"Children's Control Beliefs and Motivational States as Determinants of

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Education


Through my research, I want to contribute to the literature on psychological determinants of school performance by developing and empirically testing a model that brings together control beliefs and motivational orientation to predict learning outcomes in Rwanda. Since this country still struggles with poor academic achievements amongst students, I also want to design and evaluate an intervention that strengthens motivational environments in Rwandan classrooms to boost students' learning performance. In action control theory, and related models, school performance is conceptualized to be the product of children's perceived control over their own academic success (Little, Hawley, Heinrich & Marsland 2002, Skinner & Connell 1990). Particularly agency beliefs in effort (e.g. 'I will benefit from investing efforts') and ability (e.g. 'I am competent') are critical determinants of school performance because they represent an agentic belief system that in itself encourages school engagement and thus achievement (Little, Stetsenko, & Maier, 1999, Little et al. 2002, Skinner et al. 1990). In this respect, agency beliefs are shaped through self-perpetuating cycles of control experiences, effort, and outcomes. Higher agency beliefs result in more academic effort which in turn entail higher learning outcomes. This might then further solidify initial perceptions of control. Of course, low levels of perceived control can trigger downwards spirals of effort and outcomes (Skinner et al. 1990, Skinner et al. 1998). However, the directions of these cycles can change (e.g. Mueller & Dweck 1998). Action control beliefs differentiate throughout infancy. By the end of primary school, for example, children have developed concrete domain specific agency beliefs about competencies and skills they think they hold for each school subject. Across the different learning challenges within a school subject, they further hold situational agency beliefs that express what they think they can achieve within these challenges (Bong & Skaalvik 2003, Little et al. 2002). Situational learning experiences are highly dynamic and complex processes. They are characterized by children's attempts to gauge ability through self-evaluating task performances while considering how difficult the tasks were and the amount of effort invested (Nicholls 1984). The accumulation of learning experiences across situations form the cognitive basis that ultimately shape higher-level agency beliefs, which in turn can influence agency belief systems at the situational level (Bong & Skaalvik 2003).


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/R501037/1 01/10/2017 31/03/2021
1923439 Studentship ES/R501037/1 01/10/2017 13/02/2021 Dominik Bulla