and focuses specifically on students' domain-specific motivation for learning science. Thus, it extends the current research on teacher-student interactions to examine the constructs of task value, self-efficacy, and goal orientation.

The present study focuses specifically on science motivation as defined by the theories of goal orientation (Ames, 1992; Pajares, Britner, & Valiante, 2000), expectancy-value (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002; Eccles & Wigfield, 1994; Wigfield, 1994), and self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977, 1997). Students as young as eight years have demonstrated the ability to differentiate between subject areas in relation to motivational constructs (Anderman, 2003). Subjectspecific motivation represents the values, attitudes, and conceptions that a student holds toward a specific academic domain (den Brok et al., 2005). Studies indicate that motivation can differ from one subject to another, especially during early adolescence (Stodolsky & Grossman, 1995; Wolters, 2004). As students move to the middle grades, where subject areas are more departmentalized and integration of subjects is less common than in elementary grades, motivational constructs may differ by domain.

Goal Orientation Goal orientation refers to students' achievement goals, or the reasons students have for doing their academic work (Pajares et al., 2000). These achievement goals are typically described as either performance goal orientations or mastery goal orientations (Ames, 1992; Anderman & Patrick, 2012; Pintrich & Schunk, 2002). A performance orientation is typified by a focus on competition, comparison to others, and either displaying competence (performanceapproach) or avoiding failure (performance-avoid) (Anderman & Patrick, 2012; Anderman, Patrick, & Ryan, 2004; Midgley, Kaplan, & Middleton, 2001; Murayama, Elliot, & Yamagata, 2011). In contrast, a mastery orientation is characterized by a focus on personal progress, improvement, and learning for learning's sake. Performance oriented students are more likely to make social comparisons and place value on doing better than other students (Pajares, et al., 2000; Schunk, 1996). Mastery oriented students tend to seek challenges and concern themselves with setting and achieving personal goals (Pajares et al, 2000; Anderman & Young, 1994). Mastery oriented students tend to make external attributions for failure, persist in the face of academic challenges, and employ more effective cognitive strategies than performance oriented students (Schunk, 1996; Anderman & Young, 1994). Conversely, performance oriented students tend to make internal attributions for academic failures, lack persistence in academic challenges, and employ less effective cognitive

? 2014 Association for Middle Level Education


RMLE Online-- Volume 38, No. 4

strategies than mastery oriented students (Anderman & Young, 1994; Murayama, Elliot, & Yamagata, 2011; Ryan & Patrick, 2001).

Aspects of the classroom learning environment are also influential in students' individual goal orientations (Anderman & Patrick, 2012; Church, Elliott, & Gamble, 2001; Midgley, Anderman, & Hicks, 1995). Teachers who promote competition and place a high value on test grades may foster the development of performance goal orientations in their students. Conversely, teachers who value understanding of concepts and emphasize individual effort over grades are more likely to encourage the development of mastery goal orientations in their students (Ames & Archer, 1988; Wolters, 2004). Evaluation practices are especially influential in goal orientations (Ames, 1992; Anderman & Midgley, 1998). As students move into the middle grades and high school, an increased emphasis is placed on normative evaluation, which encourages students to view their performance in comparison to the performances of other students. These normative evaluation practices work to foster performanceoriented goals structures within classes and, ultimately, in students (Ames, 1992).

Expectancy-value Theory Expectancy-value theory posits that motivation is a function of an individual's expectancy for success for a given task and the individual's value for the task (Eccles & Wigfield, 1994; Eccles & Wigfield, 2002). Within this model, expectancies for success and task value are the two primary constructs related to an individual's motivation. Interestingly, these constructs have been studied together and in isolation. Research indicates that task value is often predictive of an individual's choices or decisions, while expectancies for success are more predictive of performance (Eccles & Roeser, 2011; Wigfield & Eccles, 2002).

A students' expectancies for success and his/her value for the domain or task can affect motivation (Bandura, 1997). Task value is central to the expectancy-value motivational theory (Eccles & Wigfield, 1994). Task value is generally discussed in terms of utility value, intrinsic value, attainment value, and cost (Wigfield & Eccles, 1992, 2002). Studies indicate that intrinsic and utility task value are predictive of students' effort in science classes and course selection (Cole, Bergin, & Whittaker, 2006; Wigfield, 1994).

Self-efficacy Self-efficacy is a central concept to the development of students' academic motivation (Bandura, 1989; Bandura, Barbaranelli, & Caprara, 2001). Students with high self-efficacy for a task have confidence in their ability to perform the task effectively. In contrast, low self-efficacy is marked by a lack of confidence in one's abilities to succeed at a given task or domain (Pintrich, 2000; Pintrich & Schunk, 2002). Studies indicate that self-efficacy is positively correlated with student achievement (DiPerna & Elliott, 1999; DiPerna, Volpe, & Elliott, 2005; Whang & Hancock, 1994). Students who believe they can perform well in a specific academic domain make healthier attributions for both success and failure, consequently supporting learning strategies that are associated with higher student achievement (Weiner, 1985). Because self-efficacy has been identified as a domain-specific construct (Ormrod, 2006; Stipek, 1988), students may have higher self-efficacy for some academic tasks and lower self-efficacy in other areas.

Studies have also found that students' science selfefficacy is correlated with science achievement (Britner & Pajares, 2001; Pajares et al., 2000). In fact, Bandura (1997) postulated that students' selfefficacy for a domain may be a better predictor for their achievement in that specific content area than objective assessments. Students who are efficacious about their ability to learn science are more likely to attempt challenging tasks, persist at those tasks, and make positive attributions for both success and failure (Bandura, 1989, 1997). The opposite is true of students with low self-efficacy for learning science.

Motivation in the Middle Grades

Because motivation and achievement can be highly correlated (DiPerna & Elliott, 1999; DiPerna et al., 2005; Whang & Hancock, 1994), it is critical that students maintain an optimal level of motivation. However, research indicates that many students display a downward motivational shift in the middle grades, especially in the area of science (Anderman, Maehr, & Midgley, 1999; Eccles & Midgley, 1989). Motivational patterns in the middle grades often remain stable into high school and beyond, thereby influencing students' selection of courses in school and, ultimately, affecting their career trajectories (Eccles & Midgley, 1989).

The middle grades can be a challenging time for students because of a variety of developmental and

? 2014 Association for Middle Level Education


RMLE Online-- Volume 38, No. 4

social factors. Many students experience changes in cognitive and motivational factors during the middle grades (Duchesne, Ratelle, & Roy, 2012; Pajares et al., 2000; Rudolph, Lambert, Clark & Kurlakowsky, 2001; Singh, Granville, & Dika, 2002). In the middle grades, the school and classroom climate is often dramatically different than what it was during elementary school (Anderman, Patrick, & Ryan, 2004; Midgley, Anderman, & Hicks, 1995). Middle level students generally experience larger class sizes, multiple teachers, increased ability grouping, decreased parental involvement, and larger school buildings (Eccles & Wigfield, 1994). In addition, middle level teachers often exhibit more controlling behaviors within the classroom context, providing students with fewer choices and decreased opportunities to participate in decision-making processes within the classroom (Duchesne et al., 2012; Eccles & Midgley, 1989; Rudolph et al., 2001). Ironically, this shift in classroom control structures occurs at the developmental stage of early adolescence, a time when individuals have an increased need for autonomy (Eccles & Midgley, 1989).

In addition to changes in school and classroom climate, teacher factors are also different in the middle grades. Studies indicate that middle level teachers tend to exhibit less nurturing behaviors than elementary teachers (Barber & Olsen, 2004; Eccles & Midgley, 1989). With increased class sizes, middle level students may also perceive teacher-student relationships to be less personal and more distant, leading students to perceive less support from their teachers (Barber & Olsen, 2004).

Students may be especially likely to experience a decrease in their science motivation during the middle grades (Pajares et al., 2000; Singh, et al., 2002), exhibiting a subsequent drop in achievement. This decline in motivation and achievement is critical, as students' performance and attitudes in the middle grades influence their academic trajectories, high school course selections, and, ultimately, career choices (Anderman & Young, 1994; Singh et al., 2002). Motivational patterns in early adolescence are fairly stable and persist into high school and beyond (Eccles & Midgley, 1989). Because attitudinal factors and achievement in the middle grades have lingering effects, this drop in motivation during the middle grades in the area of science is a significant cause for concern. Several hypotheses exist to explain, at least in part, this drop in motivation, including developmental factors, peer factors, school characteristics, and parental involvement (Ryan

& Patrick, 2001). However, many of these factors may be outside the realm of teachers' control and influence. The current study explores the role of teacher behaviors in students' motivation for learning science in the middle grades.

The Present Study

The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between middle level science students' perceptions of teacher-student interactions and students' science motivation, particularly their goal orientation, efficacy, and valuing of science. This study follows a sequential explanatory mixed methods design and consists of a quantitative phase and a qualitative phase (Cresswell & Plano Clark, 2007). Specifically, the study follows a participant selection model in which quantitative data from the first phase were used to select participants for the second qualitative phase of the study. The following research questions guided the study:

? (Quantitative phase) What is the relationship between middle level science students' perceptions of teacher-student interactions and their motivation for learning science?

? (Qualitative phase) How do middle level science students construct perceptions of teacher-student interactions, and how do these perceptions affect their science motivation?

Based on the literature, we formulated the following hypothesis: Cooperative teacher interactions will be positively correlated with science motivation (goal orientation, value and efficacy for learning science). Conversely, we hypothesized that oppositional teacher interactions will be negatively correlated with science motivation.

Study Design

This mixed methods study employed a sequential explanatory model (Cresswell & Plano-Clark, 2007). The basis of the design was a participant selection model in which quantitative and qualitative data are collected in two phases--quantitative data in the first phase informs the selection of participants for the second qualitative phase. The second qualitative phase helps to clarify and explain results from the first quantitative phase. In this design, data mixing occurs between phase one and phase two (participant selection) and at the interpretation level (explanatory) after quantitative and qualitative data are analyzed separately. Figure 1 present a visual schematic for the design of this study.

? 2014 Association for Middle Level Education


RMLE Online-- Volume 38, No. 4

Questionnaire on Teacher Interaction


PHASE ONE: Quantitative

Patterns of Adaptive Learning Survey

(revised) + Task Value Scale

Participant Selection

Mulitple regression analyses and comparison of means

Identification of students' high/low motivation and high/low perceptions

Creation of motivation/perceptions composites

PHASE TWO: Qualitative

24 student interviews

Open coding; Identify initial themes, categories, and subcategories

Explanatory Data Mixing

Axial coding: Elaborate dimentions or categories and


Create visual matrix comparing quantitative and qualitative results

Narrative interpretation of quantitative and qualitative findings

Figure 1. Sequential explanatory mixed methods design

Quantitative Phase: Method

Participants Participants for this study were 223 sixth grade science students from a middle school in a school district in the southeastern United States. This middle school, situated in the suburbs of a metropolitan area, had a student enrollment of 1,069 with 34.7% of the students eligible for free and reduced meal status. The participants were the students of three science teachers and were members of 12 sixth-grade science classes in the school. Table 1 provides demographic information about the participants.

Outcome Measures Questionnaire on Teacher Interaction. Student perceptions of interactions with their teachers were measured with the Questionnaire on Teacher

Interaction (QTI) (Wubbels & Brekelmans, 2005). The QTI assesses students' perceptions of teacherstudent interactions and includes items that describe students' interactions with teachers on a variety of dimensions. It is based on a theoretical model of proximity (cooperation vs. opposition) and influence (dominance vs. submission) (Leary, 1957). The 48 items of the QTI are organized into the following eight scales: Leadership, Helpful/Friendly, Understanding, Student Freedom, Uncertain, Dissatisfied, Admonishing, and Strict.

Patterns of Adaptive Learning Survey. The Patterns of Adaptive Learning Survey (PALS) (Midgley et al., 2000) is based on goal orientation theory and was designed to measure relationships between the learning environment and dimensions of student motivation and affect. In its entirety,

Table 1 Demographics for Survey Participants (N=223)

Gender: Female


Gender: Male


Ethnicity: African American


Ethnicity: Caucasian


Ethnicity: Hispanic


Ethnicity: Asian American


Ethnicity: Other


? 2014 Association for Middle Level Education


RMLE Online-- Volume 38, No. 4

Table 2 Descriptive Statistics


Mastery Orien. Perform. Orien. Efficacy Task Value Leadership Helping/Friendly Understanding Student Freedom Strict Admonishing Dissatisfied


14.64 23.38 13.51 14.58 11.92 11.84 11.44 5.28 8.40

9.60 5.70

Standard Deviation

2.50 6.79 2.53 2.99 11.92 3.03 3.05 1.76 2.86 2.73 2.97


6.25 46.11 6.41 8.95

5.56 9.16 9.30 3.09 8.16 7.43 8.84


15.00 30.00 13.00 15.00 12.00 12.00 12.00 10.00 12.00 11.00 12.00


3.00 6.00 5.00 3.00 3.00 3.00 3.00 3.00 3.00 4.00 3.00


18.00 36.00 18.00 18.00 15.00 15.00 15.00 13.00 15.00 15.00 15.00

the measure includes both student scales and teacher scales. The student instrument includes the following sub-scales: (1) personal achievement goal orientations; (2) perceptions of teacher's goals; (3) perceptions of the classroom goal structure; (4) achievement-related beliefs, attitudes, and strategies, and (5) perceptions of parents and home life (Midgley et al., 2000). The PALS student instrument is based on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (not true at all) to 5 (very true).

Task value scale. A 3-item measure of task value, based on the dimensions of utility and importance of science, was also developed for this study. This scale was developed based on literature related to expectancy-value, of which task value is a central construct (Eccles & Wigfield, 1994, 2002). This scale was developed in conjunction with a measurement expert and educational psychologist familiar with the theoretical construct of task value. Readability for the task value scale was assessed using the FleschKincaid Grade Level test and was determined to be 3.4 (third grade, four months). A motivational expert examined the task value scale for face validity. This task value scale was also piloted with a class of sixthgrade science students (N=25). Cronbach's Alpha for this pilot was 0.85, and an examination of "Cronbach's Alpha if Item Deleted" suggested that all items within these scales should be retained.

Procedure Student participants completed the following measures during the quantitative phase of this study: QTI, PALS and a task-value scale. The dependent variables in the present study were the following sub-scales from the complete PALS instrument: two

goal orientation scales (mastery and performance orientation) and the Academic Efficacy Scale. Students' reported task value was also a dependent variable in the study. Each scale was adapted to be science-specific. The independent variables in the present study were the QTI scales for cooperative teacher-students interactions (Leadership, Helpful/ Friendly, Understanding, Student Freedom) and oppositional interactions (Dissatisfied, Admonishing, Strict, and Uncertain). Surveys were administered in the students' science class without their science teacher present, and each item was read aloud to control for reading level. Data were collected in the last quarter of the academic school year.

Quantitative Phase: Results

Descriptives Descriptive statistics--including mean, standard deviation, variance, and range--were calculated for each variable. These statistics are presented in Table 2.

Reliability of Outcomes Reliability for scales in the PALS and task value scale are presented in Table 3. The reliability coefficients for the scales ranged from a low, but acceptable, 0.6 to a high reliability of 0.85. Reliability for scales in the QTI are also presented in Table 3. The reliability coefficients for the QTI scales ranged from a low, but acceptable, 0.64 to a high reliability of 0.86.

Multiple Regression Analysis Multiple regression analyses were conducted to evaluate how well student perceptions of cooperative and oppositional teacher behaviors predicted each of the four dependent variables (mastery orientation,

? 2014 Association for Middle Level Education


Download Pdf File