In the last three decades, the role played by personal goals in the school context has been largely addressed, with an increasing body of knowledge revealing the complex intertwining between factors such as motivational, cognitive and affective dimensions in explaining learning. However, researchers have focused mainly on achievement goals rather than on social goals, and structured methods have been privileged. Therefore, this study aimed to examine differences in personal goals spontaneously reported by students, taking into account the role of factors such as level of generality (school in general, specific subject-matter), subject-matter (Italian, Mathematics) and class level (fourth, seventh, eleventh grade). The participants were 149 Italian students who underwent a semi-structured interview about goals related to school or to a specific subject-matter. Main results indicate that students referred mostly to mastery-approach goals, social approval from family, and social status. As regards level of generality, references to performance-approach goals and social status were more frequent for school than for a specific subject-matter. In addition, references to social affiliation were more frequent as regards Italian than Mathematics. Finally, some differences due to age emerged, mainly indicating higher frequency of goals (such as mastery-approach, social approval, and social status goals) for older students. To sum up, the present study contributes to the motivation field by focusing on students’ spontaneous representation of goals relevant to learning contexts, using qualitative instruments, i.e. interviews, as highly ecological tasks similar to those performed daily by students, thus reducing the risk of influencing spontaneity.
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