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Understanding Preservice Teachers' Intentions to Enact Autonomy Support: Drawing from Self-Determination Theory and Mindset Theory

posted on 16.12.2020, 15:17 by Dongyao Tan
Self-Determination Theory (Ryan & Deci, 1985, 2018) suggests that teachers’ autonomy support and control practices (i.e., motivate students through internal motivational resources or through external pressure and control) directly impact student motivation, achievement, and well-being (Ryan & Deci, 2018). To prepare future teachers who engage in autonomy support practices, the dissertation aimed to examine preservice teachers’ intentions to enact autonomy and control, and the individual beliefs and motivations predicting such intentions, through a combined perspective of Self-Determination Theory and Self-Theories of intelligence or the mindset theory (Dweck, 1986, 2000). Growth and fixed mindset, the incremental and fixed beliefs about individual attributes (e.g., intelligence, talent; Dweck, 2000), was proposed as an additional individual factor contributing to autonomy and control practices beyond other factors specified in Self-Determination Theory.
Participants were preservice teachers enrolled in the teacher education programs from three Midwestern universities. Through a quantitative survey study (N = 237), Study 1 examined the interrelationships among growth mindset, autonomous motivational orientation, intrinsic motivation for teaching, beliefs about autonomy, and intentions to enact autonomy in daily teaching. Structural equation models revealed that growth mindset and autonomous orientation were positively correlated. Both growth mindset and autonomous orientation significantly predicted intrinsic motivation for teaching and beliefs about autonomy support, and indirectly predicted intentions to enact autonomy support through beliefs about autonomy support. Intrinsic motivation for teaching also significantly predicted intentions to enact autonomy support through beliefs about autonomy support. The findings supported the unique role of growth mindset beyond other predictors of autonomy support.
Study 2 adopted a qualitative approach, and examined in-depth the dynamics between preservice teachers’ mindset and intentions to enact autonomy and control and by extension the highly related intentions to enact structure and involvement (i.e., the practices to promote student competence and to support their relational needs; Ryan & Deci, 2018). Although structure and involvement are constructors under the broader umbrella of autonomy, in this work, structure and involvement were conceptualized separately from autonomy to highlight practices that specifically support basic psychological needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy respectively. Participants were assigned to a growth-mindset group (strong growth mindset), a mixed-mindset group (relatively mixed mindset), and a fixed-mindset group (relatively fixed mindset). Interviews (N = 17) highlighted the practices preservice teachers used and would continue to use with specific examples from practicum experience and upon reflections of given scenarios, focusing on difficult situations when students have motivation-behavior and/or ability issues. The difficult situations reflect “pressure from below” that is predominant in daily teaching and easily pull out teachers’ control practices (Reeve, 2009). Field journals (N = 103) collected from a foundational educational psychology class reported preservice teachers’ observations and evaluations of teacher autonomy/control practices in practicum, and if same practices would be implemented in future teaching and modifications. Results revealed that the interview fixed-mindset group had strongest intentions to enact control under “pressure from below,” and in particular when facing students with combined motivation, behavior, ability problems that would create highest pressure. All groups demonstrated relatively high intentions for structure and involvement. Although the groups demonstrated low to moderate intentions for autonomy specifically, overall, autonomy supportive practices were well endorsed by participants in all three mindset groups, as structure and involvement are practices which fit under the broader umbrella of autonomy. Larger percentages of participants in the field journal growth- and mixed-mindset groups reported intentions for autonomy and not using control than the fixed-mindset group; similar percentages of participants in all groups reported intentions for control.
The dissertation responds to teacher education researchers’ proposition that examining preservice teachers’ beliefs and motivations should be a central concern of teacher education (Levin, 2015). It also responds to the recent call in educational psychology for multifaceted models of motivation from complementary perspectives (Linnenbrink-Garcia & Patall, 2016). The combined perspective provides new insights into understanding teacher autonomy support and control. Meanwhile, the studies have practical implications for training preservice teachers to provide autonomy support for their future students, and to cope with the pressure and difficulties they will often encounter in real world classrooms and refrain from control practices.


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Studies

Campus location

West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Chantal Levesque-Bristol

Additional Committee Member 2

Toni Kempler Rogat

Additional Committee Member 3

Wayne Wright

Additional Committee Member 4

Mike Yough