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Student autonomy and course value: The unique and cumulative roles of various teacher practices

Abstract

High school students (N = 278) in 30 classrooms with ten teachers (grades 9 through 12) reported on teacher practices in a single course, autonomy need satisfaction, and value for that course. Using hierarchical linear modeling, results indicated that student perceptions of teachers providing choices and engaging in perspective-taking to a greater extent uniquely related to greater autonomy need satisfaction. Subsequent analyses suggested that students’ autonomy need satisfaction was greatest when they perceived that teachers also identified the importance and usefulness of coursework and considered students’ interests and opinions in course activities. Provision of choice and perspective-taking related to greater course value through autonomy need satisfaction, while identifying the importance and usefulness of course activities had only direct positive effects on course value. The pattern of total, direct, and indirect effects was slightly different depending on the component of course value. Results underscore the importance of including provision of choice in conceptualizations of teacher autonomy support.

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Notes

  1. Several aspects of this analysis are worth noting. First, we had expected to be able to distinguish between two different types of choices: (1) those for which teachers simply provide options for or during activities and assignments or (2) more complex choices where teachers allow students to work in their own way and give students the decision-making freedom to guide their own study process. However, our EFA suggested that these two forms of choice were not easily distinguished, at least in the minds of students. We likewise found that a number of teacher practices seem to cluster together, aside from the factor that exclusively represented teachers’ rationale provision for course activities. There was intuitive appeal in the finding that teachers’ listening, perspective-taking, encouraging student questions, and providing opportunities to express negative feelings about the class formed one cluster of practices, while teachers’ consideration for students’ interests and opinions formed a separate cluster of practices. Although we had intended to examine a broader set of practices hypothesized to support autonomy than prior measures included (e.g. Assor et al. 2002; Belmont et al. 1992), we found it somewhat reassuring that our data-reduction strategy instead led to a similar grouping of practices as those assessed by measures used in earlier investigations (e.g. Assor et al. 2002). It should be noted that results from EFAs examining our measure of autonomy supportive practices conflict with those found by Katz et al. (2009), where teacher’s support for autonomy, competence, and relatedness loaded on a single factor. However, results from EFAs of our measure are more in line with other previous research (e.g. Reeve 2006; Su and Reeve 2011) and suggested that students can indeed differentiate between several broad categories of teacher behavior intended to be autonomy supportive.

  2. Although we examined the total effects of teacher practices on course value, we did not require that total effects be significant to establish mediation (MacKinnon et al. 2002). Instead, we required that the teacher practice predictor demonstrate a significant relation with autonomy need satisfaction, that autonomy need satisfaction demonstrate a significant relation with the course value outcome, and that a test of this indirect effect be significant.

  3. Interactions between the demographic characteristics and teacher practices were examined in a series of subsequent random intercept-only models to explore whether the relation between teacher practices and autonomy need satisfaction might vary as a function of students’ ethnicity, honors class status, sex, or grade level. Interactions between all demographic characteristics and teacher practices were added to separate models for each characteristic. No significant interaction effects were found.

  4. To explore the possibility that the indirect path between teacher practices and intrinsic course value through autonomy need satisfaction might vary as a function of students’ ethnicity, honors class status, sex, or grade level, moderated mediation and mediated moderation were explored following recommendations of Muller et al. (2005) and Preacher et al. (2007) in a series of subsequent random intercept-only models. First, to examine the moderated relations between predictors and the course value outcome, interactions between demographic characteristics and teacher practices were added in separate models for each characteristic. However, no significant interaction effects were found. Therefore these interaction terms were removed from the models. As previously explained, there were also no significant interactions between demographic characteristics and teacher practices on autonomy need satisfaction. Finally, we added the interaction terms between autonomy need satisfaction and each demographic characteristic in a series of four separate models for each characteristic. A significant interaction effect between grade level and autonomy need satisfaction was found for intrinsic course value (γ100 = .32, p < .03). Examination of the simple slopes suggested that the coefficient between autonomy need satisfaction and intrinsic value was larger for older students (γ90 = .74, p < .001) than younger students (γ90 = .42,p < .001). The effect of choice provision on intrinsic course value was significantly partially mediated by autonomy need satisfaction for both younger (Sobel test: z = 3.07, p < .002, PME = .39) and older students (Sobel test: z = 4.09, p < .001, PME = .69), as was the effect of perspective-taking (Sobel test for younger students: z = 2.01, p = .04, PME = .33 and for older students: z = 2.23, p = .03, PME = .46) In contrast, the effect of rationale provision on intrinsic course value was not significantly mediated by autonomy need satisfaction for either younger (Sobel test: z = .14, p = .89, PME = .01) or older students (Sobel test: z = .14, p < .89, PME = .02). The effect of autonomy need satisfaction on intrinsic course value was not significantly moderated by any other demographic characteristics.

  5. As with the other components of course value, we fully investigated whether the indirect path between teacher practices and attainment value through autonomy need satisfaction might vary as a function of students’ ethnicity, honors class status, sex, or grade level in a series of random intercept-only models. As in previous analyses, interactions between all demographic characteristics and teacher practices were first added to separate models for each characteristic predicting attainment value without the presence of the hypothesized mediator. However, no significant interaction effects between demographic characteristics and teacher practices on attainment value were found. Therefore, these interactions terms were removed from the models. As previously explained, there were also no significant interactions between demographic characteristics and teacher practices on autonomy need satisfaction. Finally, we added interactions between autonomy need satisfaction and each demographic characteristic in a series of separate models for each characteristic. The only significant interaction to emerge was between students' autonomy need satisfaction and their honors class status.

  6. As with the other components of course value, we fully investigated whether the indirect path between teacher practices and utility value through autonomy need satisfaction might vary as a function of students’ ethnicity, honors class status, sex, or grade level in a series of random intercept-only models. As in the previous analyses, interactions between all demographic characteristics and teacher practices were first added to four separate models for each characteristic to predict utility value without the presence of the hypothesized mediator. No significant interaction effects between demographic characteristics and teacher practices on utility course value were found. Therefore, these interaction terms were removed from the models. As previously explained, there were also no significant interactions between demographic characteristics and teacher practices on autonomy need satisfaction. In a third and final step, we added interactions between autonomy need satisfaction and each demographic characteristic in four separate models. However, the relation between autonomy need satisfaction and course utility value was not found to vary as a function of students’ ethnicity, honors class status, sex, or grade level.

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Patall, E.A., Dent, A.L., Oyer, M. et al. Student autonomy and course value: The unique and cumulative roles of various teacher practices. Motiv Emot 37, 14–32 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-012-9305-6

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Keywords

  • Choice
  • Autonomy-support
  • Motivation
  • Course value
  • Teacher practices