Enhancing Studentsí Motivation
By Annick M. Brennen

The ultimate goal of schools is to transform its students by providing knowledge and skills and by building character and instilling virtue (Sergiovanni, 1991). Students with various intellectual abilities, from multicultural and diverse socio-economic backgrounds are the object of this educational process. How can schools ensure that all students, regardless of their social, economic, and intellectual statuses, learn and become useful and productive members of society? Are all students motivated to pursue and achieve academic goals on their own? How can schools enhance studentsí motivation to learn?

Thus, the purpose of this study is (1) to review the major motivational theories and experimental findings on motivation between 1989 and 1998, (2) critique these theories and experimental findings; and (3) state implications for teaching a chosen subject to college, high school, or elementary school students. The writer of this paper, being a vocational and technical instructor, will state implications for teaching a subject in a post-secondary vocational and technical institution.

Review of the Major Theories
Motivation has been defined as the level of effort an individual is willing to expend toward the achievement of a certain goal. Biehler and Snowman (1993) state that motivation is typically defined as the forces that account for the arousal, selection, direction, and continuation of behavior. Both definitions imply that motivation comes from within a person; therefore, schoolsí responsibility is to create the conditions that will enhance studentsí motivation to pursue academic goals actively over a long period of time.

Theorists have developed several approaches to motivation which fall in four broad categories. Adopting these approaches can assist teachers in their endeavor to provide the right conditions for student learning: (1) the behavioral view, (2) the cognitive view, (3) the humanistic view, and (4) the achievement motivation theory.

The Behavioral View
The behavioral interpretations of motivation rests on B. F. Skinnerís behavioral learning theories and focuses on the reinforcement of desired behavior through the use of extrinsic reward. Biehler and Snowman (1993) state that behavioral interpretations of learning help to explain why some pupils react favorably to particular subjects and dislike others. Social theorists, such as Albert Bandura, emphasize the impact of studentsí identification and imitation of someone, pointing out their resulting positive academic outcomes.

Psychologists have noted that excessive use of extrinsic forms of motivation such as praise and rewards may lead to resentment, limitation of transfer, may cause dependency on teachers, the undermining of intrinsic motivation, and viewing learning as a means to an end. They suggest that to limit the negative effects of extrinsic rewards, teachers should use extrinsic forms of reward only when correct or desired responses occur.

The Cognitive View
The cognitive view of motivation emphasizes the arousal of cognitive disequilibrium as a means to motivate students to learn something new. For example, if students face a problem, they will desire to solve it. This is consistent with Piagetís concepts of organization, adaptation, and schemes. According to Piaget, when people experience a discrepancy between something new and what they already know or believe, it produces a state of disequilibrium they are driven to eliminate in order to achieve equilibration. To achieve this state of disequilibrium, Jerome Bruner recommends posing questions that will cause students to recognize gaps in their thinking, which they will want to fill.

Cognitive theory emphasizes intrinsic motivation. When teachers utilize intrinsic motivation techniques, such as the arousal of disequilibrium, students value learning for its own sake.

The major limitation of the cognitive view of motivation is that it is very difficult to "induce students to experience a cognitive disequilibrium sufficient to stimulate them to seek answers" (Biehler and Snowman, 1991).

The Humanistic View
Abraham Maslow, the most cited humanistic psychologist, advanced in his book, Motivation and Personality, that people are motivated by their individual needs to address certain natural concerns. These concerns, in turn, can be ranked hierarchically in terms of importance. He thus proposed a five-level hierarchy of needs:
  1. physiological needs,

  2. safety needs,

  3. belongingness needs,

  4. esteem needs, and

  5. self-actualization needs.

Physiological needs are the most basic human needs such as hunger, thirst, and shelter. Safety needs refer to the desire to find a safe and secure physical environment. Belongingness needs allude to an individualís desire to be accepted by his peers, while esteem needs refer to the desire to have a positive self-image and to receive recognition from others. Self-actualization needs are at the top of the pyramid and represent the concern for the development of full individual potential. The main premise of this theory is that people will not seek to satisfy higher needs, such as self-actualization needs, unless the lower needs, called deficiency needs by Biehler and Snowman, are met. In the educational setting, students will be led to seek satisfaction and self-actualization if their basic needs for safety, relaxation, belongingness, a clean and orderly environment are addressed and met. Teachers, therefore, are in a key position to satisfy these basic needs.

Biehler and Snowman (1993) pointed out that Maslow described cognitive needs and aesthetic needs which play a critical role in the satisfaction of basic needs. They said that Maslow maintained that such conditions as the freedom to investigate and learn, fairness, honesty, and orderliness in interpersonal relationships are critical because their absence makes satisfaction of the five basic needs impossible (p. 517).

The limitation of Maslowís theory is that teachers may not know which of a studentís needs is not satisfied; or even if they know, they might not be able to fill that need. However, teachers can always enhance studentsí self-esteem by creating classroom conditions that will increase studentsí achievement.

Achievement Motivation Theory
The Achievement Motivation Theory rests on the belief that most persons want to achieve and experience levels of aspiration. The level of aspiration concept, stresses that people tend to want to succeed at the highest possible level while at the same time avoiding the possibility of failure (p. 534). The need for achievement is increased when persons experience success. If students experience success their need for achievement will thus be strengthened. However, psychologists have observed that some females in some situations may fear success if it interferes with relationships. Contributors to Achievement Motivation Theory are John W. Atkinson and David McClelland.

Psychologists have developed the Attribution Theory to explain the factors to which students attribute failure. Low achievers tend to attribute failure to a lack of ability, and success to luck. High achievers, on the other hand, tend to attribute failure to a lack of effort, and success to effort and ability. Bernard Weiner has been cited in the Journal of Educational Psychology (1990) as one of the major contributors of cognitions which include causal attribution, self-efficacy, and learned helplessness.

Biehler and Snowman (1993) mentioned two limitations of the Achievement and Attribution theories: (1) aspirations, need for achievement, fear of success, and reactions to success and failure are often difficult to observe or analyse; (2) and lack of consistency in these behaviors (p. 522).

Review and Critique of Experimental Findings
A review of the available experimental findings between 1990 and 1998 revealed that research conducted focused mainly on aspects of Achievement and Attribution Theories.

Researchers such as Sandra Graham and P. Barker (1990), Dale H. Schunk (1990) conducted studies on aspects of attribution theory and motivation and efficacy. Patricia Pokay and Phyllis C. Blumenfield (1990); Thomas J. Berndt, Ann E. Laychak, and Keunho Park (1990); Kathryn R. Wentzel (1997); Allison M. Ryan and Paul R. Pintrich (1997); and Eric M. Anderman, Tripp Griesinger, and Gloria Westerfield (1998) conducted studies on aspects of Achievement Theory. The writer has identified several theoretical constructs from these experimental findings.

Attribution Theory
Four theoretical constructs were identified from experimental findings on aspects of Attribution Theory:

1. Teachers should refrain from providing unsolicited help during performance of easy tasks because low achievers perceive this behavior as a cue to their low ability. This in turn lessens their effort in performing a task.

2. Studentsí initial sense of efficacy (individualsí beliefs in their capabilities to exert control over aspect of their lives) for performing well can motivate them to act in ways that enhance performance.

3. Students involved in self-regulated learning (studentsí metacognitive strategies for planning, monitoring, and modifying their cognition; studentís management and control of their effort on classroom academic tasks) is closely tied to studentsí efficacy beliefs about their capability to perform classroom tasks and their beliefs that these classrooms tasks are interesting and worth learning.

4. Studentsí prior academic self-concept influence to a great extent their subsequent academic achievement.

Achievement Theory
The following theoretical constructs were abstracted from experimental findings on aspects of Achievement Theory:

1. Students are motivated to learn and achieve when they perceive that their teachers care about them. Teachers who care were described as demonstrating democratic interaction styles, developing expectations for student behavior in light of individual differences, modeling a "caring" attitude toward their own work, and providing constructive feedback.

2. Students do not seek help (a) if they perceive that their self-worth is threatened, (b) if their cognitive competence is low, (c) and if they perceive little benefit in seeking help.

3. Students who are highly motivated and make use of learning strategies are most likely to achieve. Different strategies may be more or less important depending on how new the material is to the student. If this is the case, teachers should emphasize domain-specific strategies when introducing a new unit to emphasize strategies that are less domain-specific later in the year, when the information is no longer new.

4. Students are most likely to cheat (a) if their schools focus on performance and ability as opposed to mastery, (b) if cheating is congruent with their personal beliefs, (c) if their teachers emphasize extrinsic factors, (d) and if there is anxiety and worry associated with schooling.

The critique given here is in relation to what the writer has observed in her classroom. In her school where emphasis is on performance, students cheat routinely. This behavior may also be related to their serious deficiencies in literacy and numeracy skills. Most students who come to the school have seldom experienced success. This lack of prior success affects their subsequent academic achievement, and it gives them a sense of helplessness which is difficult to overcome. In other words, studentsí self-efficacy is almost non-existent. Very few students engage in self-regulated learning because they have not been exposed to learning strategies and techniques.

The writer has observed that students in her class with higher ability than others resented being helped when performing a task. This contradicts the result of the experimental study that suggested that students with low ability resented being helped.

In general these experimental findings are helpful and can be used in a multi-ability classroom, and they will help the writer improve her teaching techniques.

 

Implications for Teaching
Before considering implications for teaching a subject, it is necessary to identify the students who will be taught, and the educational setting in which they will be taught. The students involved in this study are adolescent and post-adolescent females, mostly high school drop outs from low socio-economic backgrounds. Many of them come from single-parent families, and a number of them are unwed mothers.

The school is a post-secondary vocational and technical institution which offers a competency-based curriculum. The emphasis, therefore, is on the acquisition of job-related skills and on mastery. In this study, students from the Office Technology program will be taught Clerical Procedures. In this context, the term "training" will be substituted for the term "learning."

Students taking the Clerical Procedures course need to:

  1. Understand and value the training goals.

  2. Understand the training process.

  3. Be actively involved in the training process and the acquisition of marketable skills.

  4. Take responsibility for their own training.

  5. Experience success.

  6. Receive realistic and immediate feedback that enhances self-efficacy and mastery.

  7. Receive appropriate rewards for performance and mastery gains.

  8. Experience a safe and well-organized environment that patterns the work environment.

  9. Have adequate time to practice and master skills.

  10. Receive instruction matched to their learning style.

  11. Be involved in self-evaluating oneís training and effort.

In an effort to meet these needs, the writer is proposing the following strategies. The most important undertaking will be to arouse studentsí interest in the training process. The teacher will do this by questioning students about their personal vocational goals, and using examples of coping models will relate the economic, social, and personal benefits to be derived from having marketable job-related skills.

Since peer relationships are an important source of support, companionship, and social development for this age group, the teacher will implement cooperative learning as an effective method for meeting studentsí varied learning styles and for involving them actively in the training process. Cooperative learning lends itself naturally to a Clerical Procedures course in which students transfer their knowledge through the use of case studies, simulations, and hands-on experiences. However, the teacher will introduce the concept of individual accountability to ensure that all students do their share of work in a group. She will use also the peer tutoring and mastery approach to learning, and will provide adequate supervision.

These students are no longer children, therefore, the teacher will adapt her approach to match their level of development. She will do so by increasing their locust of control in various ways:

  1. allowing them to take responsibility for their own training by following as much as possible their own interests and setting goals,

  2. providing opportunities to make choices,

  3. engaging them in the process of self-evaluation, while maintaining a certain amount of control and setting some limits because of their dysfunctional background.

Since students have seldom experienced prior success, the teacher will establish essential preconditions by (1) providing a very supportive environment, (2) diagnosing what students already know before giving a task or teaching a new skill, (3) choosing realistic and meaningful training objectives and stipulating performance criteria, (4) assigning sufficient time to practice a skill, (5) stressing overlearning, (5) breaking down tasks into manageable units, (6) assigning tasks with appropriate level of challenge difficulty, (7) giving frequent expert feedback to encourage mastery.

To develop studentsí self-efficacy and reduce helplessness, the teacher will enhance studentsí motivation by creating and maintaining success expectations. She will ask students to write a contract which will include (1) what job-related skills the students plan to learn, (2) what activities they will engage in to develop these skills, (3) the degree of proficiency they will reach, and (4) how they will demonstrate that mastery has occurred. Most importantly, she will teach learning and training strategies and techniques that will enhance their performance.

Most students possess eighth-graders language skills, therefore, the teacher will implement an individualized program to improve their language skills. She will utilize computer-assisted instruction software to help such students, since evidence exists that low achievers tend to benefit from such an approach. Also, she will utilize the integration approach by embedding and reinforcing language and basic maths skills in the Clerical Procedures course.

The writer hopes that these few strategies will meet studentsí needs and will create the conditions to enhance their motivation to achieve.

 

References

Anderman, Eric M., Griesinger, Tripp, and Westerfield, Gloria. (1998). Motivation and cheating during early adolescence. Journal of Educational Psychology, vol. 90, 84-91.
 
Biehler, Robert F., Snowman, Jack. (1993). Psychology applied to teaching (7th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
 
Graham, Sandra, Barker, George P. The down side of help: An attributional-Developmental analysis of helping behavior as a low-ability cue. Journal of Educational Psychology, vol. 82, 7-14.
 
Pokay, Patricia, Blumenfeld, Phyllis C. (1990). Predicting achievement early and late in the semester: The role of motivation and use of learning strategies. Journal of Educational Psychology, vol. 82, 41-49.
 
Ryan, Allison M., Pintrich, Paul R. (1997). Should I ask for help? The role of motivation and attitudes in adolescentsí help seeking in math class. Journal of Education Psychology, vol. 89, 329-339.
 
Sergiovanni, Thomas J. (1991). The principalship a reflective Practice perspective (2nd ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
 
Shunk, Dale H. (1990). Introduction to the special section on motivation and efficacy. Journal of Educational Psychology, vol. 82, 3-6.
 
Weiner, Bernard. (1990). History of motivation research. Journal of Educational Psychology, vol. 82, 616-622.

Wentzel, Kathryn R. (1997). Student motivation in middle school: The role of perceived pedagogical caring. Journal of Educational Psychology, vol. 89, 411-419.