First Advisor

Ellen Skinner

Date of Publication

Fall 1-25-2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Psychology






Learner autonomy, Teacher-student relationships, Motivation in education, Determination (Personality trait)



Physical Description

1 online resource (xi, 194 pages)


Building upon self-determination theory, this study sought to ascertain the reach of teacher autonomy support beyond its well-documented impact on student autonomy and engagement to include student competence and relatedness, as well as to parse apart specific teacher behaviors that comprise autonomy support (i.e., respect, choice, relevance, coercion) and their unique influences on the multiple motivational outcomes, surrounding the transition to middle school. These questions were examined using information from 224 fifth graders, 339 sixth graders, and 345 seventh graders attending elementary and middle schools in a predominantly Caucasian working and middle class school district.

Regression analyses, predicting change in student motivation over time, revealed that students' experiences of their teachers' autonomy support in the fall predicted changes in student competence, relatedness, and engagement from fall to spring. Although teacher autonomy support was positively connected to student autonomy in correlational analyses, it did not predict changes in student autonomy from fall to spring. Unique effect analyses regressing each of these motivational outcomes on all four components of teacher autonomy-support revealed that respect, relevance, and coercion were unique predictors of each outcome concurrently, but that choice only made a unique contribution to autonomy and relatedness.

Developmental patterns extracted from multiple regression analyses in all three grade samples indicate that respect is most predictive of fifth grade student motivation, respect and coercion are most salient for sixth grade motivation, and respect, coercion and relevance together are most central to seventh grade students. MANOVA analyses of mean levels showed the expected patterns of differences, namely: compared to fifth graders, sixth graders reported lower levels of teacher autonomy support (and every component) and seventh graders showed even lower levels still. Further, students reported lower levels of all four motivational outcomes with the same pattern as autonomy support differences. MANCOVA analyses examined whether grade differences in teacher autonomy support could account for this pattern of grade differences in motivational outcomes. When analyses controlled for levels of teacher autonomy support, mean levels of relatedness were no longer significantly different across grades. Although still significant, MANCOVA analyses for autonomy, competence, and engagement showed much smaller F-values when teacher autonomy-support was entered into the model.

Together, these findings illustrate that teacher autonomy support does predict student competence and relatedness, in addition to autonomy and engagement. Additionally, it highlights the importance of several components of teacher autonomy support, especially for middle school students. Finally, it points to the need for further investigation on how teacher autonomy support, as an organizational construct and as separated by its components, impacts key motivational outcomes for students in different grades surrounding the middle school transition. Implications for researchers and educational practitioners are discussed.


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