•   When a learner holds a performance-avoidance goal, the student’s goal is to avoid appearing incompetent or “dumb.” Such students would want to avoid appearing to others that they have poor literacy skills.


Learning environments can be structured in ways that encourage learners to set different types of goals. If a teacher emphasizes the importance of mastering literacy skills, learners are likely to adopt mastery goals; if a teacher emphasizes relative ability (i.e., the teacher inadvertently makes comments that position adult learners as “good” or “bad” readers), learners are likely to adopt performance goals.

Adopting mastery goals predicts positive outcomes that include persisting at tasks, choosing to engage in similar activities in the future, and using effective cognitive and self-regulatory strategies. Performance-avoidance goals consistently predict negative outcomes, including increased use of self-handicapping strategies and poor achievement. Results for performance-approach goals are mixed, with some studies finding that they are related to positive outcomes and others finding the opposite.

In addition, learners can have certain beliefs about intelligence that can affect their self-efficacy and as a result their personal goals for learning. Students who hold an incremental view of intelligence believe that intelligence is malleable and that it is possible to learn just about anything. These students are likely to adopt mastery goals. In contrast, students who believe that intelligence is fixed so that a person cannot effectively learn more than they are naturally capable of learning are likely to adopt performance goals.

It appears possible, however, to alter beliefs about intelligence. For instance, feedback that focuses a learner’s attention on how learning happens—for example, on the use of strategies, effort, practice, and the general changeable and controllable nature of learning—can foster more incremental views of ability with positive outcomes.

Offering Feedback in Ways that Motivate

Self-efficacy requires having fairly accurate perceptions of one’s current competencies. Overestimating one’s ability to read and understand a text, for instance, will not lead to engaging in the behaviors needed to develop new skills. Underestimating one’s abilities may lead to coping or hiding behaviors that prevent the learner from making use of his or her existing skills.

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