Motivation and its effects on students learning

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In every classroom, the motivation of the pupils within a class is paramount for a teacher, for them to be able to learn effectively and also to maintain a steady order on their behaviour.

Many theorists have written on the benefits of these theories, some of which have benefited teachers, whilst others have become dated and failed. In the course of my readings, and from my own personal observations, it has become clear to me that there is no 'one-shot' solution to motivating a class of pupils.

Seifert, (2004) suggests: 'There is no single unified theory of motivation; rather several prominent strands exist, and often share particular features.' I am in agreement with Seifert's statement. Each class and pupil has a different make-up and their needs and attitudes are also no different. It is fair to say that each child requires some form of experimentation using these theories, in an attempt to motivate and optimise their learning ability whilst at primary school. The task of selecting which theory is the best fit for the class is left to the teacher, they have to choose which theory and method of motivation is relevant. Over the course of my reading, I have established some of the many key strands to motivation within the classroom and, to further reinforce these, I will be looking at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. I found that there are two other prominent strands of motivational theories that are relevant for this essay also, these are:

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Bandura's Self-efficacy theory and Weiner's Attribution Theory. 

Hierarchy of Needs: (Maslow, 1970). This theory is, in my opinion, fundamental to the motivation of learners. I found it particularly relevant to the motivation of primary school-going children. The model is very appealing for teachers through its common sense and structure, as Maslow's theory is structured in an ordered vertical line representing the basic needs, as shown by image A.

Maslow's theory on Hierarchy of Basic Needs: 'postulates certain basic human needs and arranges them in an order, a hierarchy, the needs becoming more 'human' as one proceeds through them' Child, 2007:239

 Image A                                                                                  

 

 

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Maslow's theory is split into individual needs, as shown by image A, where the bottom of the triangle represents the physiological needs, (this is when the child requires the basic needs of food and water in order to be motivated). Once this need is satisfied, then the child, according to Maslow, will need stability and consistency in his/her life. Following on this, the need of belonging to a group, or to be loved or nurtured. After this need is satisfied the child will require building of his/her self-esteem; this can be done by gaining respect from others and receiving praise on their work and finally, self actualisation needs. According to Maslow, this need is the most prioritised, and this is when the child is motivated to work. Unlike other theories I will be investigating later, this theory is quite difficult to relate it to all children's motivation levels. Indeed, it is clear, and I understand that each child will require each of these needs in order to reach the optimal motivation level. Referring to image A, the child will have possessed many of these needs prior to arriving in school. The parent unit will have introduced the child to physiological needs, along with safety needs and feeling of belonging. It is then required of the teacher that they should encourage the development of the remaining needs for the child, in order for the child to feel content and be motivated to work independently and well in a classroom environment.

From my school experience to date, I now can associate this theory with that of the children whom I was teaching. If a child, for instance, was lacking a sense of belonging, or their basic physiological needs were not being met, then it would be clear that the child would not be motivated to learn whilst at school. 

Self-Efficacy theory: (Bandura, 1986). This theory depends on how the child perceives themselves in terms of their ability. Bandura also talks of 'if a child has high self-efficacy', then this child will be quite happy and able to remain on task and work independently, also the child will display high levels of confidence and generally have a high self-esteem. They are sure of their ability and competence with the task in hand.

 

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'Success tends to generate higher expectations and a more positive self-concept, leading to increased motivation, effort and success' Long, (2007:119)

 

In contrast, Bandura's theory of low self-efficacy states that children who are not confident or feel that they are 'useless' or inadequate at completing a particular task will lose motivation, and this feeling can be carried over onto other tasks or subjects. They may even avoid engaging with the task, perceiving it to be too difficult or challenging. If a child has a lack of motivation with their ability to complete a given task, they will apply minimum effort.

 'When students were given negative information about their performance on a mathematics task (irrespective of how they had done), their subsequent success and involvement in similar tasks were often significantly reduced'. Bandura (1986)

 

On my recent school experience, it was interesting to see that Bandura's theory was accurate and that children do work according to their level of motivation. Some of the children that made frequent mistakes in literacy and numeracy would build up a barrier to their learning as a result of negative feedback from either the teacher or the classroom assistant. Also, I learned that some of the children 'automatically' felt that they were poor at a subject if they were visiting a support staff member for extra help. The children would make the excuse that they are poor at a task, on the reasoning that they were weak in this area of study. Zimmerman et al, (1992) adds that 'children will set their goals according to what they perceive they are capable of and will avoid the emotional consequences of failure'. From my experience to date I have found this to be particularly relevant, especially in the children I have been teaching. Many of these children suffered from a low level of motivation and will make many excuses to avoid doing the required task. These excuses ranged from wanting to be "excused for the toilet" or "can I move onto another question". The child I studied closely as part of my Individual Needs Assignment (refer to SEN assignment), (whom I know now to have suffered from a low self-efficacy), has created artificial barriers to his own learning, and this , I feel, has resulted from his prior experience of being chastised over his mistakes in his work, by a former teacher.

Attribution theory, Weiner, (1980, 1992) is the second most prominent theoretical strand that I, in my own professional experiences, found to be very common in the area of motivation. This theory is centred on the principle that, as teachers, we need to be able to understand the pupil's motivations for achievement. To do this, we need to analyse their emotional feeling and assumptions about what causes their success or failure. Borich, (1997)

This theory is particularly relevant in the classroom, where a child will present his/her completed piece of work, passing a class assignment/test or winning a game between their peers. The typical types of attributions that the child will need to display in this instance are: luck, ability, effort, or strategy. Following on from this, the typical outcome for this child will involve certain emotional reactions, based on how the activity or task has gone. The child will reflect this by having a positive or negative emotion. Rotter, (1966) develops this attribution theory further when he states: 'one form of attribution is the way in which individuals can have a sense of whether control originates from themselves - an internal locus, or from things separate from them - an external locus'. The external locus concentrates on how the child believes in 'luck' rather than ability. In this particular instance the child is said to have lower achievements and lack of effort. I particularly felt that this statement was relevant, as to date, I have encountered this among some of the children in my recent school experience. The children would attempt some questions, knowing that the questions were merely attempted, and not accurately selected.

Seifert, (2004) adds -'that if a child is to encounter regular praise with good work, this will motivate the child to maintain the level of motivation that will benefit his/her work or ability. This will indeed provide the child with a positive sense of achievement and the child will strive to perform to the same ability the next time'. He continues - 'in contrast to the positive outcome, there is also a negative outcome deriving from the less-successful children, these children become habituated with the feeling of negative emotions associated with failure, this will lead to the child blaming their own inability to perform or on other factors that they cannot control, some examples include: dyslexia, attention-deficit disorder. Similarly, in self-efficacy, I have understood this to be particularly evident in my professional experience to date, the affected child would avoid the task, believing it to be challenging or too difficult to attempt. Again, in such an instance, the child would give some reason or excuse for avoiding the work. In turn, the child may start misbehaving with other children within the class.

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It is in the very nature of the classroom environment, where many different types of inappropriate behaviour are witnessed. Recently on my school experience, I shared a year six classroom with eighteen pupils and a teacher, where the level of behaviour ranged from the 'trivial' aspect of talking aloud to the more 'serious' acts of inappropriate behaviour.  In this instance, I witnessed a child spitting on another child and also another example where a child deliberately kicked a chair at me when I was remonstrating with her regarding her continuous poor behaviour. From this particular school experience I observed many different types of poor behaviour. The most common was the continuous murmur of talk among the pupils. This talk was not part of their learning and was excessively noisy at times, as I was forced to speak loudly to drown-out their chatter. This type of behaviour is reflected and talked about at great length in the Ofsted report on Improving Behaviour, (2006). My personal view is that dialogue among pupils should be encouraged, as I feel that it aids their learning experience, but, when the level of chatter interrupts your teaching or class it tends to becomes highly disruptive and will detract from the learning opportunity of others within that class. In order to curb this trend, I had used many different examples of behaviour management, ranging from low tone speaking to raising my voice. I quickly understand that some strategies of dealing with their behaviour were inadequate and required different methods of preventing them from talking unnecessarily. Therefore, I modelled good behaviour by encouraging them to raise their hand and I rewarded them with 'house points' for following instruction. I also used my body language more by refusing to raise my voice, as this approach alone, (of continuous elevated vocal levels)  can get very wearisome, both on the teacher and those who are not misbehaving; therefore I would stop and remain silent until I got their attention again. With regards to the more serious examples of poor behaviour, several girls within the class used some unsavoury language and also made reference regarding my body parts. This act was so serious that these girls were excluded from class for one full week and placed in isolated teaching measures in another room on their own. Another time, I witnessed one girl in the class, kick a chair from the ground and it struck me, whereby I instructed her to return and place this chair back again. Upon her refusing, this warranted the head teacher to again intervene and resulted in the placing of this this child in special measures for a period.

There have been many research reports on behaviour in schools, like the Ofsted report as mentioned earlier, also others like the Sir Alan Steer's: Practitioner's group. This report was the latest report analysis, on behaviour and discipline in the classroom. In the report, that Sir Alan Steer chaired, it is mentioned:

'Poor behaviour cannot be tolerated as it is a denial of the right of pupils to learn and teachers to teach. To enable learning to take place preventative action is the most effective, but where this fails, schools must have clear, firm and intelligent strategies in place to help pupils manage their behaviour;' Practitioner's Group, (2005)

In this report is offers advice to all schools and teachers on methods to improve on behaviour problems in a localised environment of the classroom or on a whole-school approach.

Similarly, Chaplain, (2006) reports that there is a tendency for teachers to blame factors within pupils which they have no control or power over: for example (personality, their respect for authority, or their growing up stages), instead, Chaplain highlights, that as teachers, we may choose to ignore that their behavioural problems might be at the hand of internal factors like poor teaching, inappropriate seating arrangements, overcomplicated work or tasks, lack of discipline or behaviour management on the part of the teacher. Other factors which contribute to this are, issues like social deprivation in the local community and lack of value placed on the education system. For teachers, we have to look at the overall scene rather than select one area to blame for the child's behaviour problems and, in doing this, will inform the teacher of how to best prepare for the next teaching session. If a teacher was to incorporate this into their learning, he or she would better understand the pupils' perspective and have greater insight into how to deal with their behaviour then.

From previous experience in the classroom, outside of this academic year, I have always prepared a classroom behaviour policy, and this would be reviewed annually by the teacher (I) and the children, where we collectively, would write up policies of accepted conduct and behaviour management. This policy would state clearly what is expected of the teacher and the children alike. It would also tell them of the rewards and sanctions arising from the rules in the agreement. My technique is mirrored by Chaplain, (2006), and Jacques (2007) both of these authors have talked about the use and implementation of a classroom behaviour policy or 'contract'. This contract would be decided upon by the students and teacher of the class. By giving the pupils the opportunity to decide what rules to include, it is said by Chaplain, that this will give the students an independence and they will have already stated the rules and responsibilities to which they should abide. Once the contract or behaviour policy was finished, both the teacher and each student would normally sign off on it and the completed document would be then be fixed to the wall or each child given a copy of this for future reference. From a personal point of view, I found it very useful and it was great to recall upon if a pupil was breaking the code of conduct, whereby I would ask the pupil to refer to the contract which they had signed. By doing this, it made the child reflect on their behaviour and how they had selected this as a rule that was not acceptable. Over the first few days or weeks of the school year it is important for the teacher to establish a common ground between the teacher's professional position and the pupils actions. Everyone should know who is the 'manager' of the classroom. Rogers, (2006) reflects on how the first few weeks of a school year, is crucial for the teacher to establish this ground between the teacher and pupils. He talks of how the teacher needs to 'set the tone' and give direction to the pupils and also model good behaviour techniques.

He states: there exists 'a psychological and developmental readiness in the students for their teacher to explain how things will be this particular year with regard to expectations about behaviour and learning in this class' Rogers, (2006:36)

Although, the teacher has a fair idea of what they want to include on the policy, the children feel that they all had a collective effort in implementing this policy and this will ensure its effectiveness as they will try to maintain a well-behaved class.

It is fair to suggest that confidence and assertiveness on the teachers' part is a prerequisite and desirable trait to possess. By holding skills is key to maintaining a positive learning environment and maintaining a well-behaved classroom. Leaman (2007:8/9) says that 'assertiveness is about being charismatic and projecting an air of confidence, not showing your weaknesses to the class'. In support, Ros Hancell, a guest lecturer that visited Brunel University PGCE Primary lectures in 2009 quoted: "keeping your core strong". In my opinion it is vital that the children see you as a strong figure in a room, this will encourage the pupils to offer you respect and motivate them to work harder. Other methods of showing confidence to the pupils is by the positive use of body language and posture, the teachers preparation for each lesson, your choice of vocabulary, the tone, pitch and volume of one's speech.  

In order to encourage good behaviour, I have always been of the opinion that as a teacher you cannot just notice bad behaviour. As a teacher and a modeller of positive values and behaviour, the teacher needs to encourage good behaviour by offering rewards or bonuses for maintaining a good atmosphere. If a child or set of children have acted in a mature manner and displayed signs of good behaviour then they should be rewarded for this. A system of rewards and sanctions should be used in the classroom, this will differentiate between good and bad behaviour. However having rules, reward systems and sanctions does not always guarantee a successful outcome - it does not guarantee good behaviour in your class. Indeed, as teachers, we should expect to see the rules being challenged by the pupils. Dix, (2007). I, agree that in my professional experience, not at all times will pupils remember to choose the best behaviour in class. Therefore it is essential that the teacher will offer rewards and place sanctions on pupils who choose to break the contract. The teacher should be consistent with offering rewards and sanctions, by offering rewards will promote good behaviour and sanctions will act as a deterrent for the pupil to act out of character. As Chaplain, (2006) suggests, the teacher should ask the child to comment on his/her reason for misbehaving, encourage them to make their own choice. I tried to elicit this idea whilst I was in school experience; it was like an admission of what they did that was deemed misappropriate behaviour.

I have always tried to praise and commend all children on their work. I have commended even small efforts at work, and my reason for doing this is that the child the next time or on the next task will strive to perform better in his/her task. Praise is one of the best motivations to try harder, children like adults, will always strive for perfection if they know they are working well. Children, including the poorly behaved pupils, would enjoy hearing good feedback and encouragement and praise. This method of motivation is, in my opinion, a lot more beneficial to a child on so many levels, namely: the child will feel more confident in the task or subject; the child will strive for excellence and the teacher/adults approval the next time.

In support, Dix, (2007:50) said:

'Praise is a far more effective behaviour management tool than sanctions.'

He continues in his research to suggest that, as teachers, we should praise children in a constructive, non-personal way and sensitively and intelligently. For example, he uses the idea of a teacher displaying a child's piece of work to a class, whereby this could have detrimental effects on the child, namely: embarrassment, anxiety and potential for alienation with his/her peer. Worse still, the child might not like the fact that they were made an example of and they will next time not perform to the best of their ability, in light of the fear that they may be asked to display their work again.

Finally, it is imperative for teachers to make the best use of time for their pupils. The teacher will need to keep the children busy with tasks, activities or other types of work. If the child is kept busy, the potential for serious misbehaviour would be significantly be reduced and the children will remain on task, thus creating a conducive environment for learning for the teacher and pupils.

 

 

 

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