Positive Classroom Motivational Environments: Convergence Between
Mastery Goal Structure and Classroom Social Climate
Allison M. Ryan
University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign
In a series of 4 studies we investigated the relations of mastery goal structure and 4 dimensions of the
classroom social climate (teacher academic support, teacher emotional support, classroom mutual
respect, task-related interaction). We conducted multidimensional scaling with separate adolescent
samples that differed considerably (i.e., by racial and demographic characteristics, grade level, and
educational contexts). Studies 1, 2, and 3 (Ns⫽537, 537, and 736, respectively) showed that mastery
goal structure items occupied a central space among the climate items and overlapped partially with the
areas formed by the respect and academic and emotional support items. In Study 4 (N⫽789) we
investigated the structural relations of mastery goal structure and the 4 social climate scales with another
adolescent sample. Using confirmatory factor analysis we compared these 2 models: (a) all 5 measures
at the same level and (b) mastery goal structure as a 2nd-order factor, with the 4 social climate measures
as its indicators. The fit for both models was good, although the 1st-order model fit was better.
Nevertheless, in the 2nd-order model mastery goal structure accounted for between 92% and 67% of the
variance in the climate measures.
Keywords: motivation, goal theory, mastery goal structure, classroom climate, classroom environment
Classroom environments play an important role in students’
motivation, engagement, and achievement at school. Over the
years, researchers have suggested various ways to conceptualize
the characteristics of classroom environments that would be re-
lated to students’ adaptive engagement. Two influential frame-
works have been achievement goal structures—students’ percep-
tions of the motivational emphases in their classroom (Ames,
1992b; Kaplan & Maehr, 2007; Meece, Anderman, & Anderman,
2006) and the classroom social climate (see e.g., Fraser, 2000;
Haertel, Walberg, & Haertel, 1981). These two frameworks have
made important contributions to understanding the nature of pos-
itive classroom environments; however, each has limitations. The
goal structures perspective is strong theoretically but not in terms
of relating students’ perceptions of the environment to actual
teacher practices and classroom life, particularly social interactions
and relationships (see e.g., L. H. Anderman, Patrick, Hruda, &
Linnenbrink, 2002; Blumenfeld, 1992). In turn, the classroom
social climate perspective is strong in depicting actual classrooms
and students’ perceptions but is not well developed in its theoret-
ical explanation of the underlying processes linking classroom
environments and student outcomes (Ames, 1987).
In the current study we suggest that classroom goal structure and
social climate research are complementary and can inform each
other’s weaknesses. More specifically, we propose that the class-
room achievement goal structure is manifested primarily in the
quality of social relationships with the teacher and among students
and therefore that it is highly intertwined with, if not inseparable
from, the classroom’s social climate. A theoretical integration of
the two perspectives can enhance understanding of the nature of
positive classroom environments, advance research in this area,
and also contribute to educational practice. We elaborate in this
article on the support for integrating the two perspectives. We
begin by reviewing achievement goal theory and specifically the
construct of classroom goal structures. We then review the social
climate literature on the role of students’ perceptions of social
relationships within the classroom. We continue by proposing a
theoretical integration of goal structures with social processes
within the classroom climate, focusing on mastery goal structure.
We then test our proposal by conducting a series of four studies to
investigate the hypothesized relations among the constructs.
Achievement Goal Theory
Achievement goal theory explains students’ motivation by fo-
cusing on their purposes for engaging in achievement behavior and
Helen Patrick, Department of Educational Studies, Purdue University;
Avi Kaplan, Department of Psychological Studies in Education, Temple
University; Allison M. Ryan, Department of Educational Psychology,
University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.
An earlier version of this article was presented at the biennial meeting
of the European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction,
Nicosia, Cyprus, September 2005. This research was supported in part by
Spencer Foundation Grant 200000290, awarded to Allison M. Ryan in
collaboration with Helen Patrick. The data presented, the statements made,
and the views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Helen
Patrick, Department of Educational Studies, Purdue University, West
Lafayette, IN 47907-2098. E-mail: email@example.com
Journal of Educational Psychology © 2011 American Psychological Association
2011, Vol. 103, No. 2, 367–382 0022-0663/11/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0023311
their beliefs about the nature of competence. Researchers have
focused predominantly on two purposes—to develop competence
(i.e., a mastery goal orientation) and to demonstrate competence
(i.e., a performance goal orientation). Goal theory assumes that
students’ motivation is influenced not only by their individual
personal dispositions and beliefs but also by the environment
(Ames, 1992b; Maehr, 1984; Nicholls, 1989). Thus, classroom
environments are considered with respect to students’ perceptions
of the purposes for engaging in academic tasks and what consti-
tutes success—the classroom goal structures (Ames, 1992b).
Teachers’ practices and classroom norms, rules, and routines con-
tribute to students’ perceptions of goal structures. As with personal
goal orientations, researchers have examined goal structures that
emphasize mastery goals (i.e., the development of competence)
and performance goals (i.e., the demonstration of competence).
These goal structures are unrelated or only weakly related to each
other (Kaplan, Middleton, Urdan, & Midgley, 2002; Wolters,
2004). That is, students may perceive an emphasis on both, to
varying degrees, in the same classroom.
A mastery goal structure involves a perception that students’
real learning and understanding, rather than just memorization, are
valued and that success is accompanied by effort and indicated by
personal improvement or by achieving absolute standards. Accord-
ing to predominant views, this emphasis is communicated by a set
of practices represented by the acronym TARGET (see e.g., Ames,
1992a; Kaplan & Maehr, 1999, 2002, 2007; Maehr & Anderman,
1993; Meece et al., 2006; Midgley, 1993). Specifically, tasks are
meaningful, challenging, and interesting, with a range of options
available so that ability differences are not accentuated. The
teacher shares authority and responsibility for rules and decisions
with the students. Recognition is available to all students and
involves progress or effort, with few opportunities for social com-
parison among students. Grouping is flexible and heterogeneous,
and students are not grouped by ability. Evaluation is criterion-
referenced, not made public, and grades and test scores are inter-
preted in terms of improvement and effort. And time use is
flexible, with opportunities for students to pacing themselves.
A performance goal structure involves a perception that learning
is predominantly a means of achieving recognition of worth and
extrinsic rewards and that success is indicated by outperforming
others or surpassing normative standards. This emphasis is be-
lieved to be communicated by uniform assignment of tasks, ho-
mogeneous and fixed grouping, evaluation that is public and
interpreted in terms of students’ relative performance, and rigid
time structures, all of which make ability differences salient
(Ames, 1992b; Kaplan & Maehr, 1999; Meece et al., 2006).
Goal structures involve “a cognitive mediation model of moti-
vation 关whereby兴. . . students’ thoughts, perceptions, and interpre-
tations mediate the effects of teacher behavior” (Ames, 1992b, p.
268). Therefore, because students’ individual experiences and in-
terpretations contribute to their current perceptions, students in the
same class do not necessarily perceive teacher practices in the
same way (Ames, 1992b; Ames & Archer, 1988; Urdan, Kneisel,
& Mason, 1999). Adding to variability in perceptions, students in
the same class are often treated differently and therefore do not
experience the same educational context (Ames, 1992b; Turner &
Patrick, 2004). Empirical findings correspond with this premise
and indicate that students in the same class report only small-to-
moderate levels of shared perceptions of goal structures. For
example, the variation between classes in perceived mastery goal
structure ranges from 9% to 29%, with the remaining 91%–71%
occurring within classes (Deemer, 2004; Kaplan, Gheen, & Midg-
ley, 2002; Miller & Murdock, 2007; Ryan, Gheen, & Midgley,
1998; Stornes, Bru, & Idsoe, 2008; Turner et al., 2002; Urdan,
2004; Wolters, 2004). Hence, there is no one “objective” class-
room goal structure (Ames, 1992b).
Assessing goal structures has primarily employed methods that
focus on individual students’ perceptions of the classroom—
typically self-report scales from the Patterns of Adaptive Learning
Survey (PALS; Midgley et al., 1996, 2000). Items in the mastery
goal structure scale address the teacher’s emphasis on student
learning; however, three of the five items ask students to evaluate
their teacher’s intentions (e.g., the extent to which their teacher
wants them to learn and understand or to enjoy learning new
things) rather than report on teacher-specific practices. Items in the
performance goal structure scale involve the teacher’s public em-
phasis on students’ relative placement within a hierarchy of ability.
Items refer to the extent to which teachers tell students how they
compare academically with other students and make public who
gets the highest scores on tests.
Researchers have found strong and consistent support for the
theoretical predictions that classroom mastery goal structure would
be associated with a wide range of adaptive motivational, cogni-
tive, and affective beliefs and behaviors. These include positive
relations between mastery goal structure and personal mastery goal
orientation, self-efficacy, effort, use of effective learning strate-
gies, not cheating, adaptive coping responses after failure, positive
school-related affect, satisfaction with learning, and achievement
(Ames & Archer, 1988; L. H. Anderman, 1999; Kaplan & Midg-
ley, 1999; Murdock, Hale, & Weber, 2001; Nolen, 2003; Urdan &
Midgley, 2003; Wolters, 2004; for reviews see Kaplan & Maehr,
2007; E. M. Anderman & Wolters, 2006). In comparison, class-
room performance goal structure is associated with maladaptive
behaviors—such as self-handicapping, cheating, procrastinating,
disruptiveness, not asking for help when it is needed—and with
negative affect about school (E. M. Anderman, Griesinger, &
Westerfield, 1998; L. H. Anderman, 1999; Kaplan, Gheen, &
Midgley, 2002; Murdock, Miller, & Kohlhardt, 2004; Ryan et al.,
1998; Urdan, Midgley, & Anderman, 1998; Wolters, 2004).
In general, a mastery goal structure is associated with students’
beliefs and behaviors more strongly than is a performance goal
structure (Urdan & Midgley, 2003). This may be due to the effects
of performance goals being moderated by factors such as students’
perceived competence (Middleton, Kaplan, & Midgley, 2004).
That is, whereas encouraging self-improvement may be positive
for all students, encouraging comparisons among one another may
be positive for higher achieving students but negative for lower
achievers. Furthermore, maladaptive motivation and low achieve-
ment are typically associated more with a low mastery goal em-
phasis in the classroom than with the presence of a performance
goal structure (Urdan & Midgley, 2003). Therefore, recommenda-
tions for creating positive and motivating learning environments
focus on establishing a mastery goal structure.
Creating a mastery goal structure in classrooms requires knowl-
edge of practices that promote it. However, although goal struc-
tures have clear theoretical conceptualizations within achievement
goal theory, and although the practices recommended to promote
mastery and downplay performance goal structures are theoreti-
368 PATRICK, KAPLAN, AND RYAN
cally and experimentally derived (Ames, 1990, 1992a), much less
is known about how they manifest and are created in classrooms
(L. H. Anderman et al., 2002; Blumenfeld, 1992). For example,
what teacher practices precede or accompany students’ perceptions
of a mastery goal structure?
Researchers have investigated actual teacher practices that are
related to goal structures, mostly by comparing classrooms with
different configurations of average goal structures. Specifically,
teacher talk and observed practices were compared among class-
rooms perceived as being similar and those perceived as being
different in goal structures (Patrick, Anderman, Ryan, Edelin, &
Midgley, 2001; Patrick, Turner, Meyer, & Midgley, 2003; Turner
et al., 2002). This approach allowed identification of both
TARGET and non-TARGET practices that differentiate high and
low goal structures and also TARGET practices that do not vary by
level of goal structure. Thus, it addressed the ecological validity of
goal theorists’ recommendations. The results indicated consider-
able congruence with the TARGET practices. However, these
studies also found striking differences between high and low
mastery-focused classes in social and affective aspects, particu-
larly in terms of teacher–student relationships and messages that
teachers sent about how students should relate to each other.
Dimensions such as teacher support (for both students’ learning
and them as people), respect, and positive affect were salient in
classrooms with a high, but not low, mastery goal structure.
Additionally, teachers in high mastery goal structure classrooms
tended to encourage students to help each other with schoolwork
and explain their reasoning, whereas the emphasis was on listening
to the teacher and individual work in low mastery-focused class-
These studies resulted in important findings; however, they did
not address the question concerning teachers’ actions that students
attend to when perceiving their classroom’s goal structures. One
study that addressed this question asked students about the think-
ing behind their appraisals of the classroom mastery goal structure
(Patrick & Ryan, 2009). Specifically, after rating each item in the
PALS scale students explained why they gave the rating they did,
reporting what the teacher said or did that led to the score. Results
indicated that when students judged mastery goal structure, they
attended most often to the nature of teachers’ interactions with
students. This included affective aspects, such as the teacher’s
friendliness, kindness, approachability, use of humor to diffuse
stress, and ability to show caring about students’ understanding of
content and themselves as individuals. Students also mentioned
pedagogical aspects of the interactions, such as teachers’ support
of students’ participation and use of a variety of examples and
approaches to explain content and methods that help students pay
attention and learn. These findings are consistent with results from
studies in which students responded to open-ended questions about
their school engagement. Answers consistently involved social
reasons for engaging in schoolwork, such as behaving appropri-
ately so that the teacher will let them stay sitting with friends or
working hard to maintain high achievement in a disliked subject so
they can stay in the advanced class that their friends are in
(Dowson & McInerney, 2001; Lemos, 1996). They also cited
aspects of relationships with their teachers such as the teacher
conveying respect for students and showing caring as important
factors affecting their engagement (see e.g., Davidson, 1999;
Phelan, Davidson, & Yu, 1998).
Although observations and open-ended questions point to
teacher–student interactions as being central to students’ percep-
tions of mastery goal structure, achievement goal theorists have
paid only scant attention in general to this area. In the present
series of studies we seek to enrich achievement goal theory by
integrating a domain that has paid extensive attention to this
domain: classroom climate research.
Classroom Climate Research
Fraser, Aldridge, and Adolphe (2010) noted that research on
classroom climate (Johnson & Johnson, 1983)—also called social
climate (Allodi, 2010), learning environments (Fraser et al., 2010),
or classroom social-psychological environments (Fraser, 1998,
2000; Haertel et al., 1981)— grew from Lewin’s (e.g., Lewin,
Lippitt, & White, 1939) recognition that classrooms have distinct
psychological environments. Most research in this area has relied
on factor analytic techniques to identify various classroom dimen-
sions that are perceived by students as being distinct. Dimensions
have included aspects of “interpersonal relationships, student-
teacher relationships, peer relationships, teachers’ beliefs and be-
haviors, teachers’ communication style, classroom management
and group processes” (Allodi, 2010, pp. 89 –90). Whereas the
extensive research in this area provides empirical support for the
significance of these dimensions, the classroom climate literature
is primarily data-driven, and except for acknowledgment of gen-
eral sociocognitive premises that highlight the role of students’
perceptions as mediating between teacher behavior and student
outcomes (Fraser, 2000), researchers have paid limited attention to
the specific theoretical processes that undergird the dimensions
Consistent with their pragmatic and analytic approach to assess-
ing context-specific environmental dimensions, classroom climate
researchers have created a variety of psychometrically strong in-
struments that cater to different types of learning environments
(e.g., classes with constructivist or collaborative instruction, sci-
ence laboratory classes; see Fraser, 1998, 2000, for reviews).
These instruments include the Learning Environment Inventory
(Walberg & Anderson, 1968), Classroom Environment Scale
(CES; Trickett & Moos, 1973), My Class Inventory (Fisher &
Fraser, 1981), Classroom Life Instrument (CLI; Johnson & John-
son, 1983), Individualized Classroom Environment Questionnaire
(ICEQ; Fraser, 1982), Constructivist Learning Environment Sur-
vey (Taylor, Fraser, & Fisher, 1997), Inventory of Classroom
Environments (ICE; Sinclair & Fraser, 2002), Questionnaire on
Teacher Interaction (Wubbels & Brekelmans, 2005), and What Is
Happening in This Class? (WIHIC; Fraser et al., 2010).
Classroom climate instruments have been used in a number of
ways. First, they were used to describe naturalistic classrooms
quantitatively at various grade levels or in different subjects (see
e.g., Taylor et al., 1997; Trickett & Moos, 1974). Second, they
were used to compare students’ perceptions of their current and
ideal classrooms (see e.g., Sinclair & Fraser, 2002). Third, they
were used to compare classrooms that differ in some way (e.g.,
efficient vs. inefficient; Waxman, Anderson, Huang, & Weinstein,
1997), to evaluate effectiveness of different types of interventions
(see e.g., Johnson & Johnson, 1983; Nix, Fraser, & Ledbetter,
2005; Welch & Walberg, 1972), and to compare perceived class-
room climate by gender (Sinclair & Fraser, 2002) and across
POSITIVE CLASSROOM MOTIVATIONAL ENVIRONMENTS
nations (e.g., Dorman, 2003). Finally, these measures have been
used to investigate associations between classroom dimensions
and students’ outcomes, including motivation (e.g., interest, im-
portance, enjoyment, liking, career interest, positive attitudes),
engagement (e.g., participation), and achievement (e.g., standard-
ized achievement tests; Fraser et al., 2010; Goh, Young, & Fraser,
1995; Haertel et al., 1981; Henderson, Fisher, & Fraser, 2000;
Johnson, & Johnson, 1983).
Research on students’ perceptions of the classroom climate has
identified consistent and statistically significant associations of
certain social dimensions with numerous adaptive student beliefs
and behaviors (Fraser, 1998, 2000). However, the predominantly
statistical approach has led to several concerns. First, there has
been a proliferation of classroom dimensions identified as being
meaningful to students’ outcomes and, correspondingly, a prolif-
eration of instruments that measure classroom environments.
Classroom dimensions are not consistent across instruments, and
scales that assess the same or similar constructs have different
names in various instruments. Without specific theoretical framing
to explain links among classroom dimensions and student out-
comes it is difficult to integrate findings and develop a cohesive
body of knowledge. Currently, for example, the literature is am-
biguous as to which dimensions are most critical for particular
student outcomes, what processes mediate the relations of different
aspects of classroom climate and adaptive and maladaptive stu-
dents’ beliefs and behaviors, and how different social environment
dimensions combine into a set of cohesive and integrated teacher
practices (Ames, 1987; Pintrich & Schunk, 2002).
In summary, classroom climate research has identified specific
areas of teachers’ social practices that are related to students’
motivation and engagement. However, the literature lacks a com-
prehensive theoretical framework that explains links between these
classroom dimensions and student outcomes. We argue that
achievement goal theory, and particularly the construct of mastery
goal structure, may provide such a framework.
Congruence Between Mastery Goal Structure and
Classroom Climate Dimensions
Achievement goal theory and classroom climate researchers
have separately identified aspects of classroom environments that
promote students’ motivation, engagement, and achievement. In
recent goal theory research, researchers have noted considerable
shared variance between mastery goal structure and dimensions of
the classroom social environment, particularly teacher support
(Patrick et al., 2001; Patrick et al., 2003; Turner et al., 2002),
respect (Miller & Murdock, 2007; Murdock et al., 2001; Patrick et
al., 2001, 2003), and promoting interaction among students (Pat-
rick et al., 2001). These results were found across studies using a
variety of methods, including hierarchical linear modeling (Miller
& Murdock, 2007; Stornes et al., 2008), classroom observation
(Patrick et al., 2001, 2003), and discourse analysis (Turner et al.,
In addressing how achievement goal theory may account for the
associations between mastery goal structure and social climate
dimensions, Patrick (2004) has speculated that students’ beliefs
about and appraisals of their relationship with their teacher, and the
implications of the teacher’s actions for the student personally and
interpersonally, may frame students’ perceptions of the personal
meanings inherent in school and schoolwork. That is, when stu-
dents evaluate the extent to which their teacher promotes real
understanding and personal improvement (i.e., emphasizes mas-
tery goal structure), they draw from their perceptions of the teach-
er’s messages about interpersonal relationships (e.g., support, re-
spect, helping one another). More specifically, the proposal was
that students’ beliefs about whether their teacher is invested in
them, committed to supporting their learning, and confident they
will learn are central to perceiving a mastery goal structure in the
classroom. Thus, social climate or relational dimensions may be
interpreted by students as indicating a mastery goal structure.
The social dimensions of teacher support, promotion of mutual
respect, and promotion of students’ interaction have been also
identified as important correlates of students’ motivation, engage-
ment, and achievement in classroom climate research. Of these
three classroom dimensions, climate instruments have most con-
sistently included teacher support. Most measures of teacher sup-
port (also called helping/friendly attitudes: Goh & Fraser, 2000; or
personalization: Fraser & Fisher, 1982) refer to caring in general,
with items such as “This teacher cares about us” (Goh & Fraser,
2000). Others, such as the WIHIC (MacLeod & Fraser, 2010),
include items that address both personal support (e.g., “The teacher
is someone I can depend on”) and support for students’ learning
(“The teacher helps me when I have trouble with the work”). In
contrast, the CLI has different scales for personal (e.g., “My
teacher really cares about me”) and academic (e.g., “My teacher
cares about how much I learn”) support (Johnson & Johnson,
1983). Nevertheless, regardless of the specifics, the results of
classroom climate research are consistent: Teacher support is re-
lated positively to student interest or enjoyment (Fraser et al.,
2010; Fraser & Fisher, 1982; Goh & Fraser, 2000; Henderson et
al., 2000; Johnson & Johnson, 1983; MacLeod & Fraser, 2010;
Trickett & Moos, 1974), behavioral engagement (Johnson & John-
son, 1983), and achievement (Fraser & Fisher, 1982; Goh &
Fraser, 2000; Trickett & Moos, 1974).
Perceived mutual respect, measured by classroom climate scales
with different names that tap the same or similar construct, relates
positively to student motivation, engagement, and achievement.
Specifically, student motivation (e.g., interest) and achievement
are related to measures of isomorphism (i.e., “the perceived equal-
ity of class members,” Walberg & Anderson, 1968, p. 417) and
democracy (Haertel et al., 1981). Furthermore, student engage-
ment is related to perceived democracy (Haertel et al., 1981) and
teacher fairness (Johnson & Johnson, 1983).
Finally, students’ task-related interaction or involvement is also
related positively to their interest in and enjoyment of academics
(Fraser et al., 2010; Fraser & Fisher, 1982; Trickett & Moos, 1974)
and to their achievement (Fraser & Fisher, 1982). These associa-
tions have been found with the Involvement subscales of the
WIHIC (e.g., “I explain my ideas to other students”; Allen &
Fraser, 2007; Fraser et al., 2010; and the CES (e.g., “Students put
a lot of energy into what they do here”; Trickett & Moos, 1974)
and with the ICEQ’s similar Participation subscale (e.g., “Students
are encouraged to participate rather than be passive listeners”;
Fraser & Fisher, 1982).
To summarize, aspects of the classroom environment identified
as concurrently present in mastery goal-structured classrooms—
teacher support, mutual respect, and student interaction— have
also been identified as important classroom dimensions in the
370 PATRICK, KAPLAN, AND RYAN
climate literature. Furthermore, both mastery goal structure and
these climate dimensions are associated similarly with student
motivation, engagement, and achievement. These parallel findings
provide a theoretical and empirical foundation for Patrick’s (2004)
hypothesis of convergence between students’ perceptions of their
classroom mastery goal structure and perceptions of the classroom
climate constructs. We sought to examine that proposal empiri-
cally in the present studies. Integrating the goal theory and class-
room climate areas of research has the potential to lead to new
developments in understanding the nature of mastery-focused
classrooms and the specific types of teacher practices perceived by
students as emphasizing a mastery focus. Doing so may also
extend the predominantly pragmatic focus of classroom climate
research and aid understanding of why particular aspects of the
classroom climate are associated with student motivation and
Overview of Research Questions and Studies
Our objective was to examine the extent to which young ado-
lescents perceive classroom mastery goal structure similarly to
how they perceive dimensions of the classroom social climate.
Specifically, we investigated the following two hypotheses: (a)
there is phenomenological correspondence between students’ per-
ceptions of the four climate dimensions (teacher academic support,
teacher emotional support, classroom mutual respect, and task-
related interaction) and mastery goal structure and (b) mastery goal
structure is an overarching construct that subsumes these climate
We conducted a series of four studies to address our questions.
In the first three studies we used nonmetric multidimensional
scaling (MDS) with data from different grade levels and demo-
graphic samples to investigate our first question. In the fourth
study we employed confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) with yet
another sample to compare two models of the classroom con-
structs, thus investigating our second research question. The first
model showed the mastery goal structure and four climate scales
comprising distinct yet related constructs, and the second por-
trayed mastery goal structure as a second-order factor that is
indicated by the four climate constructs. Together, this series of
studies used the same measures but different samples, contexts,
and analytic methods and therefore allowed a thorough investiga-
tion of our research questions about the relations between mastery
goal structure and the classroom social climate.
Our first study addressed the hypothesized phenomenological
similarity of conceptually distinct constructs (i.e., mastery goal
structure, teacher academic support, teacher emotional support,
classroom mutual respect, and task-related interaction). The com-
monly used factor analytic methods that rely on variables being
phenomenologically distinct were not appropriate for testing this
hypothesis, so we employed nonmetric MDS.
MDS is a set of techniques that use the proximities among
objects to produce a visual, spatial representation of the matrix of
proximities among all objects in the analysis (Kruskal & Wish,
1978; Stalans, 1995). In the current research, each survey item
assessing the social climate and mastery goal structure latent
variables is an object, and the relation between each pair of objects
(squared Euclidean distance in the current analyses) provides the
measure of proximity. The spatial representation, which resembles
a map, presents each item as a point in a geometric space. The
distance between any two items on the map represents the strength
of the relation between them, so that the stronger the relation, the
closer these items will be to each other on the map. Such a visual
representation of the matrix of relations between the items “re-
flects the ‘hidden structure’ in the data” (Kruskal & Wish, 1978, p.
7), thus allowing interpretation of a large number of relations.
Such a representation has the potential to highlight features of the
data that are masked when viewed by numbers alone.
Unlike exploratory factor analysis (EFA), which must satisfy
assumptions about the metric, linearity, and distribution of the data
and employs the relations among variables to form distinct groups,
nonmetric MDS employs the relative proximity between each pair
of items to form the pictorial representation of the interrelations
among all the items in the analysis. When items in the map belong
to scales that assess latent variables, the spatial regions on the map
that are captured by connecting items belonging to the particular
latent variables portray the “structural properties of variables”
(Guttman & Greenbaum, 1998, p. 25). Moreover, these regions are
assumed to represent the psychological space of the variable as
indicated by the participants’ responses (Shye, Elizur, & Hoffman,
1994). Spatial regions of constructs that are close indicate stronger
phenomenological relations between the constructs relative to spa-
tial regions that are farther away. Moreover, the analysis allows
constructs’ spatial regions to partially or fully overlap on the map,
indicating an overlap in responses to the sets of items belonging to
the different scales and potentially an overlap in their psycholog-
ical meaning. Thus, the visual spatial representation can expose
and allow examination of underlying dimensions and structural
relations that organize the participants’ responses to items in the
different scales in a way that EFA cannot. It provides an oppor-
tunity to examine the meaning of particular items and groups of
items in light of theoretical assumptions concerning the meaning
of specific items and the relations among the constructs. (For more
extensive discussion on interpreting nonmetric MDS, see Guttman
and Greenbaum, 1998, and Shye, 1997.)
In the current study we employed a nonmetric method of MDS,
which is well suited to the analysis of the ordinal data provided by
Likert-type response scales (Goldstein & Hersen, 1984). Hence, in
the current analyses the proximity of each pair of items in the
geometrical space represents the rank order, or relative strength, of
the relation between these items, accounting for all other relations
between pairs of items included in the analysis. That is, the more
similarly participants responded to two items, the closer together
these items were on the MDS map. Our hypothesis was that the
region captured by the mastery goal structure items would spatially
overlap with the regions captured by the social climate items.
The configuration of items in the geometric space can be ar-
ranged in one (i.e., a line), two (i.e., flat space), three (i.e., a cube),
or more dimensions. In order to identify the best configuration or
number of dimensions for the climate and mastery goal structure
measures, we conducted analyses stipulating one, two, and three
dimensions and compared the stress values provided by the MDS
software for each solution. Stress values range from 0 to 1, and as
a rule of thumb, values below .15 are seen as indicating a good fit
(Kruskal & Wish, 1978; Stalans, 1995). We also examined the
POSITIVE CLASSROOM MOTIVATIONAL ENVIRONMENTS
plots visually to identify and interpret the dimensions. Kruskal and
Wish (1978) noted that “interpretability often plays a central role
in choosing the particular dimensionality within the range of
reasonable dimensionalities suggested by goodness-of-fit” (p. 57).
Thus, in the interests of parsimony and ease of interpretation we
sought to identify the model with both the best fit and the fewest
We first investigated how similar items in the Classroom Mas-
tery Goal Structure scale and the climate scales were for a sample
of fifth graders. We expected that the relations among items
assessing teacher academic and emotional support, classroom mu-
tual respect, and task-related interaction would be stronger within
than between the scales. However, we were uncertain how distinct
the items for the Teacher Emotional Support and Teacher Aca-
demic Support scales would be. Whereas researchers (see e.g.,
Johnson & Johnson, 1983) have reported that the two scales form
separate factors, they are sometimes collapsed into a single scale
(see e.g., Wentzel, 1997) because they tend to be highly correlated.
We also expected that the region of the map captured by the
Classroom Mastery Goal Structure items would be close to, and
overlap with, the regions captured by the social climate items.
Although our focus was on mastery and not performance goal
structure, and our hypotheses do not specify relations between
performance goal structure and social climate, we first also in-
cluded items from the Classroom Performance Goal Structure
scale. Doing so allowed us to portray a more complete picture of
the relations between the social climate constructs and both of the
goal structures that are of interest to goal theorists.
Participants. The participants were 537 fifth-grade students
(51% male) from 31 classes in six elementary schools. We invited all
fifth graders in three school districts (two semirural, one suburban) in
a midwestern state to participate in our study. Across the schools,
95%–98% of students were White, and 0%–12% were eligible to
receive free or reduced-price lunch. Surveys at Time 1 were com-
pleted by 94% (616) of all fifth graders. However, because we were
also interested in examining the same students’ responses 2 years
later, we retained for the present study only those students for whom
we had data at both time points (537 out of 616).
Measures. The format for all items was a 5-point scale,
ranging from 1 (not at all true)to5(very true), except for the
measures of support, for which anchors ranged from 1 (almost
never)to5(often). All items were specific to math class and are
listed in the Appendix. The scales’ items were distributed evenly
through the survey rather than grouped by construct.
Classroom goal structures. We used two measures from the
PALS (Midgley et al., 1996) to assess classroom goal structures. The
Classroom Mastery Goal Structure scale refers to perceptions that the
teacher emphasizes understanding new ideas, developing new skills,
learning from errors, and enjoying learning (five items, ␣⫽.73). The
Classroom Performance Goal Structure scale refers to the extent that
the teacher is perceived as encouraging competition and comparison
among students around academic tasks (four items, ␣⫽.67).
Perceptions of the classroom social climate. Students re-
sponded to four scales about the perceived classroom social cli-
mate. Two measures of teacher support were adapted slightly from
the CLI (Johnson & Johnson, 1983). The Teacher Emotional
Support scale refers to student perceptions that the teacher cares
about and likes the student as a person (four items, ␣⫽.84). The
Teacher Academic Support scale refers to student perceptions that
the teacher cares about how much the student learns and wants to
help him or her learn (four items, ␣⫽.76). The Classroom Mutual
Respect scale assesses the extent to which the teacher is perceived
as encouraging respect among classmates (four items, ␣⫽.68). It
is a shorter form of the five-item scale developed by Ryan and
Patrick (2001), and scores have been psychometrically strong in
other studies (see e.g., Patrick et al., 2003). The Task-Related
Interaction scale (three items, ␣⫽.70) measures the extent to
which the teacher is perceived as encouraging interaction among
students in academic tasks and is also a short version of the scale
developed by Ryan and Patrick. Scores from this scale have been
shown to be reliable and valid across different samples of adoles-
cents (Patrick & Ryan, 2005).
Procedure. Students completed surveys in their regular
classes in the spring of 2000. In five schools two of the authors and
trained research assistants administered the surveys in pairs. The
students were told that the purpose of the survey was to find out
what they thought about school and their schoolwork, that it was
not a test, and that there were no right or wrong answers. Students
were informed that participating in the study was voluntary and
that the information would be kept confidential. Students were
guided through examples of how to answer Likert-type survey
questions and were encouraged to ask questions. One administrator
read the items aloud, and the other monitored the students and
answered any questions. In the sixth school, students were given a
one-page sheet containing the same information about the study
and instructions about the question format in addition to the
survey. On completion, students individually sealed their survey in
an envelope for collection by researchers the following day. We
conducted a multivariate analysis of variance to investigate
whether there was a difference in these students’ responses com-
pared with those of the students in the other three schools in the
same district; there was not.
An examination of the items’ psychometric characteristics indi-
cated that all but three had distributions that fell within the accept-
able range of skewness (–1.82 to 1.27) and kurtosis (–1.37 to 2.18).
Three items in the Teacher Academic Support scale (Items 2, 3,
and 4; see the Appendix) were more negatively skewed (–2.47,
–3.57, and –2.51, respectively) and peaked (6.08, 13.86, and 6.04,
respectively). This indicates a violation of the normal distribution
for these three items. However, the current research employs
nonmetric MDS as its main analysis, which focuses on the relative
magnitude of the relations between items rather than on their
absolute value or on their variance properties. Therefore, the
analysis is not strict with statistical assumptions that are imperative
for reliability in metric analyses such as factor analysis. Moreover,
because the items are part of a well-established social climate scale
with scores that have been validated in previous research, we
decided that the benefit of including these items outweighed the
risk of slightly less reliable relations of these items.
Means, standard deviations, and correlations among the six
dimensions of the classroom environment are shown in Table 1.
An expected pattern of correlations was found. Classroom Perfor-
372 PATRICK, KAPLAN, AND RYAN
mance Goal Structure was correlated negatively with the other
measures (rs ranged from –.11 to –.33), whereas Classroom Mas-
tery Goal Structure was correlated positively with the four climate
measures. Teacher Emotional Support and Teacher Academic Sup-
port were correlated moderately strongly (r⫽.68).
MDS. We next used nonmetric MDS with squared Euclidean
distance as the measure of proximity to investigate the structure
underlying the six constructs and the items within these constructs.
We examined the stress values and R
for the one-, two-, and
three-dimensional solutions. All three analyses indicated a good fit
(three dimensions: stress ⫽.06, R
⫽.99; two dimensions:
stress ⫽.07, R
⫽.99; one dimension: stress ⫽.09, R
Despite the statistical indication for one dimension, the visual
representation suggested more than one dimension. Therefore, we
present the results for the two-dimensional solution. As shown in
Figure 1, the items assessing performance goal structure captured
a clearly separate region from all other regions in the analysis. This
representation indicates that students responded to the Classroom
Performance Goal Structure items in a different way from what
they did to the Classroom Mastery Goal Structure and the climate
As explained previously, the MDS solution is affected by the
relations among all pairs of items in the analysis. Hence, the
apparent regional overlap of the mastery goal structure and
the social climate variables could possibly have been the result of
the inclusion of the Classroom Performance Goal Structure items
in the analysis. Therefore, after we demonstrated that performance
goal structure captures a region quite distinct from all the other
constructs, and given our main interest in exploring the relations of
the Classroom Mastery Goal Structure and the climate measures,
we repeated the MDS without the Classroom Performance Goal
Structure items. Here, the one-dimensional model fitted less well
(stress ⫽.18, R
⫽.92) than did the two-dimensional model
(stress ⫽.12, R
⫽.95) or the three-dimensional model (stress .08,
⫽.97), with the three-dimensional solution showing the best fit.
An examination of the two- and three-dimensional solutions indi-
cated that, whereas there indeed appeared to be three dimensions
within the data, the organization of items in the two- and three-
dimensional space were similar in characteristics. In the interests
of parsimony, balancing fit indicators and interpretability of the
findings, we show the two-dimensional solution in Figure 2. The
findings suggest that the items of the social climate scales create
clear and relatively distinct regions, with the Teacher Emotional
Support items at the top of the map, the Task-Related Interaction
items on the left side, the Classroom Mutual Respect items at the
bottom right, and the Teacher Academic Support items on the right
of the map. The Teacher Emotional Support and Teacher Aca-
demic Support regions were close to each other. The Classroom
Mastery Goal Structure items region was located in the middle of
these dimensions, overlapping to some degree with the areas
captured by the Teacher Emotional Support items and close to the
regions captured by the Teacher Academic Support and Classroom
Descriptive Statistics and Zero-Order Correlations for Fifth- and Seventh-Grade Students (Studies 1 and 2, Respectively)
Scale/grade and variable 12345 6
1. Classroom Mastery Goal Structure — ⫺.25 .64 .65 .53 .62
2. Classroom Performance Goal Structure — ⫺.33 ⫺.26 ⫺.21 ⫺.11
3. Teacher Emotional Support .71 — .68 .46 .51
4. Teacher Academic Support .67 .77 — .46 .48
5. Classroom Mutual Respect .56 .53 .56 — .42
6. Task-Related Interaction .69 .58 .50 .46 —
M(SD) 4.07 (0.77) 2.30 (0.99) 3.97 (0.94) 4.53 (0.67) 4.29 (0.86) 3.44 (.93)
Skewness/kurtosis ⫺1.11/1.37 0.66/⫺0.27 ⫺1.24/1.04 ⫺2.63/8.52 ⫺1.46/1.91 ⫺0.21/⫺0.50
M(SD) 3.85 (0.85) 3.69 (0.97) 4.35 (0.80) 4.00 (0.95) 3.26 (0.99)
Skewness/kurtosis ⫺0.88/0.69 ⫺0.95/0.39 ⫺1.75/3.40 ⫺0.92/0.17 ⫺0.22/⫺0.62
Note. Correlations for fifth graders are shown above the diagonal and seventh graders below the diagonal. All coefficients are significant at at least
-4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2
Figure 1. Fifth graders’ perceptions of classroom mastery and perfor-
mance goal structures and climate dimensions (Study 1). p ⫽performance
goal structure; m ⫽mastery goal structure; i ⫽task-related interaction; r ⫽
classroom mutual respect; as ⫽teacher academic support; es ⫽teacher
POSITIVE CLASSROOM MOTIVATIONAL ENVIRONMENTS
Mutual Respect items; the region covering the Task-Related In-
teraction items were farther away.
Spatially plotting the relations among the items of the mastery
goal structure and the social climate constructs in a multidimen-
sional space provided support for our hypotheses. First, the find-
ings indicated that the construct of performance goal structure was
clearly perceived as being distinct from mastery goal structure,
consistent with the results of other empirical studies (see e.g.,
Wolters, 2004). Performance goal structure was also clearly per-
ceived to be distinct from the social climate constructs. This makes
conceptual sense given that support, respect, and interaction in-
volve communication among people, but performance goal struc-
ture, or at least the scale used to measure it, involves communi-
cation about just students’ relative academic ability and not about
More important for the main purpose of this study, in the
presence of the Classroom Performance Goal Structure items, the
region captured by the Classroom Mastery Goal Structure items
was almost indistinguishable from the regions captured by the
Classroom Mutual Respect and the Teacher Emotional Support
and Teacher Academic Support items and was close to the region
captured by the Task-Related Interaction items. The analysis with-
out the Classroom Performance Goal Structure items allowed for a
more detailed observation of the structural patterns of the other
constructs. First, the distinct regional separation of the social
climate variables supported their phenomenological distinction
among the participants. Second, and of greatest interest, the region
captured by the Classroom Mastery Goal Structure items was
located centrally among these social climate regions and over-
lapped partially with the region captured by the Teacher Emotional
Support items. The empirically found regional overlap suggests a
phenomenological overlap of the different constructs depicted:
Perceived classroom mastery goal structure corresponds strongly
with perceptions of the teacher as promoting classroom mutual
respect and providing emotional and academic support and is
related closely to perceiving the teacher as promoting student
Because analyses that seek to uncover patterns in data (e.g.,
MDS, cluster analysis, EFA) are sample-specific to some degree,
the extent to which the results of this study are generalizable is an
important question. Therefore, we sought to replicate the analysis
twice more: (a) with the same students 2 years later when in a
different educational context—middle school—and (b) with an-
other sample, that differed in demographic characteristics and
educational contexts (i.e., racially mixed, lower income, urban,
sixth grade in elementary school). These analyses comprised the
second and third studies.
We investigated the consistency of the spatial distribution of
items from the Classroom Mastery Goal Structure, Teacher Emo-
tional Support, Teacher Academic Support, Classroom Mutual
Respect, and Task-Related Interaction scales found in the first
study by replicating the analyses with data from the same students
2 years later, when they were seventh graders in middle school.
Given that students clearly perceived performance goal structure
as distinct from the other classroom environment constructs and
that it was not our major focus, we did not include it in the
Participants. The 537 seventh graders came from three
school districts and were the same students who participated in
Study 1 held 2 years earlier. Students attended the sole middle
school in their districts. They had different teachers for differ-
Measures and procedure. The survey was identical to that
used in Study 1. The Cronbach’s alpha coefficients for the scales
with this sample were as follows: Classroom Mastery Goal Struc-
ture (␣⫽.80), Teacher Emotional Support (␣⫽.85), Teacher
Academic Support (␣⫽.83), Classroom Mutual Respect (␣⫽
.75), and Task-Related Interaction (␣⫽.80). Students completed
surveys in their math classes in the spring of 2002. This time the
administration format was identical for all schools (i.e., the items
were read aloud by the researchers).
An examination of the psychometric characteristics of the items
indicated that all but the three items in the Teacher Academic
The three-dimensional solution replicated this organization in a three-
dimensional space, with the interaction, emotional support, and respect
items presenting in distinct regions that together created a pyramid, and the
academic support and mastery goal structure items appearing in the middle
of the pyramid.
as1 as2 as3
as1 as2 as3
as1 as2 as3
Figure 2. Fifth graders’ perceptions of classroom mastery goal structure
and climate dimensions (Study 1). m ⫽classroom mastery goal structure;
i⫽task-related interaction; r ⫽classroom mutual respect; as ⫽teacher
academic support; es ⫽teacher emotional support.
374 PATRICK, KAPLAN, AND RYAN
Support scale had distributions that fell within the acceptable range
of skewness (–1.50 to – 0.10) and kurtosis (–1.06 to 2.06). Item 3
of the Teacher Academic Support scale had both high skewness
(–2.34) and kurtosis (5.53). Items 2 and 4 had acceptable skewness
(–1.68 and –1.75, respectively) but somewhat high kurtosis (2.58
and 2.73, respectively). We followed the same rationale as in
Study 1 and kept these items in the analysis.
Means, standard deviations, and correlations among the five
dimensions of the classroom climate are presented in Table 1. The
pattern of correlations was similar to that found in Study 1, when
the students were in fifth grade. All correlations were positive and
significant. The correlations involving mastery goal structure
ranged from .56 to .71. The strongest correlation was between
teacher emotional support and teacher academic support (r⫽.77).
MDS. The pattern of fit statistics for the one-, two-, and
three-dimensional models was similar to that of the previous study.
The three-dimensional model provided the best fit for the data
(stress ⫽.08, R
⫽.97), although the two-dimensional fit was
good (stress ⫽.12, R
⫽.94). The one-dimension model indicated
a bad fit (stress ⫽.21, R
⫽.87). Again, an examination of the
two- and three-dimensional solutions indicated similar organiza-
tion of the items with respect to each other in the different spaces.
Hence, for the same reasons as in Study 1 we present the two-
dimensional solution in Figure 3.
There was a similar pattern of results compared with those from
Study 1. The region formed by the Classroom Mastery Goal
Structure items was located centrally among the regions of the
social climate constructs. There was considerable spatial overlap
with the regions of both Teacher Academic Support and Teacher
Emotional Support items, and it was close in proximity to the
regions of both Classroom Mutual Respect and Task-Related In-
The results lend support to our supposition that mastery goal
structure, at least in the views of adolescents, is phenomenologi-
cally at the nexus of these different positive relational dimensions
of the classroom climate and is perhaps partly composed of these
dimensions. Because both this and the previous study were con-
ducted with the same students, albeit in different contexts (ele-
mentary vs. middle school) 2 years apart, we next sought to
address generalizability further by replicating the study with dif-
We investigated the consistency of the previous studies’ results
by examining the spatial structure of different students’ responses
to the same measures (i.e., Classroom Mastery Goal Structure,
Teacher Emotional Support, Teacher Academic Support, Class-
room Mutual Respect, Task-Related Interaction). This group of
students differed from those in the previous studies in demograph-
ics and grade level.
Participants. The data were collected from 736 sixth graders
(52% female) from 39 classrooms within 16 elementary schools in
two districts. The districts were chosen because they comple-
mented those of the previous two studies; they were in the same
state but differed economically and racially and served urban but
not inner-city students. All sixth graders in those 16 schools were
invited to participate, and 95% did. According to school records,
49% of the sample were African American, 44% White, 4%
Hispanic, 2% Indian, and 1% Asian. Sixty-five percent of the
students were eligible for free or reduced-cost lunch. Students
were taught core academic subjects by the same teacher.
Measures and procedure. The measures were the same as
those used in Study 1, although in this administration we used the
original Classroom Mutual Respect scale (i.e., five items; Ryan &
Patrick, 2001). Also, as part of reducing the length of the survey
overall there was one item less in the Classroom Mastery Goal
Structure scale (i.e., four items; see Appendix). The item omitted
was selected on the basis of fall data from the same students. For
this sample, all items were phrased in terms of schoolwork rather
than being specific to math class as in the previous studies.
Students completed surveys in their regular classes in the spring of
2000 using the same procedure and format as in Study 2 (i.e., same
directions, items read aloud and not grouped by scale). The Cron-
bach’s alpha coefficients were as follows: Classroom Mastery
Goal Structure (␣⫽.75), Teacher Emotional Support (␣⫽.84),
Teacher Academic Support (␣⫽.82), Classroom Mutual Respect
(␣⫽.76), and Task-Related Interaction (␣⫽.71).
An examination of the psychometric characteristics of the items
indicated that all but one item had distributions that fell within the
acceptable range of skewness (–1.59 to –.02) and kurtosis (–1.19
to 1.53). The third Teacher Academic Support item had acceptable
skewness (–1.78) but somewhat high kurtosis (2.28).
Figure 3. Seventh graders’ perceptions of classroom mastery goal struc-
ture and climate dimensions (Study 2). m ⫽classroom mastery goal
structure; i ⫽task-related interaction; r ⫽classroom mutual respect; as ⫽
teacher academic support; es ⫽teacher emotional support.
POSITIVE CLASSROOM MOTIVATIONAL ENVIRONMENTS
Means, standard deviations, and correlations among the five
dimensions of the classroom environment are presented in Table 2.
The pattern of correlations was similar to that found in the previ-
ous two studies. All correlations were positive and significant. The
correlations involving mastery goal structure ranged from .64 to
.69, and again the strongest was between teacher emotional sup-
port and teacher academic support (r⫽.73).
MDS. Consistent with the two previous studies, the three-
dimensional model provided the best fit for the data (stress ⫽.09,
⫽.97), with the two-dimensional model having an acceptable
fit (stress ⫽.14, R
⫽.93) and the one-dimensional model a
less-than-acceptable fit (stress ⫽.23, R
⫽.86). Again similar to
Studies 1 and 2, the items’ organization in the two- and three-
dimensional solutions manifested similar characteristics to each
other. For reasons of parsimony we present the two-dimensional
solution. As shown in Figure 4, the results again replicated the
previous findings. The Classroom Mastery Goal Structure items
region captured a central location among the regions of the four
social climate constructs. It overlapped somewhat with the region
formed by the Classroom Mutual Respect items and was close to
the region formed by the Teacher Emotional Support and Teacher
Academic Support items. As in Study 1, the region captured by the
Task-Related Interaction items was slightly removed. Thus, there
was again empirical support for the phenomenological overlap of
mastery goal structure with these dimensions of the classroom
The findings from the new sample replicated our previous
results; students responded to items assessing classroom mastery
goal structure in a way that corresponds strongly with the way they
respond to items assessing their perceptions of the teacher promot-
ing respect and providing support and to some degree also with the
teacher promoting task-related interaction. More important per-
haps, the spatial pattern that depicts the underlying structural
pattern of students’ responses suggested that the mastery goal
structure construct captures a central space among all of these
social dimensions of the learning environment. This structural
finding suggests that the mastery goal structure construct provides
a phenomenological core in the psychological space of the class-
room social environment. This study adds strength to the results of
the previous studies because it was conducted with a quite differ-
ent sample of students in yet another grade level, and the items
were phrased in terms of the classroom generally rather than math
The consistent finding supporting the phenomenological cen-
trality of mastery goal structure in the classroom social climate
raises the possibility that mastery goal structure may constitute an
overarching or metaconstruct, incorporating perceptions of teacher
academic and emotional support as well as encouraging positive
interpersonal relationships and interactions in the classroom. Test-
ing this hypothesis was the purpose of the next study.
Descriptive Statistics and Zero-Order Correlations for Sixth- and Seventh-Grade Students (Studies 3 and 4, Respectively)
Scale/grade and variable 1 2 3 4 5
1. Classroom Mastery Goal Structure — .67 .67 .69 .64
2. Teacher Emotional Support .66 — .73 .59 .56
3. Teacher Academic Support .67 .67 — .63 .48
4. Classroom Mutual Respect .72 .60 .61 — .55
5. Task-Related Interaction .51 .45 .36 .40 —
M(SD) 3.85 (0.96) 3.66 (1.10) 4.23 (0.90) 3.93 (0.96) 3.28 (1.05)
Skewness/kurtosis ⫺0.76/⫺0.04 ⫺0.67/⫺0.39 ⫺1.37/1.41 ⫺0.71/⫺0.20 ⫺0.29/⫺0.59
M(SD) 3.69 (0.94) 3.33 (0.99) 4.10 (0.88) 3.71 (0.99) 2.87 (1.01)
Skewness/kurtosis ⫺0.59/⫺0.20 ⫺0.16/⫺0.69 ⫺0.99/0.41 ⫺0.38/⫺0.72 0.02/⫺0.50
Note. Correlations for sixth graders are shown above the diagonal and seventh graders below the diagonal. All coefficients are significant at at least
-3 -2 -1 0 1 2
Figure 4. Sixth graders’ perceptions of classroom mastery goal structure
and climate dimensions (Study 3). m ⫽classroom mastery goal structure;
i⫽task-related interaction; r ⫽classroom mutual respect; as ⫽teacher
academic support; es ⫽teacher emotional support.
376 PATRICK, KAPLAN, AND RYAN
As we mentioned at the outset, despite mastery goal structure’s
having a clear conceptual definition and strong empirical support
for its benefits, it is not clear what teacher behaviors students view
as indicating an emphasis on mastery goals. It has been suggested
that, on the basis of studies that link classroom observations with
students’ reports of their classroom goal structures, academic and
emotional teacher support and encouragement of classroom mutual
respect and interaction among students may contribute to the
perception that mastery goals are emphasized (Patrick, 2004). The
previous studies employed nonmetric MDS as the analytic method
for testing the structural relations among these constructs. In the
current study, we complement the MDS findings by investigating
the structural relations of the mastery goal structure construct and
the classroom climate scales through the more conventional use of
a second-order CFA. Support for the hypothesis concerning the
relations between the constructs using CFA may allow a clearer
convergence of findings with the achievement goal and classroom
climate literatures, which commonly have used factor analytic
methods. Because higher order factors invariably explain less
variance in the data than do first-order factors, deciding whether to
adopt the notion of a higher order factor requires balancing the loss
of explanatory power with the gain in theoretical understanding
and usefulness (Lance, Teachout, & Donnelly, 1992).
Participants. The participants were 789 seventh graders
(54% female) who attended the middle schools in the same school
districts as did students in Study 3; approximately half were part of
that sample the previous year. The difference in samples was due
to some sixth graders’ subsequently attending middle schools not
participating in the study and recruitment of new seventh graders
in the middle schools.
Measures and procedure. Surveys were completed during
the spring of 2001 using the same measures and procedure as in
Study 3. The Cronbach’s alpha coefficients for the scales with
these students were as follows: Classroom Mastery Goal Structure
(␣⫽.77), Teacher Emotional Support (␣⫽.77), Teacher Aca-
demic Support (␣⫽.81), Classroom Mutual Respect (␣⫽.80),
and Task-Related Interaction (␣⫽.72).
An examination of the items’ psychometric characteristics indi-
cated that all distributions fell within the acceptable range of
skewness (–1.47 to 0.28) and kurtosis (–1.23 to 1.28). Means,
standard deviations, and correlations among the five dimensions of
the classroom environment are presented in Table 2. Similar to the
pattern found in the three other studies, all correlations were
positive and significant. The correlations involving mastery goal
structure were high and ranged from .51 to .72.
CFAs. We conducted two CFAs to test the possibility that
mastery goal structure constitutes an overarching construct for the
other climate constructs. We began with a first-order CFA and
included mastery goal structure at the same level as the four
climate measures (Model 1). Second, we conducted a higher order
CFA that depicted mastery goal structure as a second-order factor,
with the other four climate measures functioning as its indicators
(Model 2). Both Model 1,
(160) ⫽698.43, p⬍.001, compar-
ative fit index (CFI) ⫽.92, root-mean-square error of approxima-
tion (RMSEA) ⫽.065, 90% confidence interval (CI) 关.060, .070兴,
and Model 2 fitted the data relatively well,
(166) ⫽780.62, p⬍
.001, CFI ⫽.91, RMSEA ⫽.069, 90% CI 关.064, .073兴; however,
the results for the first-order model were slightly better. A chi-
square test indicated there was a significant difference between the
two models’ chi-square statistics (⌬
⫽82.19, ⌬df ⫽6, p⬍
.001). However, in Model 2 the unique variance in the four
indicator variables left unaccounted for by mastery goal structure
was relatively small: 9% of teacher academic support, 8% of
teacher emotional support, 20% of classroom mutual respect, and
33% of task-related interaction.
The significant difference between the two models indicated that
depicting mastery goal structure as being determined by the four
social climate constructs involved losing explanatory information.
However, the higher order model did fit the data well. Moreover, the
unique variance in the social climate dimensions that was left unac-
counted for by mastery goal structure was relatively low compared
with the amount of variance explained. This suggests that mastery
goal structure could indeed be conceptualized as an overarching
construct accounting for much, even if not all, of various teacher
behaviors perceived by students as promoting a positive social cli-
mate. More important conceptually, this finding may suggest that
perceiving a positive social classroom climate is indeed an integral
component of a mastery goal structure.
Our studies add to the understanding of classroom learning envi-
ronments by integrating constructs and their measures from two
research perspectives— goal structures from achievement goal theory,
and four social dimensions measured in classroom climate research.
We conducted three studies using nonmetric MDS—a multivariate
procedure that depicts the matrix of relations among items in a spatial
representation that allows exploration of hidden structures underlying
the data. Results across the studies indicate that the items assessing
teacher emotional support, teacher academic support, promotion of
classroom mutual respect, and promotion of task-related interaction
constitute phenomenologically coherent constructs. That is, items
within each scale were generally perceived more similarly than were
items across different scales. Furthermore, the results across the
studies imply that the mastery goal structure construct is phenome-
nologically central to the classroom social climate constructs and
partially overlaps with or is close to the meaning of social dimensions
of the classroom environment. This finding, consistent across the
studies, indicates that there may be significant redundant variance
when assessing both social climate variables and mastery goal struc-
ture. This conclusion also fits with Miller and Murdock’s (2007)
findings of redundancy among measures of perceived mastery goal
structure, teacher interest in teaching, and teacher respect. Another
interpretation of the current findings other than phenomenological
correspondence may be that the shared variance between the social
climate constructs and mastery goal structure represents a lagged
psychological process in which social climate perceptions constitute
POSITIVE CLASSROOM MOTIVATIONAL ENVIRONMENTS
precursors to a phenomenologically distinct mastery goal structure.
These competing hypotheses should be pursued in future studies.
Another contribution of the present research is the use of MDS
to investigate the complex nature of classroom environments.
MDS is particularly valuable for such research because it is inclu-
sive rather than requiring models to be pared down or variables
excluded for reasons such as multicollinearity or cross-loading, as
is the case for structural equation modeling, multiple regression,
and factor analysis. These have been issues of concern with re-
search on classroom mastery goal structure (Miller & Murdock,
2007; Patrick, 2004). For example, classroom climate measures
were excluded from analyses that contained classroom mastery
goal structure (see e.g., Midgley, 1997). Similarly, when correla-
tions of mastery goal structure with climate measures are high, but
not prohibitively so, multiple regressions can produce misleading
results. For example, the finding that mastery goal structure was
not related to cheating was interpreted as being due to high
correlations of the former with another independent variable, per-
ceived teacher commitment, rather than mastery goal structure not
playing an important role (Murdock et al., 2001). This issue of
methodological constraints limits researchers’ understanding of
classroom psychological environments and hinders theoretical
synthesis. MDS is particularly useful for research on highly related
constructs because it was “designed to detect the hidden structure
of similarity judgments” (Stalans, 1995, p. 138). Thus, the analysis
can uncover the phenomenology of perceptions (e.g., of class-
rooms), allowing for their holistic nature as they are experienced in
complex real-world environments while accounting for the con-
ceptually, even if not phenomenologically, distinct constructs
(Guttman & Greenbaum, 1998; for an educational psychology
example see Kaplan, Lichtinger, & Gorodetsky, 2009).
Because analyses can produce results that are somewhat sample-
specific (Stalans, 1995), we conducted analyses with separate
samples of students that differed according to demographic char-
acteristics and educational contexts and used items of different
subject-level specificity. There was considerable consistency in the
pattern of students’ reports across the studies. Students’ percep-
tions of different aspects of their classroom environment formed a
remarkably similar pattern in elementary school, when they were
taught by a single teacher, and 2 years later in middle school, when
they had subject-specific teachers. The pattern of results for White
students in middle-class, suburban families was similar to that
generated by a sample of ethnically diverse students attending
urban schools and from predominantly low-income families.
Moreover, the pattern was consistent whether items referred to
schoolwork in general or to math class specifically. This consistent
pattern supports the generalizability of our findings. However, we
investigated the perceptions of students in only the middle grades,
and therefore it is uncertain to what extent older, or younger,
students view mastery goal structure as being similar to teacher
support, classroom mutual respect, and task-related interaction in
the classroom. Further research is needed to address possible
developmental or grade-level differences. Additionally, three of
the four studies focused specifically on math classes; the other was
conducted in academics generally. Given that teachers and stu-
dents perceive that academic subjects differ in terms of the nature
of the discipline and how they should be taught (Stodolsky &
Grossman, 1995; Stodolsky, Salk, & Glaessner, 1991), it would be
prudent to investigate whether the results we found in math classes
and classes in general hold for other domains.
By using both MDS and CFA with the same type of data, we
engaged in methodological triangulation (Tashakkori & Teddlie,
1998). These two analytic methods have different assumptions, em-
phases, priorities, and strengths and weaknesses and therefore can
reveal different details of the associations among constructs. The
results of the MDS and CFA, although not identical, depict a similar
picture. Classroom mastery goal structure was perceived as being
close to the climate constructs, and the test of mastery goal structure
as a higher order factor composed of the climate constructs resulted in
a good fit and showed considerable redundancy among measures.
However, notably, the structural overlap between the climate mea-
sures and mastery goal structure was only partial, and the CFA model
of all five measures as first-order factors fitted the data better. Future
research should pursue the environmental conditions and individual
difference characteristics that may be associated with less and more
phenomenological overlap of the classroom social climate and mas-
tery goal structure and should pursue the meaning of the nonshared
variance between these sets of constructs.
The variance in mastery goal structure not shared with the social
climate constructs may be accounted for by teachers’ instructional
practices (e.g., scaffolding, teaching specific learning strategies).
We did not measure instructional practices in our studies, but
doing so would add to the present research. Other studies have
shown the importance of teachers’ pedagogical competence (Bro-
phy, 2004; Miller & Murdock, 2007; Patrick & Ryan, 2009), such
as using active approaches (Meece, 1991), academic press
(Middleton & Midgley, 2002), and scaffolding (Turner et al.,
1998) for student motivation. However, sound instructional prac-
tices without a positive relational climate may be insufficient for
students to perceive a mastery focus (Turner & Meyer, 1999).
Future research that investigates the role of teachers’ instructional
practices for mastery goal structure would contribute to a better
understanding of the interplay between the academic and social
dimensions of classroom environments.
Our studies have significant theoretical, practical, and empirical
implications. With respect to theoretical implications, the results
contribute to unpacking what a mastery goal structure means to
students in terms of teacher behaviors. In particular, the relevance
of teacher support— both for learning and for students as individ-
uals—and classroom-wide respect for creating an emphasis on
student learning and understanding is striking. The results contrib-
ute to achievement goal theory, which has focused on meanings
created about academics and particularly how academic success or
achievement is conceptualized (individual improvement or outper-
forming others). Our studies support arguments (see e.g., Kaplan,
2004; Patrick, 2004; Ryan & Shim, 2006; Turner et al., 2002;
Urdan & Maehr, 1995) to broaden the focus to include relational
or socioemotional aspects. Of note, doing so would bring the field
back to the roots of achievement goal theory, which “关grew兴out
of . . . work on the role of social and cultural context in determin-
ing motivational patterns in performing achievement tasks”
(Maehr, 1984, p. 117). In introducing the construct of classroom
goal structures Ames and Ames (1984) included “how students are
to relate to each other” (p. 535) along with “which goals students
are to accomplish, how students are to be evaluated, and how
students are to relate . . . to the task” (p. 535).
378 PATRICK, KAPLAN, AND RYAN
The present series of studies also extends the theoretical rationale of
classroom climate research—a perspective with a long history and
influence beyond motivation research (Fraser, 1998, 2000; Walberg
& Anderson, 1968). For example, a classroom climate perspective is
used in diverse fields such as science education (see e.g., Henderson
et al., 2000), school reform (see e.g., Sinclair & Fraser, 2002; Taylor
et al., 1997), pedagogical change (see e.g., Nix et al., 2005), and urban
and minority student education (see e.g., Griffith, 2002; Waxman et
al., 1997). Through our initial integration with achievement goal
theory we have suggested theoretically grounded processes by which
different classroom social dimensions may promote student achieve-
ment and engagement. That is, students’ perceptions of their teacher
as promoting understanding and personal improvement may be drawn
from their perceptions of the teacher’s messages about interpersonal
The present study also has important practical implications. As
we noted earlier, one area of weakness for achievement goal theory
research is that its recommendations for educators tend to be
general and provide little information about specific practices for
teachers to engage in that are likely to maximize their students’
motivation and learning. Thus, there is considerable utility in
knowing that practices such as not allowing students to make fun
of someone who gives the wrong answer or letting students ask
others for help with schoolwork are closely associated with mas-
tery goal structure. Sharing this information with educators is
likely to be valuable for them.
With regard to empirical implications, our results suggest that
the mastery goal structure construct could provide a good, parsi-
monious, and efficient alternative to administering numerous mea-
sures of classroom social climate in order to assess the multidi-
mensional nature of the classroom. Alternately, when researchers
want a more detailed and nuanced examination of dimensions
within classrooms’ mastery goal structure, our results support
using measures of teacher support, classroom mutual respect, and
learning-related discussion to provide that multidimensional per-
spective. Thus, mastery goal structure may be conceptualized as an
overarching structure composed of different but related dimen-
sions rather than as a single construct.
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POSITIVE CLASSROOM MOTIVATIONAL ENVIRONMENTS
Measures of Classroom Climate and Goal Structure
Constructs and Items
Teacher Emotional Support
1. Does your teacher respect your opinion?
2. Does your teacher really understand how you feel about things?
3. Does your teacher try to help you when you are sad or upset?
4. Can you count on your teacher for help when you need it?
Teacher Academic Support
1. Does your teacher like to see your work?
2. Does your teacher care about how much you learn?
3. Does your teacher want you to do your best in school?
4. Does your teacher like to help you learn?
Classroom Mutual Respect
1. My teacher wants us to respect each other’s opinions.
2. My teacher does not allow students to make fun of other students’ ideas in class.
3. My teacher makes sure that students don’t say anything negative about each other in class.
4. My teacher does not let us make fun of someone who gives the wrong answer.
5. My teacher wants all students to feel respected.
1. My teacher allows us to discuss our work with classmates.
2. My teacher encourages us to share ideas with one another in class.
3. My teacher lets us ask other students when we need help with our work.
Classroom Mastery Goal Structure
1. My teacher wants us to understand our work, not just memorize it.
2. My teacher really wants us to enjoy learning new things.
3. My teacher gives us time to really explore and understand new ideas.
4. My teacher recognizes us for trying hard.
5. My teacher thinks mistakes are okay as long as we are learning.
Classroom Performance Goal Structure
1. My teacher points out those students who get good grades as an example to all of us.
2. My teacher lets us know which students get the highest scores on a test.
3. My teacher tells us how we compare to other students.
4. My teacher makes it obvious when certain students are not doing well on their work.
Note. The fifth and seventh graders in Studies 1 and 2 were asked to think about math class when responding to the items.
Items completed by the seventh graders were worded “My math teacher . . .”
Completed by only sixth and seventh graders in Studies 3 and 4.
Completed by only fifth and seventh graders in Studies
1 and 2.
Received December 23, 2009
Revision received February 7, 2011
Accepted February 23, 2011 䡲
382 PATRICK, KAPLAN, AND RYAN