Do task instructions influence readers' topic beliefs, topic belief justifications, and task interest? A mixed methods study
The purpose of this mixed methods study was to investigate whether task instructions influence readers’ topic beliefs, topic belief justifications, and task interest. Year 10 high school students completed a topic beliefs scale about a controversial topic (i.e., whether a prominent transportation tunnel should be widened) and provided a written justification of their beliefs. Then they were randomly assigned to one of four pre-reading task instruction conditions before reading a text that presented arguments that supported and opposed the widening of the tunnel. The first condition received rationale instructions, which provided an explanation as to why putting forth effort during the reading activity was useful and worthwhile. The second condition received evidence instructions, which directed readers to focus on the evidence supporting each argument in the text. The third condition received both evidence and rationale instructions. The fourth condition, the control condition, was asked to read for a general purpose. After reading, participants again completed the topic beliefs scale and topic belief justification. Experimental results showed that task instructions affected topic beliefs and topic belief justifications, but did not affect task interest. More specifically, participants who received evidence instructions moderated their beliefs after reading, and participants in the evidence condition and rationale condition included more opposing arguments in their topic belief justifications after reading. The interview data indicated that task instructions influenced readers’ goals and the strategies they used to meet those goals. The data sets were complementary: the quantitative data indicated differences in topic beliefs and topic belief justifications and the qualitative data allowed us to interpret why these differences occurred. Some students displayed belief-reflection, whereas others displayed belief-protection. Results are discussed and implications are provided.