Linda S. Lumsden
ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management
and young children appear to be propelled by curiosity, driven by
an intense need to explore, interact with, and make sense of their
environment. As one author puts it, "Rarely does one hear parents
complain that their pre-schooler is 'unmotivated' " (James
Raffini 1993). Unfortunately, as children grow, their passion for
learning frequently seems to shrink. Learning often becomes associated
with drudgery instead of delight. A large number of students--more
than one in four--leave school before graduating. Many more are
physically present in the classroom but largely mentally absent;
they fail to invest themselves fully in the experience of learning.
how students' attitudes and beliefs about learning develop and what
facilitates learning for its own sake can assist educators in reducing
What Is Student
naturally has to do with students' desire to participate in the
learning process. But it also concerns the reasons or goals that
underlie their involvement or noninvolvement in academic activities.
Although students may be equally motivated to perform a task, the
sources of their motivation may differ.
A student who
is intrinsically motivated undertakes an activity "for
its own sake, for the enjoyment it provides, the learning it permits,
or the feelings of accomplishment it evokes" (Mark Lepper 1988).
An extrinsically motivated student performs "in order
to obtain some reward or avoid some punishment external to the activity
itself," such as grades, stickers, or teacher approval (Lepper).
The term motivation
to learn has a slightly different meaning. It is defined by
one author as "the meaningfulness, value, and benefits of academic
tasks to the learner--regard-less of whether or not they are intrinsically
interesting" (Hermine Marshall 1987). Another notes that motivation
to learn is characterized by long-term, quality involvement in learning
and commitment to the process of learning (Carole Ames 1990).
Influence the Development of Students' Motivation?
Jere Brophy (1987), motivation to learn is a competence acquired
"through general experience but stimulated most directly through
modeling, communication of expectations, and direct instruction
or socialization by significant others (especially parents and teachers)."
environment shapes the initial constellation of attitudes they develop
toward learning. When parents nurture their children's natural curiosity
about the world by welcoming their questions, encouraging exploration,
and familiarizing them with resources that can enlarge their world,
they are giving their children the message that learning is worthwhile
and frequently fun and satisfying.
are raised in a home that nurtures a sense of self-worth, competence,
autonomy, and self-efficacy, they will be more apt to accept the
risks inherent in learning. Conversely, when children do not view
themselves as basically competent and able, their freedom to engage
in academically challenging pursuits and capacity to tolerate and
cope with failure are greatly diminished.
start school, they begin forming beliefs about their school-related
successes and failures. The sources to which children attribute
their successes (commonly effort, ability, luck, or level of task
difficulty) and failures (often lack of ability or lack of effort)
have important implications for how they approach and cope with
teachers themselves have about teaching and learning and the nature
of the expectations they hold for students also exert a powerful
influence (Raffini). As Deborah Stipek (1988) notes, "To a
very large degree, students expect to learn if their teachers expect
them to learn."
policies, and procedures also interact with classroom climate and
practices to affirm or alter students' increasingly complex learning-related
attitudes and beliefs.
changes comprise one more strand of the motivational web. For example,
although young children tend to maintain high expectations for success
even in the face of repeated failure, older students do not. And
although younger children tend to see effort as uniformly positive,
older children view it as a "double-edged sword" (Ames).
To them, failure following high effort appears to carry more negative
implication--especially for their self-concept of ability--than
failure that results from minimal or no effort.
Advantages to Intrinsic Motivation?
Does it really
matter whether students are primarily intrinsically or extrinsically
oriented toward learning? A growing body of evidence suggests that
motivated, students tend to employ strategies that demand more effort
and that enable them to process information more deeply (Lepper).
J. Condry and
J. Chambers (1978) found that when students were confronted with
complex intellectual tasks, those with an intrinsic orientation
used more logical information-gathering and decision-making strategies
than did students who were extrinsically oriented.
an intrinsic orientation also tend to prefer tasks that are moderately
challenging, whereas extrinsically oriented students gravitate toward
tasks that are low in degree of difficulty. Extrinsically oriented
students are inclined to put forth the minimal amount of effort
necessary to get the maximal reward (Lepper).
educational activity cannot, and perhaps should not, be intrinsically
motivating, these findings suggest that when teachers can capitalize
on existing intrinsic motivation, there are several potential benefits.
How Can Motivation
To Learn Be Fostered in the School Setting?
motivational histories accompany them into each new classroom setting,
it is essential for teachers to view themselves as "active
socialization agents capable of stimulating . . . student motivation
to learn" (Brophy 1987).
is important. If students experience the classroom as a caring,
supportive place where there is a sense of belonging and everyone
is valued and respected, they will tend to participate more fully
in the process of learning.
dimensions can also foster motivation to learn. Ideally, tasks should
be challenging but achievable. Relevance also promotes motivation,
as does "contextualizing" learning, that is, helping students
to see how skills can be applied in the real world (Lepper). Tasks
that involve "a moderate amount of discrepancy or incongruity"
are beneficial because they stimulate students' curiosity, an intrinsic
defining tasks in terms of specific, short-term goals can assist
students to associate effort with success (Stipek). Verbally noting
the purposes of specific tasks when introducing them to students
is also beneficial (Brophy 1986).
on the other hand, should be used with caution, for they have the
potential for decreasing existing intrinsic motivation.
What takes place
in the classroom is critical, but "the classroom is not an
island" (Martin Maehr and Carol Midgley 1991). Depending on
their degree of congruence with classroom goals and practices, schoolwide
goals either dilute or enhance classroom efforts. To support motivation
to learn, school-level policies and practices should stress "learning,
task mastery, and effort" (Maehr and Midgley) rather than relative
performance and competition.
Be Done To Help Unmotivated Students?
A first step
is for educators to recognize that even when students use strategies
that are ultimately self-defeating (such as withholding effort,
cheating, procrastination, and so forth), their goal is actually
to protect their sense of self-worth (Raffini).
A process called
attribution retraining, which involves modeling, socialization,
and practice exercises, is sometimes used with discouraged students.
The goals of attribution retraining are to help students to (1)
concentrate on the tasks rather than becoming distracted by fear
of failure; (2) respond to frustration by retracing their steps
to find mistakes or figuring out alternative ways of approaching
a problem instead of giving up; and (3) attribute their failures
to insufficient effort, lack of information, or reliance on ineffective
strategies rather than to lack of ability (Brophy 1986).
useful strategies include the following: portray effort as investment
rather than risk, portray skill development as incremental and domain-specific,
focus on mastery (Brophy 1986).
potential payoff---having students who value learning for its own
sake---is priceless, it is crucial for parents, teachers, and school
leaders to devote themselves fully to engendering, maintaining,
and rekindling students' motivation to learn.
Ames, Carole A. "Motivation: What Teachers Need to Know."
Teachers College Record 91, 3 (Spring 1990): 409-21.
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Educational Leadership (October 1987): 40-48. EJ362 226.
and J. Chambers. "Intrinsic Motivation and the Process of Learning.
In The Hidden Costs of Reward, edited by M.R. Lepper and D. Greene.
61-84. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.,
R. "Motivational Considerations in the Study of Instruction."
Cognition and Instruction 5, 4 (1988): 289-309.
L., and Carol Midgley. "Enhancing Student Motivation: A Schoolwide
Approach." Educational Psychologist 26, 3 & 4 (1991): 399-427.
H. "Motivational Strategies of Three Fifth-Grade Teachers."
The Elementary School Journal 88, 2 (November 1987): 135-50. EJ362
Winners Without Losers: Structures and Strategies for Increasing
Student Motivation to Learn. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1993. 286
Motivation To Learn: From Theory To Practice. Englewood Cliffs,
New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1988. 178 pages.
was prepared (June 1994) with funding from the Office of Educational
Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under contract
No. OERI RR93002006.
The opinions expressed
in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies
of Learn2study, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products,
or organizations imply endorsement by Learn2study.