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kwell Publishing Ltd The relationship between the quality of cooperative learning, students’ goal preferences, and perceptions of contextual factors in the classroom

This paper reports a study into the relationship between
motivational processes, contextual factors and the quality of
cooperative learning (CL) processes of  adolescent students
in secondary vocational education in the Netherlands. We
view motivational processes as an intricate part of  the students’
self-regulation process, namely that part that is steered by
their values and goal preferences. It is generally assumed that
students steer their behavior in the direction of  valued goals and
away from non-valued goals (Boekaerts, Pintrich & Zeidner,
2000). This is not to say that students are working with a clear
goal dichotomy in mind; personally valued and non-valued
goals. Rather, our position is that many goals are located in
between these two extremes. Indeed, students are presented
with multiple goals in the school context. Some students
might classify these goals in terms of  desirable and undesir-able ones but for the majority of  students the classification
process might be more complex. Several researchers, such as
Deci and Ryan (1985) and Ryan and Deci (2000) argued that
most students will determine to what extent school goals are
similar to – or might be combined with – personally liked
goals; they try to bridge the span between imposed and
personal goals, by “personalizing” the former type of  goals
(e.g., Lemos, 2002). We  assume that students’ motivation
levels at school largely depend on their perceptions of  the
connection between their personal goals and the school goals.
We  expect that the students’ perception of  the quality of
CL depends to a large extent on the goal preferences that
they bring into the classroom. On the other hand we expect
that their perception of  the classroom context itself, and
more specifically the way they perceive teacher behavior and
the support they get from teacher and peers, determines the
quality of  CL as well. For example, we expect that the students’ perceptions of  the extent to which they were taught
cooperation skills (How information) and the social reasons
they consider important for CL (Why information) will
affect how they appraise the quality of  CL. For future intervention purposes, attention to how students perceive the CL
setting is of  prime importance. Our position is that, although
students’ goal preferences have a large impact on their perception of  the quality of  CL, it is difficult to influence their
goal preferences in a short period of  time. By contrast, information about the contextual factors that influence students’
perception of  CL may provide researchers with useful information to hand down to teachers and trainers. We realize
that adaptations to classroom settings are much easier to
generate than changes in students’ goal preferences.
In this paper, we attempt to expand the focus of  goal
preferences from the achievement domain to the social
domain, acknowledging the large role played by students’
perception of  the social context. The article is organized into
three main sections. First, we describe the quality of  CL as
the general beliefs students have about the reasons for learning with and from each other and their awareness of  how
they have to go about learning in the CL setting. Second, we
describe the relation between goal preferences and CL. In
the third section we describe how goal preferences and perception of  contextual factors is conceptualized in the present
study and report on the results

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