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Classroom social climate, self-determined motivation, willingness to communicate, and achievement: A study of structural relationships in instructed second language settings

Authors:
1
Classroom social climate, self-determined
motivation, willingness to communicate, and
achievement: A study of structural relationships in
instructed second language settings
Hye-Kyoung Joea
Phil Hivera*
Ali H. Al-Hoorieb c
PRE-PUBLICATION COPY [This is the pre-publication copy of Joe, H.-K., Hiver, P., & Al-
Hoorie, A. H. (2017). Classroom social climate, self-determined motivation, willingness to
communicate, and achievement: A study of structural relationships in instructed second
language settings. Learning and Individual Differences, 53, 133–144. doi:
10.1016/j.lindif.2016.11.005]
The purpose of this study is to integrate three related theoretical frameworksclassroom
social climate, self-determination theory (SDT), and L2 willingness to communicate
(WTC)—and investigate connections between key individual and situational factors for
motivation and L2 achievement in a formal secondary-school setting in Korea (N = 381). We
propose a model of the impact of the classroom social climate on secondary school L2
learnersself-determined motivation and WTC, before extending our analysis to the effect of
these individual and contextual factors on L2 achievement. Structural equation modeling
showed that self-determined motivation was predicted by satisfaction of basic psychological
needs (i.e., autonomy, competence, and relatedness), which are in turn predicted by positive
classroom social climate. WTC was predicted strongly by satisfaction of basic psychological
needs, and weakly by perceived competence and identified regulation, but not by intrinsic
motivation. L2 achievement was initially predicted significantly by identified regulation and
perceived competence, but after controlling for prior achievement only perceived competence
remained a significant, but weak (β = .07), predictor. These findings support the notion that
context is an empirically relevant frame of reference for the study of individual factors, and
highlight the impact a classroom environment exerts on important L2 learning outcomes.
However, it also underscores the work remaining in the L2 learning field to uncover robust
predictors of L2 achievement. We hope this study will stimulate further research into the
situated and interrelated nature of motivation, WTC, and achievement that will both
consolidate and refine current theoretical and empirical insights.
Keywords: self-determination theory, L2 willingness to communicate, basic psychological
needs, classroom social climate, L2 achievement
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1. Introduction
One cannot think of successful second or foreign language (L2) development
occurring without at least some form of motivation on the part of the learner (Dörnyei &
Ryan, 2015). Motivation governs the direction and magnitude of behavioral choices regarding
what goals to avoid or pursue (Dörnyei & Ushioda, 2011), and provides an indication of the
quality and quantity of goal-directed effort. As such, the question of how to get and keep
learners motivated through the dips and peaks of language development may be a priority of
much of L2 instruction. However, the majority of L2 learning worldwide occurs in formal
classroom settings involving long hours of intense preparation to succeed in compulsory
examinations. Without debating the relative merit of these characteristics, we believe this
indicates that learners are presented with little need to use the target language apart from
achieving good grades. Thus, while there may be learners whose L2 learning behavior is
driven by externally-regulated motives, the notion of individual volitional action to
communicate in the L2—considered one of the most desirable outcomes of learning a second
languageis arguably absent from these settings (MacIntyre, 2007).
A longstanding emphasis within this field is a focus on contextual features of the L2
classroom, conditions which are thought to play a key part in initiating and sustaining L2
learning motivation due to the distributed nature (i.e., between people) of engagement and
goal-directed behavior in classrooms (Wedell & Malderez, 2013). The notion that classrooms
have distinct psychological environments, which may in turn affect individualsthought and
action, has been around for the better part of a century (Greeno, 2015). In the realm of L2
learning and use, this is even more pronounced because of the understanding that learner
characteristics, behavior, and development can be influenced by various competing temporal
and situational factors (e.g., Batstone, 2010; Kramsch, 2008; Larsen-Freeman, 2015; van Lier,
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2004). Integrating various situative and individual constructs or processes offers a way to
examine learning and development beyond the individual, thus explaining why “individuals
take up practices in particular contexts as a function of their ongoing participation in social
practices” (Nolen et al., 2015, p. 235).
In this study we build on recent research showing the importance of a situated
perspective of L2 learnerswillingness to communicate (e.g., Cao, 2011; Khajavy, Ghonsooly,
Fatemi, & Choi, 2016; Peng, 2014; Yashima, 2012) to investigate the relationships between
individual and situational factors that impact L2 willingness to communicate (WTC) and L2
achievement in a formal classroom setting. Noels (2009) has proposed that self-determination
theory (SDT) is a core model for addressing both the individual learner’s agency in a formal
classroom setting and the social context of language learning. The constructs of SDT and
WTC address not only how satisfaction of basic psychological needs (e.g., autonomy,
competence, and relatedness) can lead to autonomous forms of motivated behavior in the
language classroom, but they are also well-suited to integrating situational factorssuch as
the classroom social environment—into a combined framework for investigating cognitive
choices and behavioral outcomes in L2 instructional settings. Our primary aim in this article,
extending work by Deci et al. (2001) which proposes that autonomy support contributes to
needs satisfaction and predicts key outcomes, is to capture theoretical and empirical insights
in constructing an integrative framework of the structural relationships between these aspects.
To do so, we propose a novel model of the impact of the classroom social climate on
secondary school L2 learners’ self-determined motivation and subsequent influence on WTC,
before extending our analysis to the effect of these individual and contextual factors on L2
achievement.
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2. Literature Review
2.1. Context and the Classroom Social Climate
A growing body of evidence suggests that the classroom social climate plays a
significant role in what actually happens in the process of learning, and the way that the
people in the classroom group think and behave (Jennings & Greenberg, 2009; Klem &
Connell, 2004). Interpersonal relationships, modes of communication between individuals,
and other group processes that exist in the context of a classroom can be seen as part of this
classroom social climate (Dörnyei & Murphey, 2003). On an individual-focused level, the
way students perceive various aspects of the classroom social environment relates to their
self-beliefs, which are associated with the use of adaptive self-regulatory strategies that in
turn influence the nature and extent of their engagement and achievement in academic tasks
(Patrick, Kaplan, & Ryan, 2011). However, even learnersengagement, conventionally
thought of as involving primarily cognitive involvement and affective connections, has begun
to be explored in ways which foreground the inherently social nature of educational and
intellectual endeavors (Wentzel, 2012). Philp and Duchesne (2016, p. 57) term this outcome
“mutualityor the effort, active participation, and responsiveness that occurs when learners
partake in reciprocal social interactions in L2 classroom settings.
Research into the social climate of the classroom posits three complementary
constructs (Patrick & Ryan, 2005): teacher academic support, teacher emotional support, and
classroom mutual respect. Teacher academic support refers to student perceptions of the
teacher helping them to master the learning content rather than encouraging competitiveness
between learners; teacher emotional support relates to a student’s perceptions of the teacher
caring for them as a person and supporting their overall well-being; classroom mutual respect
concerns the studentsperceptions of their teacher encouraging mutual respect and peer help
5
in classroom interactions (see also Patrick, Ryan, & Kaplan, 2007). The premise of these
dimensions of the social climate of a classroom is that the extent to which students sense
emotional support from their teacher, feel personally valued and able to contribute through
interactions with their peers, and perceive their teacher as being committed to supporting
their learning is an important precursor to studentseffort, engagement, and achievement in
the classroom (Ryan & Patrick, 2001).
With respect to classroom social climate and L2 learning in particular, research
conducted by Noels and colleagues (Noels, 2001; Noels, Clément, & Pelletier, 1999) is
noteworthy as their results indicate an important link between students’ perceptions that their
teachers’ instructional style was autonomy-supportive, on the one hand, and positive
language learning outcomes on the other. This has also been explored with regard to learners’
self-determined motivation (Noels, 2009; Reeve & Jang, 2006) and L2 willingness to
communicate (Peng & Woodrow, 2010). More recent research has reported not only that a
teacher providing informative feedback about learning progress was associated with
increased intrinsic motivation but also, conversely, that the more the students perceived their
teachers to be controlling, the lower the students’ intrinsic motivation (Jang, Reeve, & Deci,
2010; Skaalvik & Skaalvik, 2013). Because an optimal social environment is likely to
facilitate activities and interactions that promote L2 learners’ psychological well-being, we
expect the classroom social climate to influence basic psychological needs (i.e., autonomy,
competence, and relatedness) that lead to more autonomous forms of motivation. We build on
this idea in the next section.
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2.2. Self-Determined Motivation and L2 Learning
Self-determination Theory (SDT) has been described as a comprehensive theory of human
motivation (Deci & Ryan, 2000), developed on the premise that when basic psychological
needs are satisfied as a function of interpersonal dynamics and social settings human beings
naturally develop growth-oriented propensitiesnamely, internalization and intrinsic
motivation (Deci, & Ryan, 2012; Noels, 2009). SDT theorists argue that when these basic
psychological needs are met humans are able to internalize motivated behaviors—that is, they
become self-determined and autonomously initiated (Deci & Ryan, 2002). We, thus, expect
the more self-determined types of motivation to be influenced by satisfaction of basic
psychological needs in classroom settings as these position learners to engage in more
autonomously motivated pursuits (e.g., Carreira, 2012; Jang, Reeve, Ryan, & Kim, 2009).
Extrinsic and intrinsic motivations are thought to exist on a continuum of self-
determination (Reeve, 2002). On this continuum, amotivation is the absence of any kind of
motivation. Types of extrinsic motivation range from the least self-determined form external-
regulation, to introjected-regulation (i.e., when external forces of control have been
internalized to some extent), identified-regulation (i.e., when an internalized sense of the
personal value of an activity is achieved), and integrated-regulation (i.e., when performing an
activity becomes a means of expressing core aspects of one’s identity). Although it originates
externally, integrated-regulation shares several characteristics with intrinsic motivation, given
that it stems from values that are fully congruent with aspects of a learner’s self (Deci,
Vallerand, Pelletier, & Ryan, 1991). Particularly with beginning adolescent L2 learners,
however, this type of regulation is not easily distinguished from identified regulation because
the source of motivation originates from outside (Noels, 2001; Pintrich, 2003). Because our
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sample is adolescent L2 learners, we do not examine integrated regulation, and instead focus
on identified regulation and intrinsic motivation in the rest of this article.
While SDT research has demonstrated that both intrinsic and identified self-
regulations are associated with successful learning outcomes (Burton, Lydon, D’Alessandro,
& Koestner, 2006), the continuum view of self-regulatory styles positions individuals’
acceptance of the value and importance of a behavior and its integration into the self (i.e.,
identified regulation) further away from the autonomous end than individuals freely choosing
to perform an activity for its own sake out of an underlying sense of interest and enjoyment
(i.e., intrinsic regulation). Some scholars have concluded that because identified regulation
has stronger associations with investment of effort and persistence, it is key to the successful
regulation of behaviors that are highly valued socially but not necessarily fun, and thus a
more significant determinant of performance outcomes (Gagné & Deci, 2005; Ratelle, Guay,
Vallerand, Larose, & Senècal, 2007). On the other hand, intrinsic motivation may be more
closely linked to enjoyable experiences such as L2 communication (Pae, 2008) as it is the
form of activity regulation most closely associated affective drives that relate to happiness or
satisfaction while engaging in an activity.
With its unique focus on internalization as a process of transformation, the direct
implication of SDT for L2 pedagogy is that extrinsically motivated students can develop
toward more self-determined types of motivation given optimal environments which
encourage choice in the learning activity, support learners’ efforts in meeting new challenges
and help foster learners’ sense of competence in their abilities (rnyei & Ushioda, 2011;
Noels & Giles, 2009). Existing research indicates that individuals who report learning an L2
for more self-determined reasons generally display greater motivational intensity, a
heightened desire for L2 learning, more positive attitudes towards L2 study, and higher L2
8
achievement (Noels, Clément, & Pelletier, 1999; Noels, Pelletier, Clément, & Vallerand, 2000;
Pae, 2008). We, thus, expect WTC and L2 achievement to be influenced by these more self-
determined types of motivation, and test the influence of these two self-regulatory styles on
our outcome variables separately.
2.3. L2 Willingness to Communicate
The construct of WTC has, and continues to attract considerable interest in the L2
learning research (Gregersen & MacIntyre, 2014). WTC is generally defined as a volitional
decision to initiate communication in the second language in a particular situation with a
particular person at a particular moment in time (MacIntyre, Clément, Dörnyei, & Noels,
1998). Whereas willingness to communicate in one’s first language was originally
conceptualized more as a stable trait-like difference, L2 WTC takes into account dynamic
contextual factors as well (MacIntyre & Legatto, 2011). L2 WTC is commonly associated
with the sub-factors perceived communicative competence and communicative apprehension.
The first of these is an individual student’s own confidence in his or her communicative
competence, which has been shown to have a robust link to WTC (e.g., Fallah, 2014, Öz,
Demirezen, & Pourfeiz, 2015). Communicative apprehension, on the other hand, refers to the
level of anxiety or fear of communicating in the second language and is found to be
negatively related to WTC across most research (Yashima, 2012).
WTC, on a fundamental level, is often more directly related to subjective self-
evaluation of an individual’s ability to communicate rather than an objective measure
(Gregersen & MacIntyre, 2014, p. 214). This self-evaluation includes not only one’s
confidence in their capacity to construct meaning through language that is linguistically
accurate, but extends also to using coherent and cohesive discourse, achieving functional
9
intentions, communicating in a social and contextually appropriate way, and compensating
strategically for gaps in this competence. Scholars, for instance, have acknowledged the
significance of self-evaluation and perceived communicative competence for individuals
enacting WTC (MacIntyre, 2007), with some finding a common tendency for apprehensive
learners to underestimate their communicative competence respective to their actual
competence (MacIntyre & Doucette, 2010). This emphasizes WTC as an act of self-
determined volition on the part of learners to initiate communication in the L2. We, therefore,
expect—as outlined previously—a direct effect on WTC from the more self-determined
forms of motivation, but also that greater satisfaction of learners’ basic psychological needs,
particularly perceptions of competence, will influence WTC directly (e.g., Peng & Woodrow,
2010).
Scholars working primarily within the SDT tradition have noted that “aspects of
context shape the learner’s experience, and, reciprocally, how the learner shapes the context
to meet her needs and aspirations” (Noels, 2009, p. 299). With regard to WTC, this links to
evidence from an intriguing line of research exploring WTC in L2 classrooms settings. This
body of work suggests that the characteristics of many L2 classroom settings predispose
learners to particular attributions, orientations, and attitudes that either encourage or inhibit
their willingness to engage in communication (Cao, 2011; Khajavy et al., 2016). Learners in
these studies, relying on experiential perceptions of the classroom environment, reported that
“the mood, emotions, or climate sensed and shared by the class group(Peng, 2013, p. 208),
what might also be referred to as the classroom atmosphere, is one of the most prominently
influential contextual factors. The fundamental aim of language classroom instruction is often
framed as enhancement of WTC (MacIntyre, Baker, Clément, & Donovan, 2003; Öz et al.,
2015).
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Willingness to communicate functions as a conduit to language learning because
higher levels of WTC contribute to more frequent L2 use, and this increased interaction is
thought to promote successful L2 development (Kang, 2005; Yashima & Zenuk-Nishide,
2008). We test not only this assumption in our model, but we also expect the classroom social
environment to provide the necessary pre-conditions for greater self-determination that will
lead to enhanced WTC.
2.4. Hypotheses
We have reviewed three interrelated theoretical frameworks (i.e., classroom social
climate, SDT, and L2 WTC) in an attempt to formalize connections between key individual
and situational factors that have to date been discussed largely separately in the literature.
These factors are summarized conceptually in Figure 1. To be more specific, the overarching
hypotheses that we test in our study are as follows:
(a) positive classroom social climate promotes the satisfaction of learnersbasic
psychological needs (Patrick et al., 2007, 2011),
(b) satisfaction of basic psychological needs in turn leads to stronger self-determined
motivation (intrinsic motivation and identified regulation) (Deci, & Ryan, 2012; Jang
et al., 2009), and
(c) self-determined motivation subsequently influences WTC and achievement
positively (Pae, 2008; Peng & Woodrow, 2010).
In addition to these overall connections in Figure 1, we also anticipate more specific links:
(d) satisfaction of basic psychological needs also has a direct effect on WTC (Cao,
2011; Carreira, 2012),
(e) perceived competence facilitates both WTC and achievement directly (Fallah,
11
2014; Khajavy et al., 2016), and
(f) WTC influences achievement positively (Gregersen & MacIntyre, 2014;
MacIntyre, 2007).
Figure 1. The hypothesized model.
If a model fits the data, it is still possible that other competing models might fit the
same data equally well or even better (Kline, 2011; Shah & Goldstein, 2006). Therefore, the
second purpose of this study is to test a plausible alternative model that might explain the
relationships among the factors we are investigating. This competing model (Figure 2) posits
a reversed pathway whereby the self-determined forms of motivation predict the way students
perceive the classroom environment. According to this model, interpretation of the classroom
social climate is relational to (i.e., a function of) one’s motivation and satisfaction of basic
psychological needs. Whatever the actual classroom social climate, motivated learners will
12
perceive it as enjoyable while others will be left dissatisfied.
Finally, motivation researchers do not typically control for prior achievement. This is
unfortunate considering that finding significant associations between motivational factors and
outcome variables would mean little if these associations simply disappear once we control
for prior achievement levels. Because motivational factors would serve little purpose if they
do not add to our prediction of a variable (e.g., achievement) over and above our knowledge
of its existing state (e.g., prior achievement), the third purpose of this study is to add prior
achievement to the model in order to investigate which associations would remain significant
and which would not.
Figure 2. The competing model with reversed pathways.
3. Method
3.1. Participants
The participants were 381 (female = 266, male = 115) Korean secondary school
learners of English as a foreign language. We recruited these L2 learners using quota
13
sampling in order to ensure representation of various geographic regions, socioeconomic
strata, and the entire age range of secondary school (age range = 13–18 years old, M = 14.3,
SD = 2.7). Ninety-five participants (24.9%) were from secondary schools in the capital,
located in educationally competitive school districts with a higher than average
socioeconomic status. An additional 172 learners (45.1%) were from suburban schools
located in the most densely populated regions immediately surrounding the capital. The final
114 participants (29.9%) were from rural schools in provinces further south and southwest of
the capital. Compared to the capital, these areas differ considerably with respect to
educational investment and socioeconomic status. Korea is typical of many foreign language
contexts with mandated high-stakes tests, and most (85.5%) of the participants reported
engaging in regular independent L2 study outside of the compulsory classroom setting. The
majority (87.9%) indicated no study abroad experience in the L2.
3.2. Instruments
The participants responded to 5-point Likert scale items adapted from the literature
(see Appendix A). As a first step, the items were submitted to Mokken scale analysis using
MSP 5 (Molenaar & Sijtsma, 2000) in order to minimize the risk of spurious over-
dimensionalization which factor analysis, both exploratory and confirmatory, is prone to
when using questionnaire data (see van der Eijk & Rose, 2015). Confirmatory factor analysis
was then conducted to test the measurement model using Amos 22 (Arbuckle, 2013).
Mokken scale analysis pointed to seven factors underlying the data. Mokken also
calculates the homogeneity (H; >.30 weak, >.40 medium, >.50 strong) and reliability (rho)
for each scale. The results are presented next.
Classroom Social Climate (9 items, H = .63, rho = .92, α = .92) was adapted from
14
Patrick et al. (2011) and Patrick et al. (2007). Originally, this scale consisted of three
subscales: Teacher Academic Support, Teacher Emotional Support, and Classroom Mutual
Respect. The Mokken results suggest that it is not appropriate to treat these as three distinct
latent variables, at least in this context. Each of these three subscales was therefore
aggregated and used as an indicator of Classroom Social Climate (Teacher Academic Support,
3 items, α = .84; Teacher Emotional Support, 4 items, α = .84; Classroom Mutual Respect, 2
items, α = .71). Three additional items were excluded because the Mokken results indicated
that they do not load on the Classroom Social Climate construct.
Basic Psychological Needs were assessed through the following scales, all adapted
from Carreira (2012). Autonomy (3 items, H = .65, rho = .82, α = .81) was concerned with
learners’ sense of ownership of the learning process in the classroom; Competence (3 items,
H = .59, rho = .81, α = .78) was related to students’ perceptions of their competence as
language learners; Relatedness (2 items, H = .64, rho = .74, α = .71) was concerned with
interpersonal involvement with teachers and peers. Each of these three subscales was
aggregated and used as an indicator of Basic Psychological Needs in the model. One original
item from Relatedness was omitted because it did not load on that construct.
Self-Determined Motivation was assessed through two scales, both adapted from the
Language Learning Orientations Scale developed by Noels et al. (2000). Identified
Regulation (2 items, H = .53, rho = .71, α = .68) was related to self-selected, personally
important purposes for language learning behavior; Intrinsic Motivation (5 items, H = .66,
rho = .88, α = .89) was concerned with language learning behavior that is interesting,
enjoyable, and self-actualizing. One item from each scale was excluded because they did not
load on their respective constructs.
As educational outcomes, the following two measures were used.
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Willingness to Communicate (12 items, H = .67, rho = .95, α = .95) was adapted from
Pae (2011), a scale previously used with Korean L1 respondents. These items were concerned
with willingness to communicate in the L2 with friends (4 items, α = .85), acquaintances (4
items, α = .85), and strangers (4 items, α = .83). Each of these three subscales was aggregated
and used as an indicator of Willingness to Communicate. Note that these three subscales are
distinct from the Autonomy scale mentioned above. While the Autonomy scale addressed
voluntary participation inside the classroom, these three subscales were concerned with
willingness to communicate outside the classroom with friends, acquaintances, and strangers.
The correlations between these three subscales and Autonomy were only moderate, rs
= .40, .41, and .40, respectively.
L2 Achievement. We obtained two measures of L2 achievement for each participant.
One was their exam results from the previous year (taken about six months before the study)
to serve as a measure of their prior achievement level, and one for the final exam (taken
approximately four months after the study).
The questionnaire scales were then submitted to confirmatory factor analysis in order
to test the measurement model. The results showed that the model had good fit, χ²(94) =
207.861, p < .001, χ²/df = 2.211, CFI = .973, RMSEA = .056, PCLOSE = .147. With the
exception of Competence (.46), all factor loadings were significant and over .50, and most of
them were over .70. Most standardized residuals were also below ±2, and none exceeded ±3,
indicating the observed covariance terms reasonably fitted the estimated covariance terms.
Table 1 also presents the construct reliability and average variance extracted (AVE) values,
showing that the model, with the possible exception of Basic Psychological Needs, had
generally satisfactory convergent and discriminant validity. There were no missing data to
handle.
16
Table 1
Reliability and validity of the constructs in the measurement model and their inter-construct
correlations.
CR
AVE
1
2
3
5
1. Intrinsic Motivation
.88
.59
.77
2. Identified Regulation
.70
.54
.52
.74
3. Willingness to Communicate
.97
.93
.41
.35
.96
4. Basic Psychological Needs
.63
.37
.67
.40
.59
5. Classroom Social Climate
.90
.76
.25
.22
.23
.87
Note. CR = construct reliability, AVE = average variance extracted. Values in the diagonal are
the square roots of their respective AVE.
3.3. Procedure
The questionnaire items were adapted to the present context and translated into the
students’ L1 (Korean) by a non-affiliated researcher familiar with the principles of
questionnaire construction and both languages in question, and then back-translated by the
authors. Following initial IRB approval, we approached school administration and teaching
faculty in the locales of interest to obtain written institutional consent and verbal participant
assent. Students from the schools that agreed to participate completed the survey outside of
their regular class time. They were informed by the research assistant administering the
questionnaire about the purpose of the survey, reminded that participation was entirely
voluntary, and assured of the confidentiality of their responses. Throughout, the participants
were treated in accordance with APA ethical guidelines.
4. Results
The residuals of Intrinsic Motivation and Identified Regulation were allowed to
covary due to being at the same level of self-determined motivation. The model had a good fit,
χ²(107) = 227.280, p < .001, χ²/df = 2.124, CFI = .972, RMSEA = .054, PCLOSE = .222.
17
However, the modification indices suggested a path from Teacher Emotional Support to
Competence that we did not anticipate. Adding this path improved the model fit significantly,
Δχ2(1) = 34.907, p < .001, ΔRMSEA = .002. Although this additional path was exploratory, it
had hardly any impact on the remaining coefficients in the model, and so none of our
conclusions were affected by it. The results of this model are in Figure 3, χ²(106) = 192.373,
p < .001, χ²/df = 1.815, CFI = .980 RMSEA = .046, PCLOSE = .710.
18
Figure 3. Results of the final model without controlling for prior achievement. Error terms and their covariances were omitted for simplicity.
The full model is in Appendix B.
Note. † p < 10, * p < .05, *** p < .001
19
The results confirmed most of our hypotheses. However, only Competence and
Identified Regulation were significant predictors of L2 Achievement. Neither WTC nor
Intrinsic Motivation could predict it. The exploratory path from Teacher Emotional Support
to Competence was negative. One explanation may be that the social dimensions of a
classroom that promote emotional well-being are incongruent with these L2 students
perceptions of competence stemming from social comparison and normative criteria (i.e., test
scores as a measure of L2 achievement), particularly if those individuals define competence
as the superiority of their ability in relation to their classmates (e.g., Pintrich, Conley, &
Kempler, 2003; Senko, Hulleman, & Harackiewicz, 2011). Still, this finding and its
interpretation remain tentative, and might be specific to this Asian context. Therefore, we are
cautious not to over-interpret it.
Competence also predicted WTC and L2 Achievement directly. This indicates that
Competence predicts these two variables over and above its shared variance with the other
two indicators of Basic Psychological Needs. This is not surprising considering the role that
perceived competence plays in human motivation and performance, which has been
established experimentally (e.g., Bandura, 1986, 1997). What might have also contributed to
this direct path is the fact that Competence had the lowest loading on Basic Psychological
Needs (see also Figure 4), suggesting that some of its variance is not captured by this latent
variable. This also explains the relatively low AVE value reported in Table 1.
We then tested the competing model, in which the effect of Basic Psychological
Needs and Self-Determined Motivation is mediated by perception of the Classroom Social
Climate (see Figure 2). The competing model (AIC = 473.256, BIC = 642.796) fit less well
than the primary model (AIC = 286.373, BIC = 471.685). This suggests that the first model
(Figure 3) better accounts for the empirical data.
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The best fitting model was then reanalyzed after controlling for Prior L2 Achievement
(Figure 4). This model had a good fit, χ²(117) = 217.105, p < .001, χ²/df = 1.856, CFI = .979,
RMSEA = .047, PCLOSE = .654. As for the first outcome, WTC, the results showed that
neither perceived Competence nor actual Prior L2 Achievement could predict it directly.
Instead, WTC was most strongly predicted by Basic Psychological Needs (one of which is
Competence). Additionally, WTC was predicted only weakly by Intrinsic Motivation and
Identified Regulation. As for the second outcome variable, L2 Achievement, adding Prior L2
Achievement to the model resulted in that no variable was now able to predict Final L2
Achievement except Competence, and only very weakly. Prior Achievement alone accounted
for about 65.6% of the variance (directly and indirectly; see Table 2), thus leaving just under
35% of the variance potentially explainable by the other variables. Competence explained
only 0.5% of this variance. A more detailed comparison of the coefficients before and after
controlling for Prior L2 Achievement is presented in Table 3.
Table 2
Standardized direct, indirect and total effects on the two primary outcome variables.
WTC
Final Achievement
Direct
Indirect
Total
Direct
Indirect
Total
Prior Achievement
.04
.16***
.21***
.78***
.03*
.81***
Classroom Social Climate
.26***
.26***
–.003
–.003
Teacher Emotional Support
–.02
–.02
.02*
.02*
Basic Psychological Needs
.39***
.13*
.51***
–.02
–.02
Competence
.09
.09
.07*
.00
.07*
Identified Regulation
.13*
.13*
.05
.00
.05
Intrinsic Motivation
.07
.07
–.05
.00
–.05
Willingness to Communicate
.003
.003
Note. Indirect effects were computed for each of 10,000 bootstrapped samples. Significance
was tested based on the 95% confidence interval.
* p < .05, *** p .001
21
Figure 4. Results of the final model after controlling for prior achievement. Error terms and their covariances were omitted for simplicity. The
full model is in Appendix B.
Note. * p < .05, *** p < .001
22
Table 3
Standardized and unstandardized coefficients, standard errors, and critical ratios for the two final models.
Path
β
B
SE
CR
Classroom
Social Climate
Basic Psychological Needs .55 (.54) 0.446 (0.434) .052 (.051) 8.619*** (8.441***)
Teacher
Emotional
Support
Competence –.33 (–.26) –0.383 (–0.296) .064 (.059) 5.961*** (5.034***)
Basic
Psychological
Needs
Intrinsic Motivation
.61 (.58)
0.949 (0.886)
.109 (.110)
8.708*** (8.060***)
Identified Regulation
.37 (.33)
0.352 (0.315)
.082 (.080)
4.305*** (3.953***)
WTC
.39 (.39)
0.555 (0.545)
.127 (.123)
4.360*** (4.449***)
Competence
WTC
.10 (.09)
0.094 (0.084)
.052 (.055)
1.814† (1.535)
Final L2 Achievement
.41 (.07)
0.412 (0.075)
.050 (.036)
8.186*** (2.103*)
Intrinsic
Motivation
WTC
.07 (.07)
0.068 (0.061)
.900 (.067)
0.368 (0.907*)
Final L2 Achievement
–.03 (–.05)
–0.028 (–0.053)
.062 (.040)
0.457 (1.332)
Identified
Regulation
WTC
.13 (.13)
0.197 (0.194)
.084 (.084)
2.342* (2.301*)
Final L2 Achievement
.12 (.05)
0.193 (0.074)
.094 (.060)
2.060* (1.239)
WTC
Final L2 Achievement
.03 (.00)
0.033 (0.003)
.058 (.038)
0.561 (0.082)
Prior L2
Achievement
Intrinsic Motivation
(.12)
(0.113)
(.050)
(2.249*)
WTC
(.04)
(0.040)
(.047)
(0.868)
Final L2 Achievement
(.78)
(0.763)
(.033)
(23.180***)
Identified Regulation
(.11)
(0.068)
(.034)
(1.989*)
Basic Psychological Needs
(.21)
(0.136)
(.037)
(3.712***)
Competence
(.34)
(0.326)
(.045)
(7.306***)
Note. Values outside brackets are for the model before controlling for Prior L2 Achievement (i.e., Figure 3) while values inside brackets are
for the model that controls for Prior L2 Achievement (Figure 4).
p < .10, * p < .05, *** p < .001
23
5. Discussion
5.1 Revisiting Our Hypotheses
From its beginnings, L2 WTC has been conceptualized as a complex systemof sorts
(MacIntyre, 1998, p. 547), and the overall purpose of this study was to examine
empirically the relationships between the contextual and psychological factors that might
influence L2 learnersWTC and achievement in a formal classroom setting. To this end,
we set out to integrate a number of frameworks (see Figure 1) in an attempt to account for
how contextual factors affect the quality of individualsmotivation and in turn positively
influence instructed L2 learnersWTC and achievement. Our overarching goal,
represented in the integrated model in Figure 3, has been to investigate the extent to which
the social context of the L2 classroom functions as a key factor in determining the quality
of student motivation, thus contributing to WTC and success in L2 learning more broadly.
Consistent with our first hypothesis, our main findings indicate that the classroom
social climate was a significant predictor of learnersbasic psychological needs. These
results illustrate how context is an empirically relevant frame of reference for the study of
individual factors in the field. Furthermore, they add support for the idea that students
perceptions that their teacher cares about their learning and is invested in their well-being
and success, on the one hand, and their feelings of support, caring, and encouragement
from peers, on the other, will promote the necessary need satisfaction (Patrick et al., 2011).
In fact, classroom situations in which individuals feel under-valued, overly constrained, or
threatened are likely to elicit defensive or aggressive student reactions. Dimensions of the
social climate of the classroom that build relatedness may include learnersfeelings of
affiliation, group cohesion, and fair and positive interactions. A predictable learning
environment featuring moderately challenging tasks, necessary instructional support, and
24
regular experiences of success are likely to promote a sense of competence. Furthermore,
transparency, and the potential for choice over learning tasks, teams, and techniques that
learners are involved in will engender autonomy. Our model also indicated that teacher
emotional support predicted competence negatively; however, this result remains tentative
as it is based on an exploratory path.
With regards to our second hypothesis, need satisfaction in the L2 classroom was
significantly related to self-determined forms of motivation, and in addition to this our
model confirmed that basic psychological needs contribute positively to learnersWTC. As
with the previous hypothesis, the strength of these effects remained virtually unchanged
before and after controlling for prior L2 achievement. The finding that satisfaction of basic
psychological needs has a powerful direct influence on WTC may be a result of
individuals’ greater engagement, well-being, and self-endorsement that are precursors to
agentically committing oneself to volitional action such as L2 communication. Need
frustration, conversely, has been found to have the opposite effect on WTC in instructed
L2 settings (Cao, 2011).
However, although we hypothesized that intrinsic motivation would better predict
learnersWTC, we found evidence for a stronger link from identified regulation instead.
These results, whose implications we discuss at length below, provide support for what
Noels (2009) refers to as the somewhat counterintuitive superiority of identified regulation
in certain contexts or with certain activities, and confirms a point made previously that due
to its close association with investment of effort and persistence, identified regulation may
better predict the successful regulation of behaviors that are highly valued socially but not
necessarily fun—including, for instance, classroom L2 learning. This illustrates that the
characteristics and salience of social contexts, including the need satisfaction they promote,
25
can either nurture or hinder studentsgrowth-oriented propensities and relate strongly to
their motivation and learning outcomes (Carreira, 2012).
Turning to our more detailed hypotheses, we did not find support for the hypothesis
that perceived competence would contribute positively to WTC. This result is inconsistent
with some previous WTC research (Peng & Woodrow, 2011), but suggests that it may not
be competence per se that facilitates WTC but satisfaction of basic psychological needs
more generally. In addition, there is evidence that learners often fail to interact in the L2
despite their ability to do so (MacIntyre & Doucette, 2010). It is also possible that
individualsappraisals of their WTC may not adequately reflect the situated and dynamic
nature of this volition to communicate. Because WTC is a volitional process that is
inherently social, there are real-time approach and avoidance tendencies that depend much
more on the social contexts and on psychological conditions of those settings (Yashima,
2012). For instance, the level of anxiety and perceived distance induced by the
interactional setting may result in lower volition to communicate on particular timescales.
Thus, in the social setting of the secondary-level language classroom a focus on normative
L2 assessment criteria may encourage detrimental comparisons of competence and a
common orientation of visibly outperforming others, instead of encouraging development
of skills and knowledge through collaborative interaction in the L2 (Pae & Shin, 2011).
Finally, our results did not support the claim that L2 learners with higher WTC
perform better in formal educational settings, even before controlling for prior
achievement level. Instead, our model indicated that WTC did not exert an influence on
final L2 achievement. This may be because having higher levels of WTC does not
automatically lead to actual opportunities to communicate in the L2—something which
would be required for any language development to occur through interaction. Therefore,
26
in addition to consideration of the “probability of initiating communication given choice
and opportunity(MacIntyre, 2007, p. 567) in classroom settings, WTC needs to be
accompanied by consideration of the amount and nature of actual opportunities to use the
language, particularly as these are the mechanisms thought to spur L2 development. In
combination, these results could be interpreted in light of broader moves in psychology
and the learning sciences to view thought processes and action as a convergence of both
the person and the environment. Our findings that WTC and L2 achievement are
determined both individually (i.e., through basic psychological needs and self-determined
motivation) as well as situationally (i.e., through the indirect influence of classroom social
climate) are consistent with the critical nature that situational aspects are now understood
to represent in WTC in L2 instructional settings, in some instances even directly predicting
this outcome. We turn now to a more thematic discussion of our results, highlighting what
we see as key implications for L2 practitioners and researchers.
5.2 Implications
The first implication is concerned with learnerslevels of autonomous regulation. The
results of our study provide some support for the superiority of identified regulation over
its intrinsic counterpart in this and similar L2 contexts. We see this as a key implication for
L2 classroom settings characterized by a high-degree of structure and competitive
assessments: more self-determination may not necessarily lead to more successful
outcomes because students in formal school settings (i.e., classrooms where L2 study is
compulsory) generally do not exhibit greater autonomous regulation, let alone specifically
intrinsic motivation. Brophy (2009) has proposed that “SDT would benefit from breaking
free of the lingering constraints of its original focus on intrinsic motivation(p. 151), and
27
this has importance for formal instructional settings. Primarily, the focus on intrinsic
regulation is better suited to play or recreational activities, rather than work or learning
activities, and in certain instances may not involve a competence dimension at all. In L2
learning contexts, adaptively varying the degree of internalization depending on the task
demands, or complementing high levels of identified regulation with intrinsic motivation
may be necessary in order to reap the full benefits of self-determined motivation.
Furthermore, while previous research has established that teachers’ interpersonal styles can
positively contribute to studentsexperience of self-determination (Jang et al., 2010), given
the constraints of most L2 instructional settings teachers are unlikely to be able to create
and maintain individualized enjoyable experiences for the majority of their learners as a
matter of routine. Thus, the primary issue facing teachers may be related more to helping
learners transition from the more controlled types of regulation to identified or integrated
(i.e., autonomous) regulation than about fostering intrinsic motivation per se (Wentzel &
Brophy, 2014). For these reasons, we would suggest that shifting attention from an
exclusive focus on intrinsic motivation to include other more productive forms of extrinsic
regulation is likely to increase the applicability and implications of these dimensions.
The second implication relates to the causality of contexts. It is clear that in
communicative situations that draw on one’s WTC, individuals both operate on, and are
operated on, by the world (Ushioda, 2009). And, because learning contexts afford
members critical opportunities for participation in valued social practices and outcomes
(i.e., WTC and L2 achievement), our investigation of the network of relationships of WTC
in instructed settings illustrates the interdependence between the classroom environment,
the individuals studied within that context, and the phenomena of interest (Yashima,
MacIntyre, & Ikeda, 2016). Indeed, as Nolen et al. (2015) propose, the analytic shift
28
toward learners-in-context results in the realization that learning processes (e.g., WTC) and
outcomes (L2 achievement) come about in a negotiated relationship with the social world.
We would suggest that this entails an ontological shift requiring a more sophisticated
conceptualization of context than one of a monolithic essentialized, external variable that
suggests a simple, linear relationship. Contexts, such as L2 classroom environments,
should be seen as “intrinsic, core, fundamental parts” of individual motivated thought,
action, and of important learning outcomes (Mercer, 2016, p. 25). We see parallels in our
current results and the assumptions of a situative perspective—namely that actions,
learning, and cognition are always situated. The main implication of this notion for WTC
is the focus on the co-constitutive nature of WTC and the classroom context: Learning
environments are shaped adaptively and relationally through the actions and responses of
individuals embedded in them, and these reciprocally provide the necessary conditions for
WTC to develop. The results of our integrative framework with its various links indicate
that the personal is in fact situational and provide substantiating evidence for this
reticulated view of the individual and the contextual.
From a research methodological perspective, perhaps the most intriguing aspect of
the present results is the effect of controlling prior achievement. Just as most language
motivation literature fails to test competing models that might account for the data at least
equally well—a form of confirmation bias—language motivation researchers also do not
routinely control for prior achievement when attempting to predict future achievement.
Worse, many studies have used retrospective reports of prior achievement as the criterion
measurea practice that leads to severe interpretational issues. Because retrospective
achievement precedes the motivation measure chronologically, it would be illogical to
assume that this motivational variable was helpful and contributed to achievement.
29
Without adequate controls, such as baseline achievement, researchers would be at risk of
obtaining spurious results. In our case, the initial model suggested that both perceived
competence and identified regulation predict final achievement. After controlling for prior
achievement, however, perceived competence dropped drastically (from β = .41 to β = .07),
while identified regulation dropped to non-significance (cf. Table 3).Therefore, because
researchers in our field routinely fail to control for prior achievement, we would not be
surprised if it turns out that many of the observed significant effects in the literature are
mere statistical artifacts.
One possibility for why hardly any motivational variable could predict
achievement is that motivational variables need more time to have an effect. However, in
our case there was a gap of about 10 months between the two assessments, with the
questionnaire administered in the middle of this period. One would think that this is a
sufficient duration for motivational variables to exert their impact, especially in formal
educational settings where some stakeholders may find this too long to wait for
interventions to have tangible effects. We propose calling the delay between the
implementation of an intervention and the emergence of its effects the incubation period
(following early psychotherapy tradition, e.g., Eysenck, 1968; Golin, 1961). We would
encourage future research to first of all control for prior achievement and test alternative
models, but also to more explicitly investigate this incubation period, as such temporal
awareness might shed some light on some conflicting results found in the literature (cf.
Dörnyei, 2003).
6. Conclusion
The purpose of this study has been to integrate the related theoretical frameworks
30
of the classroom social climate, SDT, and L2 WTC. This was achieved by examining
whether the classroom social climate would exert an effect on the satisfaction of learners
basic psychological needs, thereby positively influencing the development of the more
autonomous forms of motivation which, in turn, would predict higher levels of WTC and
achievement. Our findings generally supported these hypotheses. Two noteworthy findings
were, first, that only competence was a significant, though weak, predictor of L2
achievement, and, second, that neither WTC nor intrinsic motivation nor identified
regulation exerted any effect on L2 achievement.
Several limitations exist with regards to our research methodology. Our use of
structural equation modeling implies causal relationships among our constructs. Although
this is actually the position expressed in much of the existing literature reviewed above,
these reports do not typically substantiate their claims through experimental designs. Our
study intended to test whether hypothesized relationships between individual and
situational factors for motivation and L2 achievement are plausible given our empirical
data, and further experimental research is undoubtedly needed. Another potentially
valuable avenue for future research would be to investigate the reciprocal causality
between self-determined motivation, achievement, and WTC using longitudinal modeling
methods. Furthermore, we have said little about the temporal stability of patterns of
dynamic change that these individual and contextual factors might show at much smaller
scales of granularity. Despite these limitations, by consolidating theoretical and empirical
insights in a structural model of the relationships between key individual and situational
factors, this study is expected to contribute to current understanding and open potential
avenues for continued advances in this domain. We believe that it is only through this type
of integrative study of L2 learners in context that the field can move forward.
31
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Appendix A: Questionnaire Items
Teacher Emotional Support
Our English teacher respects our opinions.
Our English teacher really understands how we feel about things.
Our English teacher tries to help us when we are sad or upset.
We can count on our English teacher for help when we need it.
Teacher Academic Support
Our English teacher cares about how much we learn.
Our English teacher wants us to do our best in school.
Our English teacher likes to help us learn well.
Classroom Mutual Respect
My English teacher wants us to respect each other’s opinions.
My English teacher wants all students to feel respected.
* My English teacher does not allow students to make fun of other studentsideas in class.
* My English teacher makes sure that students do not say anything negative about each
other in class.
* My English teacher does not let us make fun of someone who gives the wrong answer.
Autonomy
I am willing to participate in English lessons.
I voluntarily speak during English lessons.
I voluntarily participate in English lessons in my own way.
41
Competence
I consider myself good at English.
I often consider myself bad at English. (reversed)
I fully understand what I have been taught in English lessons.
Relatedness
Everybody in the class enjoys English lessons.
I enjoy studying with teachers and classmates during English lessons.
* I learn cooperatively with classmates during English lessons.
Identified Regulation
I choose to be the kind of person who can speak more than one language.
I think learning English is good for my personal development.
* Speaking English is necessary for me to be who I want to be.
Intrinsic Motivation
I experience pleasure in knowing more about English speakers as a group.
I get a satisfied feeling from finding out new things.
I experience pleasure when I surpass my previous performance in my language studies.
I experience a highfeeling while speaking in the English language.
I get pleasure from hearing the English language spoken by native speakers.
* I experience enjoyment when I grasp a difficult concept in the second language.
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Willingness to Communicate with Strangers
I would like to present a talk in English to a group of strangers.
I would like to talk in English in a small group of strangers.
I would like to talk in English with a stranger while standing in line.
I would like to talk in English in a large meeting of strangers.
Willingness to Communicate with Acquaintances
I would like to talk in English with an acquaintance while standing in line.
I would like to talk in English in a large meeting of acquaintances.
I would like to talk in English in a small group of acquaintances.
I would like to present a talk in English to a group of acquaintances.
Willingness to Communicate with Friends
I would like to talk in English in a large meeting of friends.
I would like to talk in English with a friend while standing in line.
I would like to present a talk in English to a group of friends.
I would like to talk in English to a small group of friends.
Note. All items were administered in Korean.
* Items with an asterisk were excluded following Mokken analysis because they did not
load on their respective constructs.
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Appendix B: The Full Models
Figure B1: The full model without controlling for Prior L2 Achievement. p < .10, * p < .05, *** p < .001
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Figure B2: The full model after controlling for Prior L2 Achievement. * p < .05, *** p < .001
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