terest is determined by specific features of an activity or task. In sixth grade science classrooms, Lee and Brophy (1996) found evidence that students’ interest and motivation to learn were both domain general and situational. For example, students’ interest varied from task to task even within a single unit on matter and molecules.
Interest is tied to the quality of learning (Alexander, Kulikowich, and Jetton, 1994; Hidi, 2001; Renninger, Ewen, and Lasher, 2002: Schiefele, 1996, 1999). For example, personal interest influences students’ selective attention, effort and willingness to persist at a task, and acquisition of new knowledge (Hidi, 1990). Situational interest is more influenced than personal interest by characteristics of the classroom and the nature of the task. For example, challenge, choice, novelty, fantasy, and surprise can increase students’ situational interest (Malone and Lepper, 1987). Recent studies suggest that interest is particularly predictive of achievement when there is a context that allows for choice. For example, interest in mathematics predicts achievement only at higher grade levels when students have a choice between more or less advanced courses (Koller, Baumert, and Schnabel, 2001).
Research on the development of interest indicates that children tend to have general or universal interests at first, which become more specific relatively quickly (Eccles, Wigfield, and Schiefele, 1998; Todt, 1990). Between ages 3 and 8, gender-specific interests emerge (Eccles, 1987; Ruble and Martin, 1998). For example, Johnson et al. (2004) found that among 4-year-olds, boys were more likely to have strong individual interests in conceptual domains such as dinosaurs or dogs than were girls. Girls’ interests were generally more aligned with the arts (drawing, painting) or with activities related to forming and elaborating on social relationships (pretend play, dolls). Between ages 9 and 13, emerging self-concept is assumed to be linked more directly to social group affiliation and cognitive ability, leading to occupational interests consistent with one’s social class and ability self-concepts (Cook et al., 1996). After age 13 or 14, students develop more differentiated and individualized vocational interests based on a notion of their internal, unique self. The development of vocational interests is thus a process of continuous elimination of interests that do not fit the individual’s emerging sense of self, which includes gender, social group affiliation, ability, and then personal identity (Todt, 1990).
Identity involves how people view themselves, how they present themselves, and how others see them (Holland et al., 1998; Wenger, 1998). A child’s identity as a learner is contested and influenced by different practices in everyday interactions, as well as in the cultural institutions he uses (Bruner,