Motivation

Educational psychologists have long ago discovered that, among the many factors that impact learning is motivation. It is an important element of any classroom since its close learning outcomes and teaching effectiveness has been determined. Be that as it may, an understanding of the scope of motivation is necessary for any teacher to function effectively in a classroom. Knowledge of the theories of motivation and their implications for teaching and learning as well as ways in which specific practices can be adopted in practical ways in the classroom to ensure student achievement, cannot, therefore, be underestimated.

A number of definitions for motivation have been posited by several educational psychologists. Those worth mentioning are Eggen & Kauchak’s (1997) idea that “motivation is a force that energizes, sustains, and directs behaviour toward a goal. ”(p. 387). Motivation is also seen as “… the collection of causes that engage someone in an activity. ” (Wakefield, 1996, p. 494) and Glynn et al’s view (2005) that motivation is an “internal state that arouses, directs, and sustains human behaviour. ” (p. 150) is also useful. Slavin (2000) puts it simply as “motivation is what gets you going, keeps you going, and determines where you’re trying to go. (p. 327).

The fact that these writers have all presented varying definitions of motivation testifies to its multifaceted and limitless nature. They all highlight probably the most critical characteristic of motivation, that it is dependent upon the varying and/or combined influence of a number of factors. Even though Glynn (2005) classifies motivation as “an internal state”, it is not to be assumed that the learner’s psychological mindset is not affected by external forces and stimuli. In fact motivation is usually seen as being of either an intrinsic or an extrinsic nature.

Glynn (2005) explains intrinsic motivation as the impetus to perform a task just for the sake of completing the task. Extrinsic motivation he views as the impetus to perform a task as a means of achieving some other objective (p. 156). It should not be supposed that a learner’s behaviour can always fit easily into one of these categories. It is not uncommon either for a child to be motivated by a combination of both intrinsic and extrinsic factors. It must be noted, however, that no two learners are stimulated to perform a task for the same reasons.

As fingerprints differ, so does motivational impetus vary from one learner to the next. What is certain therefore is that some things influence one child over another to perform a particular task. Additionally, while both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation may work well in different classrooms it must be pointed out that intrinsic motivators have been proven to be more sustainable and enduring (Eggen & Kauchak 1997, p. 342). The merits of intrinsic over extrinsic motivators may be because the external motivators seem not to be very effective beyond years seven or eight.

At this stage learners are less stimulated by the usual rewards and may begin to view such rewards as bribes. In an attempt to classify motivation, a number of theories have been developed to enhance understanding of this element of teaching/learning. Theories from the behaviourist, cognitivist and humanist schools have been applied to studies on motivation. Behaviourists argue that reinforced behaviours are more likely to be maintained and repeated. These theorists tend to emphasize external rewards for learners who display required behaviour.

This practice of using reinforcers to reward behaviour still pervades a number of classrooms especially at the kindergarten and primary levels of the system. Stars, smiley-faces, teacher commendation, high grades among others, have proven useful in motivating students to perform well at given tasks. This behaviourist approach to learner motivation does, however, have its flaws. Because this type of motivation is almost necessarily extrinsic, then the popular criticism of extrinsic motivators being unsustainable can also be leveled against this theory of motivation.

Overtime reinforcers may lose their value to students. Additionally, research has proven that providing reinforcers could potentially decrease rather than increase learners’ motivation. Eggen & Kauchak (1997) cite one study done among fourth and fifth graders rewarded for performing a math task that was already interesting. The result was that these students “chose the task less often in free time than students who weren’t rewarded and the students who were rewarded for correct solutions to problems chose less difficult problems than those who were offered no reward. (p. 344). The other theory of motivation is the cognitivist view that learners are motivated by their needs. According to Abraham Maslow, human needs are hierarchically structured and prioritized. He sees deficiency needs as most essential before any other need could be fulfilled. This affects learning in that satisfactory fulfillment of the basic physiological, safety, belongingness and esteem needs are precursors to the need to know and understand.

The relevance of this theory to the classroom is in how well the teacher can create an environment that is positive and safe and in which the learner feels a sense of belonging rather than exclusion or fear. In a study conducted among a sample of undergraduate students it was revealed that the use of “fear risks a boomerang effect by fostering negative student attitudes …and that students respond most favorably to an instructor who is encouraging and willing to help”(Sprinkle et al. 2006, p. 399). The cognitivists also argue that a learner’s perception of his abilities is an excellent motivating factor.

This concept of self-efficacy as put forward by Albert Bandura presents the view that a learner who takes responsibility for his achievement and sets goals for himself, is more motivated than a learner who attributes his success or failure to other factors besides himself. Basically, as Seifert (2004) argues, “students who see themselves as capable are more likely to display adaptive, mastery behaviours, while those who are less efficacious are likely to behave in an ego, performance-oriented manner” (p. 38). Such a self-efficacious learner is intrinsically motivated and is the more likely to perform the required task and aim to do so in an acceptable manner. The humanists hold the view that motivation is “people’s attempts to fulfill their total potential as human beings” (Eggen & Kauchak, 1997, p. 348). The humanist perspective on motivation is basically a sum total of the views held by the behaviourists and the cognitivists with a few additions.

Essentially they see elements impacting motivation as multifaceted, focusing on the “total person – physical, intellectual, emotional, and interpersonal – and how these factors interact to affect…motivation” (Ibid). In this theory motivation is dependent upon the learner’s picture of his overall circumstance, his personal value, the value he places on his education and how he sees each task as contributing to his eventual growth. Tasks that bear no relation to real-world situations may not hold the interests of students. Motivation to perform such tasks would therefore be very low.

Once an understanding of motivation has been attained it is necessary also to understanding the extent to which it bears relevance to the teaching learning environment. When Glynn (2005) says that “motivation … plays a fundamental role in learning. ” (p. 150), he is not mistaken. Obviously the degree to which a child is motivated will determine the degree to which he is willing to perform a task satisfactorily if any at all. Eggen & Kauchak (1997) quote research findings that reveal that concerns about motivation are the second greatest concern for teachers.

This research, involving an examination of over 83 studies among beginning teachers across nine countries, was unequivocal in its discoveries. The only concern that consistently outplayed motivation was classroom management. They go on to mention that while classroom management problems are rectified relatively quickly, the issue of motivating students still poses serious challenges for those teachers overtime (p. 341). On the relationship between motivation and learning Wakefield notes: Motivation… accounts for engagement in learning activities … [&] enables learning…. Its principal visible effect is to permit learning to progress at a slower or faster rate, for a longer or shorter period…. ” (Wakefield, 1996, p. 494) Two things mentioned here are worthy of discussion. The first is that motivation influences a learners’ involvement in learning activities. A motivated child readily participates in learning tasks. Whatever the factors that motivate his actions, such a child would engage in performing tasks, whether it is just for the sake of completing the task or with the view of obtaining some form of reinforcement or reward.

Hargrove (2005) presents the case of two gifted, but underachieving, Hispanic boys who were not motivated to participate in class because they lacked interest. By changing his strategy the teacher, Ben, was able to interest the boys and this eventually led to their increased involvement. (p. 38-39). Paas et al (2005) also supports this idea that motivation determines learning success and he goes further to postulate that this may contribute to drop-outs. (p. 25). Second, motivation impacts the pace at which learning and instruction takes place. This impact can easily be inferred.

Often when a learner is not motivated to perform a task he either ignores the task completely, races thoughtlessly to complete it or progresses very slowly. This has implications for the teacher whose goal is for the students to progress cognitively. Much time is spent reinforcing material learners are not motivated to learn, making this process at times counterproductive. Of course the teacher must now be concerned to discover what he could do in the classroom to motivate his students. First it is the duty of the teacher to understand and apply the relevant aspects of the theories of motivation in his classroom.

Although a teacher is not bound to espouse one theoretical concept of motivation over another, his understanding of the merits and weakness of each should shape his habits in the classroom. Adams (2006) suggests that an essential first step a teacher must take is to discover his students and understand what factors motivate or de-motivate a particular child. This may sound a bit impractical given how particularly the secondary school system is organized. A teacher may teach a subject (English) to a number of classes, meaning that he interacts with numerous students in the normal course of his day.

Nevertheless the effective teacher would aim to build an environment of openness where his students readily share their likes, dislikes and interests. This would aid in determining the specific motivational pattern of each individual or group of students. Berliner (2004) believes that the curricula content could be so arranged as to function as a motivator for learning. She suggests the teaching of engaging content using motivating instructional strategies (p. 47). A multicultural curriculum, which provides opportunities for peer interaction and individual participation, should be adopted.

Where the curriculum is determined at the national level and not by the subject teacher it is useful to involve learners in choosing the tasks they desire to complete giving them a sense of involvement (Good, 1995, p. 360). One important motivating tool is the type of resource material that the teacher uses in the classroom. Adams (2006) argues that learning must connect to real life. Therefore authentic material must be used in the classroom wherever possible and students must actively be engaged in the learning experiences.

The goal of motivation is for the development of lasting learning experiences. Too often teachers have sacrificed the broad academic goals for short-ranged ones. Teachers are guilty of teaching strictly content rather than providing meaningful experiences. Admittedly the long-range goals of the education system have influenced this attitude in some teachers. Teachers preparing their students for the end-stage tests (KS3) or GCSE exams, for example, often teach to the test. This robs the students of the relevant life experiences and enjoyment that is needed to motivate them to learn.

Therefore the focus for teachers should be to make learning meaningful to the learners and not just aim to meet academic standards such as high passes in tests. Another way of improving a learner’s self-efficacy is by having them scrutinize or observe their peers who are of similar abilities (Margolis, 2006, p. 219). For learners with low self-efficacy this peer model concept would demonstrate the achievability of tasks and they would be motivated to make an attempt once they see their peer successfully completing the task.

In the final analysis the importance of motivation to effective teaching and learning is no small matter. The level of learner motivation could steer the teaching process in any of various directions. What is desired is for the teaching learning environment to be so enhanced that students yearn knowledge. The ideal is for the teacher to help cultivate intrinsic motivation within the students so that life-long learning, for the sake of learning is attained.

While extrinsic motivation has a role to play and may become necessary at times, it is the more sustainable and enduring type of motivation that should be aimed for. Once a teacher has an understanding of the theories that explain motivation then the next step should be to apply the relevant principles to help devise ways in which he is able to motivate each student. It must be noted that even an intrinsically motivate learner is volatile if the curriculum, teaching strategy and other important areas do not peek and maintain interest overtime. Motivation in any classroom is essential.