Identifying Motivation Problems (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

High Achievers Are Not Invulnerable

Teachers usually recognize the motivational problems of relatively low achievers. In contrast, motivation problems of high-achieving students like Sally, who are not realizing their potential for intellectual development, often go unrecognized. This is because teachers usually assume that students who do well in school do not have motivation problems. They rate students like Sally high in motivation and most of them enjoy having students like her in their class.

Studies of student motivation challenge this assumption. Phillips (1984), for example, studied 117 fifth graders who were above the 75th national percentile on the Stanford Research Associates (SRA) achievement tests. Twenty-three of these students seriously underestimated their actual levels of performance, set low achievement standards for themselves, and were less persistent than the high achievers in the sample who had high perceptions of competence. By setting low standards and by giving up easily, these high-ability students were not living up to their learning potential. (See also Kolb & Jussim, 1994; Phillips & Zimmerman, 1990.)

Research suggests that high-achieving girls and minority students are particularly vulnerable to motivational problems. In the Phillips study, for example, girls composed 66 percent of the students studied, but 100 percent of those who underestimated their competency. Steele's (1999) research on "stereotype threat" indicates that high achieving minority students often become so concerned about avoiding the stereotype of intellectual inferiority that they fall apart in situations in which they are asked to demonstrate their competency, such as on standardized tests.

It is easy to overlook relatively high-achieving students who are not performing at their capacity. Teachers who have as many as 25 or even 35 students in a class generally believe that their primary responsibility is to make sure that all students master the basic curriculum. As long as students consistently finish their work and are not disruptive they are usually not considered to pose problems. That some students finish assignments in half of the allotted time often goes unnoticed. This is especially true in classes in which there are many students who are having difficulty mastering the assigned material and who lay significant claims on the teachers' attention. Consequently, the "B+" student who could be getting "A's," and the student who gets " A's" without really trying are less likely to be noticed or to be perceived as problems than those students who are barely passing. Their talents are, as a consequence, not developed, and some become bored and disinterested. It is, therefore, important to scrutinize all students for motivational problems.

Looking Beyond the Student

What are seen as students' motivation problems are often problems with the academic context. If more than a few children seem unmotivated to complete school tasks, it is useful to examine aspects of the educational program and the social context of the classroom that might undermine motivation. Student motivation is strongly affected by the nature of instruction and the tasks given-for example, whether tasks are clear and at the appropriate level of difficulty, and whether they involve active participation and are personally meaningful. Students' motivation is also affected by the social context—for example, whether students feel valued as human beings, are supported in their learning efforts by the teacher and their peers, and whether they are allowed to make mistakes without being humiliated. Motivation problems that are observed in students' behaviors, therefore, often actually reside in the educational program.

Often an analysis of the fit between the student and the instructional program is required to understand motivation problems. This is because a program that is highly motivating for one student is not necessarily effective for another. For example, a student like Safe Sally, who is used to working for grades, may not work at all in a classroom in which grades are not given, at least not initially. A student like Satisfied Santos, who is motivated to do only the work he chooses, may work effectively in a classroom that allows a great deal of choice and autonomy, but not in a classroom that is very teacher-directed. Identifying motivation "problems," therefore, requires a complex analysis of students, the educational context, and the interaction between the qualities of students and contexts.

View Full Article
Add your own comment
DIY Worksheets
Make puzzles and printables that are educational, personal, and fun!
Matching Lists
Quickly create fun match-up worksheets using your own words.
Word Searches
Use your own word lists to create and print custom word searches.
Crossword Puzzles
Make custom crossword puzzles using your own words and clues.