What was the purpose of this task? : An investigative study of students' perceptions of explicit task objectives
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AbstractTaking its starting point in the often debated subject of Swedish compulsory school students’ performance scores in surveys such as PISA and a lack of motivation towards schoolwork that transfers to low performance and does not facilitate a good learning climate, this study aims to investigate how teaching practice can affect this. The study is partly connected to formative assessment in that it focuses on one of the key strategies of the process; making the objectives and goals of schoolwork transparent to students and sharing these with them. Grounded in research both on formative assessment but also on motivation in connection to foreign language learning, it is hypothesised that sharing the objectives of a task with students will improve not only their performance on it, but also their motivation level and their perceptions of the task being of value to them and of benefit for their learning.The study employed a quasi-experimental approach where a group of 50 students were given five pairs of tasks out of which five were given without any explanation of the objectives (the A version) and five were given with an explanation of the objectives (the B version). Accompanying each task was a questionnaire and the answers to the questionnaires together with performance scores on the tasks served as the raw data for analysis. The study can be said to have strong ecological validity since it investigates teaching practice that commonly occurs in classrooms as teachers on an everyday basis choose to either share the objectives of schoolwork with their students, or do not.The analysis of the data gathered showed that there was no general improvement in performance scores on the B-version tasks where students were given an explanation of the objectives beforehand. Neither were they more motivated, nor felt that the tasks were more valuable or perceived they had learnt more. The findings thus pointed to the opposite of the hypothesised outcome. However, there proved to be a correlation between performance scores and motivation which in turn could encourage further research on the motivation of students in foreign language learning. A discussion of the manner in which the objectives and goals of tasks are communicated to students further opened up for a possible research angle to pursue where the focus would be not only on sharing the objectives with students but on discussing these and making them meaningful to students on a personal level.