G5 Doctoral dissertation (article)
Development of children’s motivational orientations from ages 4 to 9 : stability and changes of motivational profiles before school-age as a function of early language skills

List of Authors: Laitinen Satu
Publisher: University of Turku
Place: Turku
Publication year: 2018
ISBN: 978-951-29-7502-0
eISBN: 978-951-29-7503-7


This dissertation aims to contribute to our understanding of the developmental patterns of motivational orientations in young children and how these patterns are associated with language skills. Motivation research has traditionally concentrated on school-age children. Thus, less is known about motivation and its development before school, even though the links between motivation and learning skills have been found to exist among young children. The first general aim of this dissertation is to theoretically enlarge and deepen our understanding of motivation and its structure, stability, and association with language skills before a child enters school. Methodologically, the second general aim is to develop methods to capture and analyze the development of 4–6-year-old children’s motivational orientations. Third, empirically the intention was to identify the developmental associations between preschoolers’ motivational orientations, pre-reading skills, and children’s task-specific interest by using multisource perspectives. These ethods allow us to evaluate children’s behavior in adult-guided learning situations in a day-care center, along with the associations of those behaviors with the children’s task-specific interests and language skills. On a practical level, by analyzing motivation and its association with language skills, the fourth general aim of this dissertation is to explore and promote professional development in early education by identifying children’s developmental strengths and the risk factors related to their learning trajectories. To achieve these general aims, this work comprises four empirical studies. The studies rely on the data from two research projects: The Promo research project includes assessment data from 130 children aged 4, 5, and 6, 82 of which were followed until the third grade (The Promo-research project, 2007–2013). The data included, for instance, teacher evaluations of the children’s motivational orientations, standardized tests of the children’s language skills, and self- and parental evaluations of the children’s task-specific interests.The second longitudinal data were based on the 1-year Bunny Stories intervention study that analyzed listening comprehension (The Bunny Stories Intervention Study, 2011–2013). The sample comprised 4–5-year-old children (N = 22), and both teacher evaluations of the children’s motivation and video observations of the children’s behaviors during the intervention were used. 

First, to test the factor structure and stability of motivation, a Child Behavior and Motivation Rating scale was developed and examined in Study I. The latent confirmatory factor analysis revealed a three-factor solution consistent with the theoretical dimensions of task orientation, task-avoidance, and social dependence orientation. The results also indicated the tested model had sufficient measurement invariance across the participants’ ages (4, 5, and 6 years of age). The analyses showed moderate stability in task orientation and task-avoidance orientation from 4–6 years old. These results contribute to previous studies on motivation by showing that differentiation in motivational orientations can be observed by the age of 4, and those behavioral differences have a tendency to stay as the child grows older. 

In the second study, children’s motivation was studied using a person-centered approach to identify motivational profiles groups of children with similar motivational tendencies. Three groups of children with distinctive motivational orientation profiles—task-oriented, undifferentiated, and task-avoidance—were identified using latent profile and latent transition analyses. The motivational profiles were relatively stable across all studied ages. Further, the children’s probability of belonging to a certain group was based on their previous task orientation. In addition, when children between the ages of 4 and 6 showed an increase in language comprehension skills, their probability of belonging to a task-oriented profile group increased (Study II). In addition, children who belonged to a task-avoidance profile group at age 6 showed less task orientation and more of a task-avoidance orientation in the third grade than children with a task-oriented profile at age 6.

Study III focused to examine and demonstrate the development of 4–5-year-old children’s motivational orientations during Bunny Stories program. The development of motivation was measured using both teacher ratings and four video observations in the context of reading sessions. The observation categories included on-task behavior, off-task behavior, and undifferentiated on-task behavior. The results of the teachers’ perceptions showed that task orientation developmentally increased. In addition, the observations showed that the children progressively displayed on-task orientation, while undifferentiated task and off-task orientation decreased during the intervention program. 

Finally, in Study IV, the purpose was to examine the role of pre-reading skills in children’s development of motivational orientations and task-specific interest in reading-related and play-like activities at day-care settings and at home. Based on reading precursors (i.e. phonological awareness and letter knowledge) and language comprehension skills (i.e. listening comprehension and vocabulary knowledge), the children with low pre-reading skills showed higher social dependence orientation and lower task orientation over time than children with high pre-reading skills. In Study IV, the children with high pre-reading skills showed the largest increase in their interest in reading-related activities from ages 4 to 6, and interestingly, the children with average pre-reading skills continued to be the most interested in play-like activities. In addition, the parents whose children had high pre-reading skills perceived that their children showed the most interest in reading-related activities, while the parents whose children had low pre-reading skills perceived that their children showed the most interest in play-like activities at home. The findings indicate that early reading precursors and language comprehension skills are linked to hildren’s motivation in day-care and to their interest in academic and play-like tasks in day-care and home contexts. 

To conclude, the results of these four studies indicate that motivational orientations play a role in the ways that young children approach and master learning tasks. Children’s motivational orientations were observed to diverge already by the age of 4. A dominating task-avoidance orientation and increased social dependence orientation tend to intensify existing learning difficulties and risk for academic exclusion, whereas a dominating task orientation fostered children’s progressive learning trajectory. The findings emphasize the importance of recognizing the strengths and weaknesses in young children’s motivational tendencies and preferences and in the academic resources children use. To optimally support young children’s motivation and learning skills, it should take into account children’s perspective and interests in the task at hand, as well as the teacher’s and parents’ perceptions in different contexts.

Last updated on 2019-21-08 at 16:36