The Link between Academic Self-Schemas, Motivational Goals, Learning Approaches and Achievement

Ng (2014) carried out a longitudinal study of year 10 Australian learners, investigating the ‘self-congruence engagement hypothesis’, which proposes that there is a relationship between the perception of students’ academic ‘self’, achievement goals, learning approaches, learning attitudes and achievement levels in learning mathematics.

Two hypotheses regarding the idea of self-engagement congruence using a person-centred approach were researched and supported:

H1 – students holding a specific academic self-schema will maintain a pattern of engagement and achievement in line with their specific self-conception over time.

H2 – a change in academic self-schemas will be associated with a corresponding shift in learners’ engagement an achievement patterns.

Self-schemas are understood as learners’ cognitive generalisations of their selves based upon prior learning experiences, which significantly affect their cognitive, affective and behavioural responses in learning, all of which significantly impact on their achievement.

The research showed that learners with a positive academic self-schema have a positive affect and engagement pattern in relation to their learning.  In contrast, students with a negative academic self-schema engage in avoidance self-preserving avoidance behaviours and their achievement levels lower.  Low levels of engagement and subsequent low achievement further cements the learners’ self-beliefs.

Application to support learners to value the importance of the subject/topic, enjoy learning it, have high self-efficacy and can see clear links between the subject/topic and their future.

Personal coaches and teachers must understand the functioning properties of learners’ self-image in relation to their learning and achievement.

Learners may have developed an academic self-schema that is creating fear in relation to a particular subject(s) or part of their programme. Learners at Derby College who have not had a positive prior learning experience of maths and/or English spring to mind.  This academic identity could be reinforced by the learners being grouped with learners who’ve had a similar underachievement patterns and subsequently being ‘held back’ a level in their wider studies.  It is advised that personal coaches dedicate time to developing learners’ growth mindsets: specifically challenge negative aspects of the learners’ academic self-schema by focusing on the facts that are incongruent with their negative beliefs, which they are likely to be ignoring.  The personal coaches could encourage learners to create a learning self-image, after such a discussion or activity with clear SMART targets to address the negative aspects.

Teachers ensure that aspects of the learners’ programme, which are likely to create negative affect e.g. fear and demotivate learners, are presented sensitively.  Teachers make explicit links between the ‘taught’ knowledge and skills, and the learners’ career aspirations etc.  Teachers should use, and encourage in the learners, mastery-orientated reasoning e.g. enjoyment, interest etc. and avoid extrinsic reasons e.g. course requirements. Functional maths and English teachers should record learners’ aspirations on the ‘Derby College Group Profile’ and ensure that teaching, learning and assessment activities are embrace these opportunities to make these links for the learners and reengage with a favourable attitude to the topics, so the learning of them becomes important to all the learners, leading to better achievement.  The teacher may create an activity for learners to create a clear understanding of the value of the subject/part of programme for their future selves.  For example, a wall display including positive adjectives about each learner in the class; past learners who now work in the field; celebrity business people, hairdressers, chefs etc.

It is important the teachers provide appropriate challenge, which avoids learners making repeated failures, without making assessments too easy.  Regular low or no stakes testing, which overtly shows the learner how they are progressing, in line with their targets and formative feedback will help to facilitate the learning process and reshape negative academic self-schemas.

SMART target setting support is vital for learners with negative academic self-schemas. These learners are unlikely to act upon the feedback given and engage in next steps learning plans and engage in unhelpful coping mechanism instead.  If they are simply asked to write a plan of action it is likely to be superficial.  Teachers must invest in providing personalised feedback to the learners, which includes clear ‘next steps’ for the learner.  Teachers should create supportive activities which force the learners to engage with their individual feedback and their subsequent action should be monitored.  Getting this right will help learners to reduce their ‘self-handicapping’ behaviours; reframe their cognitions about their learning ability; become effective, motivated learners and achieve success.

Ng, C.  (2014)   Examining the self-congruent engagement hypothesis: the link between academic self-schemas, motivational goals, learning approaches and achievement within an academic year.  Educational Psychology: An International Journal of Experimental Educational Psychology, 34,  731-762.

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