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Teachers' beliefs5


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Teachers' beliefs5

  1. 1. The Clearing House, 85: 102–108, 2012 Copyright C Taylor & Francis Group, LLC ISSN: 0009-8655 print; 1939-912x online DOI: 10.1080/00098655.2011.653016 Student Motivation and the Alignment of Teacher Beliefs JEFF WIESMAN Abstract: Given that many high school students come to school unmotivated to learn, the purpose of this article is to examine various motivational constructs and to de- termine if educators are incorporating the most effective motivational strategies. In fact, adolescents vary from adults physically, cognitively, emotionally, and physi- ologically and, therefore, they generally differ in their perceptions on the effectiveness of a variety of moti- vational practices. Students are more likely to attribute their own motivation to their intrinsic desire to learn or as a result of the goals they adopt. Teachers, on the other hand, believe students are more likely to be motivated as a result of the teachers’ actions. Teachers do not always recognize which motivational constructs are the most effective, demonstrating the value of pre-service and in-service programs that stress student motivation. If educators wish to maximize student academic achieve- ment, they must understand how to motivate students successfully. Keywords: motivation, academic performance, educa- tional psychology, high school, teacher education Politicians, educators, parents, and other stakehold- ers are frequently disgruntled with the academic performance of America’s high school students. Reports such as the Third International Mathematics and Science Study reveal that children in many Asian and European nations are outperforming American students (Gonza- les et al., 2004). To make matters worse, teachers are working with students who often come to school un- motivated and without an interest to learn (Hidi and Harackiewicz 2000). Consequently, if schools want to see improved academic performance educators must search for ways to increase student engagement and mo- tivation in the educational arena. Jeff Wiesman is at Wheaton Warrenville South High School, Mathematics, Wheaton, IL. Evidence from the literature also suggests the impor- tance of examining student motivation for children en- rolled in high school. Studies have shown that both the academic interest and motivation of adolescents de- cline as they progress through junior and senior high school (Williams and Stockdale 2004). In addition, the value children place on many academic activities and their beliefs about the usefulness of school decline as they get older. By the time many students reach high school, they put forth minimum effort, they are bored with the educational process, and they begin to view many academic tasks with less significance (Wigfield, Eccles, and Rodriquez 1998). Indeed, observers of a typical high school classroom will often find students who are unconcerned and unmotivated to complete academic tasks. To counteract this tendency, educa- tors must learn how to motivate apathetic students and become skilled at incorporating effective methodolo- gies and activities that will engage students and spark interest. Little research, however, has examined the alignment of student and teacher beliefs regarding which moti- vational constructs are the most effective. Moreover, additional research is needed because teenagers are physically, emotionally, and physiologically different than adults and, as a result, perceptions of effective motivational techniques may differ. Some research suggests that students and teachers have dissimilar views on the effectiveness of various motivational practices (Wigfield, Eccles, and Rodriquez 1998), and without alignment, teachers may not be maximizing their capacity to motivate students. This article, there- fore, addresses various motivational constructs and the reasons why students and teachers may have different views regarding which motivational techniques are the most effective in the classroom. 102
  2. 2. Student Motivation and the Alignment of Teacher Beliefs 103 FIGURE 1. Student motivation and the alignment of teacher beliefs. (Color figure available online.) What Is Most Likely to Motivate Students? Educators must understand that adolescents experi- ence profound changes in high school and, therefore, teachers’ behaviors and motivation will differ from students’. In other words, what constitutes an effective motivational technique for an adult may not work for a student, and what motivates teachers may or may not motivate students. As evident in figure 1, there are differences, which are statistically significant, between student and teacher perceptions of what motivates sub- urban high school students the most (Wiesman 2007). The majority of the students believed they were most motivated in school when they set goals or if they were intrinsically driven to achieve in the classroom. Approx- imately 44 percent of the students believed the most important motivational construct was the goal orienta- tion theory, while 27 percent of the student participants thought they were most likely to be motivated because of their inherent desire to learn and do well in school. Teachers differed from students in that they were more likely to attribute student motivation to the teachers’ characteristics. Approximately 30 percent of the teachers rated their own characteristics as the most likely reason why students were motivated. That is, teachers believed students were most likely to be motivated when the teacher showed concern or enthusiasm, used humor, and took a personal interest in the students. Teachers thought goal-achievement theory and intrinsic motivation were the second and third most likely reason why students were motivated to achieve in the classroom. Finally, few teachers thought self-efficacy, social goals, and extrinsic rewards were the most effective motivational techniques. Student and teacher perceptions generally differ, and when analyzing specific student motivators within the various motivational constructs, additional differences emerged (Wiesman 2007). Students rated the following five questions as the most likely reasons why they put forth effort in school (6 represented “strongly agree” and 1 represented “strongly disagree”). 1. I am motivated so I can have a good future. (M = 5.67, SD = .76) 2. I am motivated when I see my work improving. (M = 5.45, SD = .79) 3. I am motivated when I am good at something. (M = 5.38, SD = .81) 4. I am motivated when I receive good grades. (M = 5.36, SD = .86) 5. I am motivated when I like the teacher. (M = 5.15, SD = .89) Because students generally agreed that the goal- achievement theory was the most likely reason why they were motivated to achieve in school, it is not surprising that three of the top five questions were goal oriented. However, many educators may not realize that the
  3. 3. 104 The Clearing House 85(3) 2012 students rated only one teacher-driven action as a highly effective motivational device; namely, when the teacher is able to develop a positive rapport with students. As shown in the following list, teachers rated the top mo- tivators quite differently from the students (Wiesman 2007). Teachers attributed student motivation to more of their own characteristics and actions: 1. Students are motivated when they like the teacher. (M = 5.25, SD = .70) 2. Students are motivated when the teacher takes a per- sonal interest in the students. (M = 5.18, SD = .73) 3. Students are motivated when the teacher shows en- thusiasm. (M = 5.14, SD = .73) 4. Students are motivated when the class instruction in- cludes variation in how the material is presented. (M = 5.09, SD = .80) 5. Students are motivated when the class instruction in- cludes active, hands-on chances to apply a lesson. (M = 4.94, SD = .80) Factors Affecting Students’ Perceptions on Motivation There are many reasons why certain motivational techniques are effective with adults but not with high school students. Young people in American culture are regularly challenged by new experiences and expecta- tions during a time in life where physical, cognitive, emotional, physiological, and social changes are pro- found (Wolfson and Carskadon 1998). Additionally, for the first time, adolescents are beginning to struggle with deeper thoughts and generate greater feelings of emotions (Strauch 2003). Obviously, adults also face new experiences and are challenged with various expec- tations, but they usually have developed the necessary cognitive and emotional faculties to more effectively deal with these types of events. The following sections establish differences that could explain why student and teacher beliefs are incongruent. Self-esteem When confronted with new expectations and respon- sibilities, teenagers can experience increased confusion and conflict, which can affect self-esteem (Powell 2004). In addition, self-image is influenced as adolescents ex- perience physiological, biological, and cognitive trans- formations (Powell 2004). In fact, self-esteem is at its lowest point during the teenage years and adolescents, especially girls who experience radical drops in estro- gen, more commonly struggle with periods of depres- sion and sadness (Buchanan, Eccles, and Becker 1992). Low self-esteem will affect motivation, school perfor- mance, and students’ ability to focus on their studies and complete school tasks (Powell 2004). Social Influences The socialization process of an adolescent is certainly unique to any other period in the life span. During the teenage years, adolescents want and need social approval and, therefore, are highly motivated to de- velop close, reciprocal friendships (Strauch 2003). Ado- lescents frequently have greater socialization pressures because they make every effort to determine the so- cial norms and gain acceptance by their peers (Burns and Darling 2002). As a result, children either form or reshape their identities as they associate with differ- ent peer groups during this socialization process (Black 2002). When considering an individual’s goal orientation, teenagers also significantly vary from adults. Adults are more likely to develop mastery goals that are internally driven, whereas teenagers tend to create goals that con- form to the standards of their peers (Burley, Turner, and Vitulli 1999). As individuals age, Burley noted that they are less concerned about external evaluations and more concerned with the internal benefits derived from goal setting. Finally, adults commonly perceive peer pres- sure to be a significant motivating factor, when peer influence actually has a greater effect on adolescent be- havior (Black 2002). According to Burns and Darling (2002), “adolescents are most often influenced not by what their peers actually do and say, but how they think their peers will react to a potential action” (4). Brain Development There are also significant differences between an ado- lescent and adult brain (Strauch 2003). An area of the brain that undergoes transformation during the teenage years is the prefrontal cortex, which scientists call the frontal lobes. In fact, between the ages of 4 and 20, studies identify a decrease in cortical gray matter and an increase in white matter in that region (Strauch 2003). This alteration of the frontal lobes affects one’s ability to process emotions, problem solve, plan ahead, and learn from experiences. Teenagers, therefore, will have a greater difficulty resisting impulses, regulating emo- tions, and making good decisions (Sowell et al. 1999). Included in the changes that occur in the prefrontal cortex and the limbic brain region during the teenage years is the amount of dopamine in the brain (Spear 2000). Dopamine, which is a powerful neurotrans- mitter, is at increased levels in adolescents, affecting novelty-seeking and emotional regulation. It also plays a role when teenagers assess the motivational value of external stimuli or respond to a stressful situation (Strauch 2003). As a result, teenagers can experience ex- treme emotional highs and lows with incredibly exciting highs and very distressing lows. Spear (2000) summa- rized: “Given the differences between adolescents and adults in functioning in these brain regions, it would
  4. 4. Student Motivation and the Alignment of Teacher Beliefs 105 be astonishing indeed if adolescents did not differ from adults in various aspects of their motivated behavior” (113). During brain development, an adolescent’s behavior may change because sleep patterns are affected (Strauch 2003). In a study of 3,120 high school students at four public high schools in Rhode Island, Wolfson and Carskadon (1998) determined that the typical student age 13 to 19 gets an average of about 7 hours of sleep per night. Teenagers, however, should get 9.2 hours of sleep per night according to Wolfson and Carskadon. One reason why adolescents are not getting enough sleep is that melatonin, a chemical that causes drowsiness, does not flow until later into the night as children grow into their teenage years (Strauch 2003). As a result, adoles- cents generally stay up late and, therefore, usually do not get enough sleep. While sleep times do not strongly cor- relate with grades, poor sleep habits negatively affect be- havior, mood, and motivation in school (Wolfson and Carskadon 1998). Finally, school achievement and mo- tivation can decline because teenagers have less energy, reduced amounts of concentration, and increased lev- els of fatigue than those in other age groups (Buchanan, Eccles, and Becker 1992). Motivational Constructs Educators must consider physiological and psycho- logical factors when determining how to best motivate students. The following section applies the pertinent research and offers strategies for educators who are seeking practical ways to motivate their unmotivated students. When teachers consider the theoretical foundations of the various motivational techniques, they might increase their ability to bolster academic achievement. Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation Students are intrinsically motivated when they have a natural curiosity and interest in a topic and, obviously, intrinsically motivated students are eager to absorb in- formation. Two major influences on students’ intrinsic motivation is their individual interest, which is a child’s inherent desire to learn certain concepts, and situational interest, which are environmental factors that generate interest. Educators can positively influence individual interest when they teach children to get excited about learning new concepts and help them to become life- long learners (Kohn 2010). Teachers can increase a stu- dent’s situational interest when they make content per- sonally relevant, allow for student choice, incorporate various instructional activities, and allow students to work in cooperative groups. When teachers utilize these types of classroom structures, students will develop an interest in the content, thereby affecting students’ in- trinsic motivation (Hidi and Harackiewicz 2000). Teachers can also promote situational interest by us- ing innovative techniques to introduce new concepts or by providing real-world applications (Linnenbrink and Pintrich 2002). For example, students may not have an initial curiosity in Shakespeare, but when a teacher in- corporates a contemporary YouTube video or asks stu- dents to act out a scene, they might develop an interest. A mathematics teacher could spark interest by discussing strategies to build wealth when discussing logarithms. Indeed, intrinsic motivation highly correlates with the use of effective instructional techniques, and as a re- sult, educators can positively affect achievement perfor- mance (Erwin 2003). Education also incorporates many different types of external motivators. For instance, teachers fre- quently provide verbal reinforcers, such as words of encouragement to struggling learners or task-specific praise. Several studies indicate, however, that external motivators can impede learning, undermine intrinsic motivation, and create situations where students withdraw from an activity (Kohn 1996; Williams and Stockdale 2004). Deci, Koestner, and Ryan (2001), in a meta-analysis of 128 studies researching the effects of extrinsic rewards on free choice and self- interest, specifically demonstrated that most types of rewards, including tangible rewards, performance- contingent rewards, engagement-contingent rewards, and completion-contingent rewards, weakened intrin- sic motivation. Only certain verbal rewards enhanced intrinsic motivation. Consequently, instead of using extrinsic rewards, Deci et al. believed educators should focus on incorporating other motivational techniques to enhance interest. Finally, Williams and Stockdale (2004) suggested that teachers can create situations in their classes where students become dependent on extrinsic rewards. That is, even if students have an interest in completing a task, they will only engage in the activity if there is a possibility for a reward. There is conflicting evidence, however, regarding the effects of extrinsic motivators and how they impact in- trinsic motivation (Cameron 2001). Cameron noted that the Deci et al. (2001) study only looked at the effects of extrinsic rewards when the activities are of high initial interest. In her meta-analysis of 96 studies, Cameron found that extrinsic rewards may or may not have an effect on intrinsic motivation when students are initially unmotivated to learn a topic. Moreover, she in- dicated, “obtaining a negative effect of reward requires an unusual combination of conditions bearing little re- semblance to the actual use of incentives in classroom settings” (Cameron 2001, 41). The reality is that most classrooms combine intrinsic and extrinsic motivational constructs, which in turn could influence a child’s ef- fort and actions (Hidi and Harackiewicz 2000). Nev- ertheless, in view of the related literature, researchers have found that external motivators should generally
  5. 5. 106 The Clearing House 85(3) 2012 be avoided, and as a result, educators should carefully consider the reasons why they would utilize them (Kohn 1996). Goal Orientation Educators can have a profound influence on student motivation by promoting goal-oriented behaviors. Teachers need to help students set personally important goals, both short-term and long-term, that are measur- able, specific, and challenging (Elliot and Dweck 1988). When teachers support goal achievement, research indicates that they will positively affect student motiva- tion and their sense of self-efficacy (Eccles and Wigfield 2002). Furthermore, studies indicate that goal adoption positively correlates with persistence, effort, deeper lev- els of processing, academic achievement, and to higher levels of self-regulated learning (Covington 2000). Students are frequently oriented to two different types of goals, namely performance goals and mastery goals. Children create performance goals because they enjoy competition or they yearn for positive evaluations of their ability. Simply put, students with performance goals want to outperform other students (Dweck 1986). Some studies suggest that performance goals have lit- tle or no effect on academic engagement and achieve- ment (Hidi and Harackiewicz 2000). In fact, when teachers create classroom environments that encour- age performance-related goals, Wigfield, Eccles, and Ro- driquez (1998) indicated that intrinsic motivation and interest would decline. Additionally, Dweck’s study re- vealed that children would not pursue a challenging task if they did not believe that they had the requisite ability level to attain performance goals. Even though schools tend to stress performance- oriented goals, research indicates that the use of mas- tery goals has a greater effect on learning (Linnenbrink and Pintrich 2002). When students are oriented toward mastery goals, which are created when students have an inherent desire to achieve something, they are more likely to persevere in difficult times and view errors as an opportunity to learn (Gonzalez 2002). If a particular student is unmotivated in class, for example, I will often ask what his or her desired future plans include. I try to set their eyes on the prize and discuss what they need to do now to achieve that prize. To be sure, when students set mastery goals, they will choose to work on difficult challenges even if they believe their ability levels are low (Dweck 1986). Social Goals When considering goal orientation, researchers have also determined that students will regularly set social goals in hopes of gaining the respect of others and to achieve a sense of belonging (Covington 2000). McIn- erney and McInerney (1998) suggested that the social component of school, which includes interactions with parents, teachers, and peers, could affect students’ atti- tudes toward school and their motivation to learn. Even though there is a need for additional research on how social goals affect academic motivation, Covington as- serted that social goals influence the students’ ability to achieve. Peer relationships among adolescents can also affect behavior, positively or negatively. Teenagers with bet- ter peer relationships have attitudes that are more pos- itive toward school (Strauch 2003). If they associate with other high-achieving students, their motivation will likely improve, and conversely, motivation could decline if adolescents join low-achieving peer groups. Therefore, educators need to carefully select groups when incorporating a cooperative activity. While school contexts are primarily designed to provide an academic education, it is also important for educators to consider adolescents’ social needs, because they value interper- sonal relationships and acceptance by their peers. In effect, when teachers meet their students’ psychologi- cal needs for love and the esteem of others, they will enhance academic motivation (Eccles et al. 1993). Self-efficacy Efficacy is another important motivational construct that can affect learning. Yair (2000) suggested that stu- dents with a high sense of self-efficacy generate in- creased levels of achievement, effort, and persistence to complete difficult tasks. Self-efficacy beliefs also pos- itively correlate with student cognitive engagement and the use of self-regulatory skills (Bandura 1993). In Mar- golis and McCabe’s (2004) study of self-efficacy, they found that students would not expend appropriate lev- els of energy if they lack sufficient levels of self-efficacy. Teachers are able to affect student self-efficacy positively by creating experiences where students can successfully develop skills and gain knowledge (Linnen- brink and Pintrich 2002). This will occur when teachers give students challenging assignments, sequenced from easy to difficult, where the chance for success is still relatively high. However, educators should be careful not to create frustration by assigning tasks that are too difficult. Instructors can also strengthen self-efficacy by reinforcing effort and persistence, and by providing students with applicable learning strategies (Margo- lis and McCabe 2004). In addition, many students frequently do not know how to complete academic tasks effectively and, therefore, it is important to teach students age-appropriate strategies. Teacher Practices That Enhance Student Motivation Specific teacher characteristics and instructional techniques can also have a profound influence on stu- dent motivation. For instance, educators can motivate students by establishing caring classroom environ- ments. Studies indicate that positive student–teacher
  6. 6. Student Motivation and the Alignment of Teacher Beliefs 107 relationships are crucial to motivation, and when teachers truly care, their students will work harder and display more appropriate behaviors (Mendes 2003). Erwin (2003) found that quality, warm, and trusting student–teacher relationships will also have a positive effect on academic achievement. Moreover, when teachers show empathy, students are more likely to develop academic goals (Wigfield, Eccles, and Ro- driquez 1998). Indeed, teachers can influence student motivation when they understand their students’ lives and affirm their interests and needs. Opportunities for student choice, decision making, and responsibility also correlate with student motiva- tion (Deci, Koestner, and Ryan 2001). Therefore, teach- ers need to allow for choice by letting students decide their seating arrangement, offer them a variety of as- signments to choose to complete, or provide students an assortment of options that will demonstrate their understanding of the course content. Furthermore, ed- ucators can influence student motivation when they in- corporate investigative or hands-on activities because students are provided the opportunity to construct their own knowledge. Implications If educators wish to improve academic achievement by maximizing their ability to motivate students, then they must understand the various motivational theories and know which constructs are the most effective. Mentoring and in-service programs should include discussions on how to engage students, and colleges should include student motivation in education curricula. As well, there are important implications when teachers understand the practical and theoretical foundations of student motivation. When educators believe they can motivate students effectively, they can improve the learning environment and increase academic achievement (Bandura 1993). Efficacious teachers will have high expectations for themselves and their students, challenge students without frustrating them, and create a classroom environment where students are active learners. Additionally, practice should incorporate the con- structs that are most likely to motivate students, namely the goal and intrinsic motivation theories. When teach- ers assign long-term projects, they can ask students to break the assignment into shorter segments and then en- courage them to set short, proximal goals to complete each component of the assignment. As an additional example, at the beginning of each unit, teachers could discuss the learning goals that all students must master, providing students with an opportunity to adopt the goals for themselves. Teachers can also post the chap- ter objectives in the room, which can guide discussions throughout the course of the chapter. At the district level, Wiggins and McTighe’s (2005) Understanding by De- sign model is an excellent framework that incorporates the goal motivation theory. Educators should develop the assessments and then create instructional activities that will prepare students to complete them successfully. Terrell Bell, former Secretary of Education, empha- sized the importance of motivation by stating: “There are three things to remember about education. The first is motivation, the second one is motivation, and the third one is motivation” (Covington 2000). While each student might respond differently to the various moti- vational practices, teachers can maximize their ability to motivate students when utilizing certain constructs. To be sure, if students are more likely to be motivated because of the goals they adopt or they are inherently interested in a subject, then educators must develop pro- grams, lesson plans, and activities that utilize the goal and intrinsic motivational theories. REFERENCES Bandura, A. 1993. Perceived self-efficacy in cognitive development and functioning. Educational Psychologist 28: 117–48. Black, S. 2002. When students push past peer influence. The Education Digest 68: 31–36. Buchanan, C., J. Eccles, and J. Becker. 1992. Are adolescents the victims of raging hormones: Evidence for activational effect of hormones on moods and behavior at adolescence. Psychological Bulletin 111: 62–107. Burley, R., L. Turner, and W. Vitulli. 1999. The relationship between goal orientation and age among adolescents. The Journal of Genetic Psychology 160: 84–88. Burns, A., and N. Darling. 2002. Peer pressure is not peer influence. The Education Digest 68: 4–6. Cameron, J. 2001. 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