Why are some children eager to learn and master new intellectual challenges while others devalue and disengage from academic activities? Why do some children become energized by intellectual challenges while others shrug their shoulders in the face of academic failure? Models of achievement motivation most often attribute these distinct motivational orientations to cognitive processes believed to regulate behavior. These cognitive processes have been studied extensively with regard to attributions for success and failure (Weiner, 1985), mastery and performance goal orientations (Nicholls, 1984), beliefs about the nature of intelligence (Dweck & Leggett, 1988), and beliefs about values and ability (e.g., Bandura, 1986; Eccles, Adler, Futterman, Goff, Kaczala, Meece, & Midgley, 1983). How and why these belief systems develop have not been studied as frequently, although classroom interventions that provide mastery-oriented reward structures and activities that are meaningful and interesting to students appear to alleviate some motivational deficits.
In general, the work that has grown out of these models assumes that intellectual competence is the primary goal that children try to achieve at school, and that children's reasons for why they try to achieve academically are the key predictors of their learning-related behavior. There is a growing body of evidence, however, that a consideration of the social worlds of children should not be excluded from models of classroom motivation if we are to understand children's successes and failures at school. In fact, throughout the history of American education, social competencies have been among the most critical objectives that children are expected to achieve at school (see Wentzel, 1991b).