Motivation in education - Motivation Essay Example


Schools in general face serious problems of authority, control, and motivation, which interface with and undermine their specifically educational objectives and which were not resolved by the best-known experiments of the 1960s and 1970s - Motivation in education introduction. In now turning to the problem of declining achievement in U.S. schools, the researcher wants to consider the possibility that changes in schools made these problems even more severe and this contribute to the test score decline. More specifically, the ability of schools and teachers to motivate and control student behavior significantly diminished during at some period in time. In part this was because of changes in schools themselves, and in part because in the society as a whole more emphasis was placed on the rights of individuals and less emphasis on the rights of constituted authority. For instance, between 1965 and 1980, high schools in particular became less solid institutions, characterized by declining trust and falling morale, increasingly less able to inspire young people to give their best efforts and to control disrupted, rebellious students.


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Motivation in Schools

Motivation is why individuals behave the way they do. Shakespeare once wrote, “Find out the cause of this effect or  rather, the cause of this defect, for the effect  defectives comes by cause.” Attribution theorists have taken Shakespeare’s comment  quite seriously.  People say that some individuals want to know the causes of people’s behavior because the knowledge promotes more effective coping with life’s circumstances. Attribution theory states that individuals are motivated to discover the underlying causes of behavior as part of the effort to make sense out of the behavior. In a way, attribution theorists say, adolescents are like intuitive scientists, seeking the cause behind what happens (Graham & Weiner, 1996).

Authors Graham and Weiner (1996) expound on motivation as “the study of why people think and behave as they do” (p. 63). They add that in the context of academic achievement, motivation is the reason why some students complete tasks despite difficulties while the others give up so easily and the others go way overboard and set too high  goals that failure is likely to occur (p. 63). Author Sass (1989) conducted a study of 700 college students and found out that eight teacher characteristics was associated with high motivation. First on the list were enthusiasm and communicating relevance which ties for the first place. The enthusiasm is primarily encouraged by teachers  (Rinne, 1998). Meanwhile, experts consistently saw that acting friendly, enthusiastic and encouraging was valued by students in all levels.

Meanwhile, the choice of curriculum by the teachers has an important impact on students’ desire to make persistent efforts in class (Stipek, 1988). On the other hand, authors Wolters and Pintrich (1998) in Developing self-directed learners, agree that activities where students participate in can have a very big influence on students’ motivation and even the level of one’s learning in the classroom (p.29). Brophy (1998) maintains that the goal of achieving sustained intrinsic motivation is not realistic for everyday motivational strategies since schools require students to master curriculum. Developing the motivation of students involves socializing it as a general disposition and situating it well in learning activities. Brophy also encourages that the classroom must be a part of the learning environment. Teachers must be able to make the classrooms conducive to learning and focus on individual and collaborative learning goals (Brophy 1998).

Schunk (1989) maintains that there needs to be a self-regulated learning process of goal setting and self-efficacy. Students observe and learn from their own goals. Self-efficacy and goal setting are affected by self-observation and self-judgment. There are different ways of teaching students to set goals and evaluate their own progress

Self-regulated learning means “when students activate and sustain cognitions
and behaviors systematically oriented toward attainment of learning goals. Self-regulated learning process  involves goal-directed activities which the students themselves initiate and modify (Zimmerman, 1989). Included here are attention to instruction, processing and integrating knowledge as well as developing and maintaining positive beliefs (Schunk, 1989).

The Decline in Achievement in U.S. Schools: An Organizational Perspective

In beginning to make sense of the test score decline, the first step is to describe what we know about its extent and character in some detail. First, there appears to be almost no evidence of a test sore decline among younger elementary school students over the last fifteen or twenty years, but a great deal of evidence showed a clear decline among secondary school students. Since report of test score declines appear to increase as we progress through the elementary grades to junior high school, it seems that the decline is concentrated among adolescent students rather than among young children. Second, the decline in test score appear to apply quite generally to almost all tests of academic achievement: science and mathematic achievement, reading comprehension, general verbal skills, and knowledge of current affairs. Most test show sharper declines in verbal achievement than on test of numerical skills, but it is notable that there is virtually no over-time comparison on any are on achievement that show an increase in skills between 1965 and 1980. Third, the decline in achievement in secondary schools seems to be quite general in different regions of the country, in public and private schools, and among high- and law-achieving students. Data collected by the National Longitudinal Survey of high school students, for example, shows only small variations between regions and between private and public schools in the extent of the decline in mathematics and reading achievement between 1972 and 1978. At both periods of  time score of private schools students and students in  the Northeast are higher than public schools students and Southern students, with no clear differences between type of school and region in the extent of the change over-time. Only in the case of black students, whose scores remain stable from 1972 to 1978, does the evidence suggest that different groups of students experienced significantly different rates of change. Test scores of valedictorians and salutatorians, for example, show equally marked or even sharper declines during the 1970s as the majority of high school students. (McClosky).

No simple explanation can do justice to these puzzling and disturbing trends. To blame the decline on the educational innovations of the 1960s and 1970s, for example, as some conservative critics allege, ignores the obvious fact that while elementary schools experienced the largest share of such experiments as open classrooms and individualized instruction, there is almost no evidence of decline in the early grades during this period. Recent observational studies of schools, moreover, indicate that teachers continue to teach in relatively traditional ways in the great majority of classrooms, addressing the class as a whole rather than moving from one group to another, and relying on lecture and recitation methods rather than trying to maximize student participation. Although our knowledge of trends in classroom interaction overtime is very limited, there are no data that the reforms of the last twenty years have led to a revolution in teaching methods in more than a tiny minority of schools (Donton).

There is, however, considerable evidence that teachers and schools found the task of controlling and motivating student activity more difficult toward the end of this period than in the early 1960s. Studies of student violence and vandalism, for example, show sharp increases in the number of schools affected and the severity of the incidents during the first half of the 1970s. Most schools remained relatively nonviolent, but assaults on teachers and fighting between students involving deadly weapons became common in the urban schools during the last decade. Scattered evidence on rates of absenteeism indicates a similar trend. In the mid-1970s, although most teachers continued to require some homework, its average frequency and duration decreased. Finally in this regard, the period of the test score decline was characterized by rising grade point averages in most high schools. If most students worked less hard and achieved less in the late 1970s than ten years before, therefore, this lower productivity was not reflected in increasingly negative evaluations on the part of teachers but in less rigorous evaluations and less demanding standards. (Donton).

None of this evidence demonstrates that such trends as increasing violence or vandalism, increasing absenteeism, or declining homework assignments caused the decline in achievement. Even under ideal research conditions, such a conclusion would be very difficult to substantiate.

Changing Conceptions of Authority

Schools became less able motivated and they could not and control students’ behavior over this period? Some suggest that these trends were part of process of change in the scope and character  of the schools’ authority, resulting in part from changes in schools themselves and in part from changing conceptions in a wider society of the appropriate kind of relationships that ought to exist between schools and their students .Beginning in the mid-1960s the traditional broad view of the school’s authority over student’s behavior was challenged by a much narrower conception that stressed the rights of students as well as they duties and responsibilities, and in which many of the traditional controls that school exercised came to be seen as arbitrary and unjustified rather than its legitimate authority.

Evidence that the scope of the school’s authority has become narrower and more limited is abundant. In 1960, for example, virtually all high school’s controlled student’s deportment and conduct outside the classroom in ways that we would be considered quite demeaning two decades later. Dress codes, for instance, regulated the length of the skirt worn by female students, prohibited the wearing of sneakers, and regulated the hair length of male students. High school students were uniformly prohibited in smoking anywhere from school grounds and chewing gum in school building. Male and female students were forbidden to hold hands in school, and strict systems of chaperones prevailed at school dances. Students who broke these rules were subject to, contemporary, a clearly understood series of punishments with no rights of appeal: detention followed by progressively longer periods of suspension, and ultimately expulsion. Students might and probably did dislike these rules and associated punishments; faced with the virtually unanimous weight of adult authority however, they had little choice but not to obey (Becker).

By the mid-1970s a large number and perhaps the minority of schools had relaxed these detailed controls. In part, these changes occurred because the courts began to restrict the scope of the school’s authority. In Tinker v. DesMoines (1969), for example, the Supreme Court ruled the schools could not control students dress unless they could show that such regulations were necessary from some clear educational purpose. The school, the Court found, did not have the same general rights to control students behavior that parents possessed. It did not stand in loco parentis; and it was no longer sufficient for the school to argue that rules controlling student dress and department were needed for good discipline. Instead, the Color placed the burden of proof on the schools to demonstrate that specifically educational goals would be jeopardized if the rules did not exist. Even more far reaching in its implications for the traditional authority of the school was the Goss v. Lopez decision (1975). The court ruled that students facing disciplinary proceedings could not be simply told that they were suspended must be given notice of the charges against them, and the students had the right to state their side of the case in a hearing before the school authorities. In the same decision, the Court implied that in cases of suspension for more than a few days, more elaborate due process proceedings would be necessary, involving the right to a formal hearing and the right to call witness who would testify on the student’s behalf.

These court decisions made if more difficult to discipline students, yet these changes were only a part of a much more general change in public attitudes toward the rights of individuals and responsibilities of institutions and organizations to protect those rights. During the 1970s almost all organizations, from government agencies and business corporations to prisons, mental hospitals, and welfare agencies, came under increasing scrutiny by a public that suspected the rights of individual were  frequently abridge in the name of organizational or bureaucratic convenience. In almost all government organizations and most large corporations, for example, employees began to insist on personnel procedures that offered protection against arbitrary or summary dismissal, and formal grievance procedures in the case firings of demotions became increasingly common. Consumers began to organize to protect what were increasingly recognized as their rights to seek damages for unsafe products and to obtain replacements for shoddy merchandise. Prisoners, mental patients, and the mentally retarded were partially successful in obtaining recognition that their rights, while more limited than those of other adults, were not entirely surrendered at the door of these institutions.

A full discussion of these broader changes is beyond the scope of this paper, but it is worth noting that the increasing limits placed on the school’s authority during the late of 1960s and 1970s was paralleled by similar trends in relationships between individuals and a great variety of institutions. In the relation between welfare clients and welfare agencies, prisoners and prisons, citizens and government agencies, patients and doctors, consumers and business corporations, as well as students and schools, there was a shift toward more emphasis on the rights of the individuals vis-à-vis the institution, and corresponding limitations on the power and privileges of established authorities.

These changes were far more than an administrative inconvenience: an extra burden of paperwork because of new procedures that must be followed if the institution was not be sued for negligence or discrimination. This new emphasis on individual rights and the rising suspicion of arbitrary authority during the 1960s and 1970s posed a challenge to be traditional relationship between schools and students. If students were increasingly regarded as adults with rights rather than as immature children, then much of the broad discretionary authority schools had traditionally enjoyed came to be seen arbitrary and even capricious. To the extent that the school stood in the same relationship to its students as did parents to their children, such punishments as raking leaves on school grounds for insolent behavior might seem entirely legitimate. But to the degree that adolescents (with considerable adult support) came to define themselves less as children with privileges than as adults with rights, such broad discretionary activity was regarded as increasingly arbitrary.

During the 1970s, therefore, many if not most schools faced increasing challenges to their traditional authority. On the one hand, court decisions, new state regulations, and pressure from liberal opinion had reduced their previously great discretion to punish and discipline students as they saw fit. Students could still be expelled or suspended, of course, but unless relatively strict guidelines and procedures were followed, schools ran risk that their decisions would be overturned by the courts. As their power to punish students became more circumscribed, schools became increasingly dependent on their students goodwill and cooperation: on acceptance of the principle that schools had the right to enforce, and students the duty to obey, the multitude of controls and commands that continued to characterize life in classrooms. Most students no doubt continued to believe that schools had the right to insist that they remain silent unless called upon during classroom lessons, that homework assignments to be completed on time, and that permission be required to visit bathrooms during class time. Nonetheless, it also clear that an increasingly minority of students began to raise questions about these long taken-fot-granted rules, to see them as both demeaning and unnecessary, and to demand that they participate in or at least be committed about decisions that had traditionally been made in unilateral fashion by school authorities. The result, by the mid-1970s, if hardly a revolutionary situation of near universal rebellion, was a reduction of the schools’ moral authority to inspire and motivate students to give of their best, and a weakening of the mutual trust and good will upon which that moral authority ultimately depended.

The Weakening of the School Community

Between the mid-1960s and the end of the 1970s high schools became less solidary institutions capable of inspiring loyalty and commitment. At the beginning of this period most high schools held weekly assemblies at which all students were expected to be present, maintained large numbers of clubs and voluntary societies that met after school, and celebrated and feted exceptional achievement in award and prize ceremonies. All these activities helped create a sense that the school was a community to which one owed allegiance rather than simply a place where students came to work. Solidarity was expressed by singing the school song on ceremonial occasions, by rooting for the schools team, and by wearing school letter sweater or class rings. In clubs and societies like the Future Homemakers of America, the Key Club, and the Senior Pride Committee, the schools presented a more benign face than in the day-to-day routines of classroom work. Such organizations helped harness adolescent energies to approved and socially controlled purposes; they also provided ways in which students who were neither athletic stars nor academically outstanding could have their place in the sun.

Many of these symbols of school solidarity were greatly weakened by the end of the 1970s. An examination of high school yearbooks, for example, shows that fewer students belonged to school clubs and societies in the late 1970s than in the mid-1960s. A number of activities that used to be held after school hour (glee club, for example) began to be offered for credit during classroom time. Other symbols of solidarity and community also declined during this period. The younger teachers were now aware of the existence of a school song, although it had been sung regularly on ceremonial occasions in the late 1960s. nor was there any evidence that more than a few students wore sweaters, rings, or carried purses that displayed the school of class insignia.

If these observations are representative, and it must be emphasized that there is virtually no research on these trends against which they might be compared, they suggest high schools lost a significant part of their previous ability to sustain a sense of community and shared purpose among their students during the period of declining test scores. Perhaps because these institutions were typically larger and more bureaucratic at the end of this period than at the beginning, and perhaps because the culture of young people became increasingly separate from and even hostile to the culture of the adult world, schools found it increasingly difficult to engage the loyalties of their students and to harness their energies for socially approved goals. As solidarity declined, many schools seemed to have simply places where teachers and students came to work, largely irrelevant to students’ deepest concerns and sympathies, which increasingly lay elsewhere.


Schools are organizations characterized by a large discrepancy between the loftiness of their objectives and the limited resources available to them for achieving these goals. And while this is true of the schools of the past and schools in other societies as well as schools in contemporary United States, there are reasons to believe that the gap between ideals and goals and available resources has substantially increased in recent decades. Contemporary lists of school objectives tend to be phrased in quite grandiose terms: cognitive development rather than the modest goal of acquiring specific skills, learning how to learn rather than the acquisition of any particular body of knowledge, and moral or emotional development rather than the learning of specific moral precepts. But if our expectations for schooling have risen in the last two or three decades, there has been no proportionate increase in the ability of these rather refractory institutions to meet these new ambitious objectives.

Compared with most adult work organizations, in a number of respects schools are resource-poor institutions. First, schools lack a highly developed technology of body of knowledge that can be relied on to produce successful outcomes in all but a few cases. Factories may turn out shoddy goods that break down, engineers may build bridges that collapse, and hospitals may occasionally kill patients who could have been made healthy. But these are exceptions to what is, in general, a successful process of applying a technology of body of knowledge to produce predictable results. Students learn in schools, of course, but we know surprisingly little about how and why they learn. Although professional educators are often convinced that one particular teaching technique is far superior to another, there is precious little evidence to support these claims. At best, therefore, schools possess a highly uncertain technology for producing the outcomes that are official purpose of these institutions. (Schapiro).

Second, compared with most adult work organizations, schools have fewer and less effective resources for motivating individuals to work steadily and diligently at assigned tasks. If every teacher had one or two students and could therefore ignore the problems of coordinating and controlling the activities of twenty or more young people in a confined space, the nature of school work might be very different. Under these circumstances, teacher would not have to assign the same tasks to most students regardless of their personal inclinations or interests, nor would teacher have to insist on relative silence and lack of movement during classroom lessons. Since teaching takes place in a crowd of others, however, school work is often no less tedious or onerous than much low-status adult work. Indeed, students have little discretion and control over pacing of their work and little choice over the nature of their assignments. To motivate this work schools must rely on sanctions as grades, teacher or parental approval, the threats of suspension or public ridicule have the crucial weakness that their effectiveness depends on the degree to which students believe that success in school is important to them and value the approval of school authorities. Since grades are used to evaluate students in relation to each other, as well as indicators of relative progress, it is inevitable that a substantial minority of students will obtain consistently low grades and find it very difficult to obtain positive evaluations of their efforts. For low-achieving students, in particular, therefore, grades are of questionable effectiveness in motivating diligent and sustained effort.

All these difficulties are compounded when we consider that schools, like prisons and mental hospitals, must compel individuals to be present no matter what their personal inclinations might be. Unlike colleges and universities, public and private schools are custodial institutions-a fact that helps explain the greater role of coercion and control over student behavior in these letter organizations. Because students must attend class no matter what their personal inclinations might be, some of them will almost inevitably be disruptive and recalcitrant. Because only one or two students can make teaching and learning impossible for the whole class, schools must control and, if necessary, coerce their behavior. But classroom order is often purchased at the heavy price of undermining the good will and cooperation upon which effective learning depends. To ensure good order, schools often resort to close and detailed supervision of minute aspects of students’ demeanor and deportment. Yet these controls, in effect say to students “We do not trust you to act responsibly,” probably have the effect of increasing student resentment and undermining good will. (Zajda).

If schools share common problems of authority and order with other custodial institutions, they also share with such organizations as factories and offices the problem of motivating individuals to engage in what are often rather onerous and demanding tasks. Regardless of which educational goals schools attempt to realize, students are expected to engage in relatively sustained activities that both they and the school define as work. Whereas some of these activities may be intrinsically pleasurable or self-motivated activities for some students, there is abundant evidence that many students find that the tasks they are assigned are difficult and often tedious. In this respect school work is similar to adult work, but schools lack the crucial incentives that adult work organizations possess to motivate this activity. Adults are not only praised for good work, they are also paid for it. Although most adults would perhaps continue to do some kind of work if they possessed independent means, it seems unlikely that most routine tasks in factories and offices would be adequately performed without this powerful incentive.










































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