Thursday, August 25, 2011

Beyond IQ Series # 7: Academic motivation defined and learning implications

Background comment regarding this series

Interest in social-emotional learning and resiliency training (click here and here for just two examples) in education has shown a recent uptick on activity. Given this activity, IQs Corner is starting a series to explain the previously articulated Model of Academic Competence and Motivation (MACM), which was a model ahead of it's time (IMHO). The imporance of non-cognitive (conative) characteristics in learning have been articulated since the days of Spearman, the father of the construct of general intelligence. Richard Snow's work on the concept of "aptitude," which integrates cognitive and conative individual difference variables, is the foundation of the Beyond IQ MACM. Non-cognitive (cognitive) characteristics of learners are important for learning and are more manipulable (more likely to be modified via intervention) than intelligence. Thus, the MACM components make sense as potential levers for improving school learning and pursuing more well rounded life-long learners. This material comes a larger set of materials on the web (click here).

Current MACM Series Installment

This seventh installment in the Beyond IQ series provides a definition of academic motivation and general learning implications. [All installments in this series (and other related posts and research) can be found by clicking here].


Academic Motivation: Definition and Conceptual Background

Academic motivation is a person’s desire (as reflected in approach, persistence, and level of interest) regarding academic subjects when competence is judged against a standard of performance or excellence.

Academic motivation is a student’s desire (as reflected in approach, persistence, and level of interest) regarding academic subjects when the student’s competence is judged against a standard of performance or excellence (DiPerna & Elliott, 1999; McClelland, 1961; Wigfield & Eccles, 2002). Academic motivation is a subtype of the general construct of effectance motivation, which is defined as the “need” to be successful or effective in dealing with ones environment (Gresham, 1988).

Academic Motivation: Implications

Although much has been written about academic motivation (and its conceptual grandfather/mother—Need for Achievement), until recently little long-term developmental research had been conducted (Covington & Dray, 2002). Longitudinal research helps to answer the question of “which factors, singly and in combination, influence the willingness to learn for its own sake, and whether these factors change in number and saliency as individuals move from one level of schooling to another throughout their educational careers” (Covington & Dray, 2002, p. 34). A review of the relevant literature (Gresham, 1988, 1987; Reschly, 1987; Rivera et al., 1988; Wigfield and Eccles, 2002) suggests that:

Most students begin school with a global sense of competence and interest/motivation in learning. As early as first grade, students begin developing a more differentiated and complex set of goals, values, and beliefs that influence their academic achievement motivation. Children, in general, do not come to school lacking academic motivation.

A student’s motivation changes across the school years. Although most young students enter school with an optimistic view of their personal abilities, and are generally positively motivated to learn, academic achievement motivation decreases over time due to child- specific and school environment changes. For most students this change is normative and not problematic. However, students “at risk” for, or actually experiencing frustration with learning (e.g., students with disabilities), are at greater risk for decreased academic motivation. For example, Gresham (1997) concluded that “the effects of repeatedly failed mastery attempts are increased dependence on external approval, a perceived lack of competence of self-esteem, anxiety in mastery situations, and decrements in effectance motivation. By the time a learner with learning disabilities is identified and labeled, he or she has a well- established pattern of responding to mastery situations”(p. 288). The consequences of decreased academic achievement (effectance) motivation can result in a variety of nonproductive behaviors (e.g., noncompliance on new tasks, self-doubt, dependency on others, loss of interest). Researchers have also demonstrated that a lack of motivation plays a critical role in the achievement of students with learning disabilities. According to Reschly (1987), “there is considerable agreement, supported by reasonably strong, but not definitive, evidence, that mildly retarded persons are more subject to failure- set phenomena (involving reduced motivation and less efficient learning even on simple tasks subsequent to experiencing failures…” (p. 43)

A student’s motivation and behavior become more closely linked with age. As students mature, the goals they set and their academic-related beliefs and values begin to mesh with their actual performance—they become more reality-based. Questions still remain regarding the direction (unidirectional or bi-directional/reciprocal) of the “cause” of this change. Nevertheless, it is clear that a student’s academic motivation and actual academic performance cannot be treated separately.

Utilization of evaluative feedback improves with age. As students move through school they develop more accurate and sophisticated understandings of the evaluative feedback received from their educational environment. Concurrently, the environmental feedback changes as reflected by transitions to letter grades, differentiated group instruction, and more frequent standardized testing. A student’s greater sensitivity (with increasing age) to direct and indirect sources of performance feedback can influence a student’s motivations in a number of positive and/or negative ways.

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