The University of Sussex

Examining the consistency of mastery and performance goals across group and perceived ability contexts

Amanda Harris, Nicola Yuill, Rose Luckin

We report a series of three studies investigating the consistency of 8- to 10-year-olds’ achievement goal orientation across different learning contexts. Our main aim was to examine whether goal orientations represent stable individual differences towards learning or vary according to context. To achieve this we examined the influence of two variables on the consistency of children’s achievement goal adoption: (a) learning activities which varied in levels of peer interaction (individual, collaborative, and whole-class) and (b) children’s perceptions of their ability in these contexts (high or low). We developed a method of measuring achievement goals in each of these contexts by presenting children with situation-specific scenarios in which they selected a response from a choice of either mastery- or performance-oriented behaviour. We then examined achievement goal preferences within each context and the consistency of goal responses across contexts. Results suggest that for some children achievement goal orientation is consistent across contexts and appears to be dispositional. However, most children adopted different goals according to context. Also, specific interactive contexts exerted particularly strong influences on achievement goal preferences both within and between the three samples. Implications for a theoretical understanding of achievement goals as both situationally specific and dispositional are discussed.

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