Effect of autonomy support on self-determined motivation in elementary physical education.

Author:Chang, Yu-Kai
Position:Research article - Report


Physical activity (PA) shows a decline trend in youth as they grow older (Nader et al., 2008; Troiano et al., 2008). School physical education (PE) functions as a via ble channel to promote youth PA either directly (Bassett et al., 2013; Pate et al., 2011) or indirectly (e.g., by fostering students competence and motivation; Chen and Ennis, 2009). Psychological research has shown that students that are motivated often display stronger effort, intention, and persistence in behavior than students who are less motivated or unmotivated (Bryan and Solmon, 2007; Pintrich, 2003). In PE, creating a motivational learning environment is important to facilitate engagement and learning (Braithwaite et al., S 2011; Todorovich and Curtner-Smith, 2002; 2003). PE teachers play a vital role in creating educational environments that support students' needs and enhance their motivation (Ntoumanis, 2005; Shen et al., 2009).

The self-determined theory (SDT) is one of the mature motivation theories applied in exercise and sport sciences, including PE pedagogy. According to the SDT, in an educational setting in particular, a learner's level of motivation is positioned on the continuum polarized by intrinsic motivation (i.e., undertaking an activity for its own sake) and amotivation (i.e., lack of any motivation) (Deci and Ryan, 1985; Ntoumanis, 2001). Along the continuum, from the more self-determined to the less self-determined, are four levels of extrinsic motivation: integrated regulation, identified regulation, introjected regulation, and external regulation (Deci and Ryan, 1985). With integrated regulation, a learner is motivated by reckoning the significance of a behavior. For example, a student recognizing the health benefits of PA believes regular exercising is a part of daily life and then take actions in behavior. For identified regulation, a learner's motivation is often derived from the sense of identity in engaging in the behavior. For example, when PA is viewed as a behavior that defines the self as a person, the student's exercise intention, effort, and persistence become proactive. For introjected regulation, motivation tends to be characterized by a sense of guilt or jeopardy (e.g., feeling guilty for not committing time to exercise as planned). Using the same example as above, a learner with introjected regulation may feel the urge not to disappoint people (including themselves) and then discipline to participate in PAs. For external regulation, a learner's motivation relies on the extent to which he/she may obtain a reward or avoid a punishment as consequence of the behavior. Examples of external regulation in PE include receiving praise/criticism from the teacher for displaying active participation in PA both in and outside of PE classes.

A person is believed to have three innate psychological needs, namely, the needs to perceive competence (feeling competent and capable), autonomy (having choice and control), and relatedness (feeling affiliated with others in the context) (Deci and Ryan, 1985). The extent to which these three needs are supported and satisfied largely dictates the level of self-determined motivation, with greater needs satisfaction being associated with higher level of motivation; vice versa (Deci and Ryan, 1985). In the context of PE pedagogy, researchers have explored the relationships between providing needs support to students and how that impacts self-determined motivation as well as subsequent motivation outcomes (i.e., need support [right arrow] need [right arrow] satisfaction [right arrow] motivation [right arrow] motivation outcomes; Deci and Ryan, 1985; Ntoumanis, 2001; Sun and Chen, 2010). Cross-sectional evidence indicates that supporting learners' needs for perceiving competence, autonomy, and relatedness in PE classes predicts autonomous motivation, which in turn predicts participation in leisure-time PA (Hagger et al., 2005; Ntoumanis, 2005; Shen et al., 2009). More self-determined students with higher levels of motivation tend to exert higher effort (Cox et al., 2011; Taylor et al., 2010) and experience greater intention (Lim and Wang, 2009; Taylor et al., 2010), enjoyment (Cox et al., 2013; McDavid et al., 2014), PA levels (Cox et al., 2013; Taylor et al., 2010), active game participation (Wallhead et al., 2013), and enhanced cardiorespiratory fitness (Shen et al., 2009). Despite the importance to satisfy all three innate psychological needs (Shen et al., 2009; 2012), the extant literature shows that providing strong support for autonomy stands out as the most salient factor for eliciting self-determined motivation and motivational responses (Hagger et al., 2005; Lonsdale et al., 2013; Shen et al., 2009).

The most relevant application of the SDT in PE pedagogy probably lies in the fact that the teacher can motivate students to engage and learn during class by providing needs support. Intervention studies aimed at increasing students' self-determined motivation in PE are well-documented in the research literature. Of the three needs support, it is obvious that most studies have attempted to provide autonomy support in PE classes in the attempt to stimulate students' motivation. For example, Prusak et al. (2004) examined the effects of choices in PE on the motivation of seventh- and eighth-grade female students. The choices studied included allowing students to choose learning activities and partner(s) during a ten-day intervention. Forty-two intact classes were assigned to the choice group or the no-choice group. The study found that the choice group reported higher intrinsic motivation and identified regulation but lower external regulation and amotivation than the control group (Prusak et al., 2004). Similarly, Tessier et al. (2010) instructed teachers to change their teaching styles to facilitate 9th 11th grade students' (mean age = 16.56 years old) motivation in sport-based PE classes, which led to increased need satisfaction, self-determined motivation, and in-class engagement. To further examine the effect of needs support on behavioral outcomes, Lonsdale et al. (2013) intentionally manipulated PE classes by assigning classes into one of the four conditions: (a) explaining relevance, (b) providing choice, (c) providing a completely free choice, or (d) control. The interventions significantly enhanced eighth grade students' perceived autonomy in both of the choice-based groups; the "free choice" intervention increased PA, and the choice-based interventions decreased sedentary behavior (Lonsdale et al., 2013). Likewise, Chatzisarantis and Hagger (2009) successfully trained teachers to adopt and implement the autonomy supportive instruction during PE classes. This intervention led to stronger intentions to exercise and higher leisure-time PA levels among high school students (mean age = 14.84) compared to the control group.

As shown above, most of the research studies that have adopted the SDT as theoretical lens have employed the cross-sectional, observational research design; while more intervention studies using experimental designs are few and needed. Furthermore, successful SDT-guided interventions in PE were mostly conducted by making instructional changes such as providing autonomy support to students during class. Nevertheless, these interventions focused on older adolescents enrolled in secondary school PE as the research population, and these studies were exclusively conducted in the western societies (e.g., Australia, the Europe, U.S.A., etc.). It remains unclear whether SDT-guided interventions featuring autonomy support manipulation in younger students from non-western societies will lead to a motivational learning context that enhances students'...

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