The concept of self and motivation to learn

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This case study is based on a 17-year-old male student from a Special Education School in Singapore. The pseudonym Ron is used throughout this paper to protect his identity. Ron is placed in a senior classroom where students are from 16 to 18 years of age. He is studying skills targeted at a primary one standard in a mainstream school in Singapore. Ron belongs to a family of the middle class in Singapore. He stays with parents in a four room flat. Ron is the only child for his parents. Both her parents are employed. Mother works as an accountant and father was as an engineer. The family communicates mostly in English at home.

Ron is a reserved passive individual who has limited number of friends in school. He has difficulties understanding questions and expressing himself. He also had poor reasoning ability. Due to his poor articulation problems, it is also hard for people to understand him. Ron has poor visual-perceptual, visual-spatial and visual-motor skills. He was rather slow, uncoordinated and needed close supervision in copying symbols. Although Ron enjoys attending school and is motivated in completing task assigned, he has difficulty coping in class. Ron has poor general knowledge and is unable to perform simple mathematical functions.

The purpose of this paper is to examine (1) how Ron's personal, social and emotional needs, concept of self, his motivation towards learning, his cognitive abilities and domains of intelligence affect his learning and (2) teaching strategies that can foster learning and development.

Personal, social & emotional needs, the concept of self & motivation to learn

Kohlberg's theory of moral understanding has six stages organized into three levels (Lansdown and Walker, 1991). Stage one, the punishment and obedience orientation and stage two, the instrumental purpose orientation, are at the preconventional level. At this level, individuals assume that they must obey rules that are set by authority figures without questioning and their behaviour is driven by the anticipation of pleasure or pain (Berk, 2006). Stage three, the "good boy-good girl" orientation and stage four, the social-order-maintaining orientation, are at the conventional level. At this level, individuals accept and obey rules to promote social harmony as they are aware of shared feelings and expectations of close personal ties. In addition, they develop a "member of society" perspective where they believe that rules must be obeyed at all times in order to maintain societal order (Berk, 2006). Stage five, the social-contract orientation and stage six, the universal ethical principle orientation are at the postconventional level. At this level, individuals are concerned about values and principles that make a good society and seek equality in laws as they emphasis basic rights (Berk, 2006).

Ron may be functioning at the first and second stage of the preconventional level. He accepts rules without questioning his teachers and is impressed with peers who have authority. For instance, he would obey rules set by prefects or team leaders. Ron is also motivated by rewards and punishment, exhibiting behaviors for rewards and avoiding behaviors that could result in punishment. He fails to understand the underlying importance of acceptable behaviour because of his focus on rewards. Also, he fails to understand the intention of rules and would obey them without questioning.

According to Frydenberg (1997), self concept is "the perceptions that an individual has of themselves" (pp. 75) while self esteem is "the value or judgments made of themselves and their actions" (pp.75 - 76). The perception of self is drawn from various areas such as academic ability, social acceptance, physical attractiveness, and athletic ability (Frydenberg, 1997). Self-concept is the underlying factor that determines the behaviour and the choices one makes. A person who has poor self-concept has higher chances of making impulsive choices which may affect their growth and development (Lansdown and Walker, 1991).

Self-esteem, as Berk (2006) describes, is the subjective evaluation or judgment of how one feels about the components of self-concept. Branwhite (2000) explains that self-esteem affects the way one learns, works and builds relationships. He highlights that people with high self-esteem are generally more confident and less influenced by their peers. Branwhite (2000) believes that there is a close relationship between self-concept and self-esteem and that people with low self-esteem have damaged self-concept.

Some researchers, however, do not make the distinction between self-concept and self-esteem as they believe that self concept is in itself evaluative (Frydenberg, 1997).

Ron displays high academic self-esteem compared to the rest of the students within the class. In comparison to his classmates, Ron is more participative in class activities and often responds to questions even when unsure of answers. He is always motivated to learn. He completes his homework without assistance even if he is uncertain. During a combine lesson with another class that is academically higher, however, Ron would withdraw and dependent on his peers for answers and suggestions for fear of making mistakes in front of his classmates. This shows that Ron's self-concept and self-esteem is highly influenced by the presence and judgment of peers.

Peer acceptance refers to the extent to which a child is accepted by a group of individuals (Berk, 2006). Ron is most comfortable talking with his teachers than with his peers. As his peers have difficulty understanding Ron due to his poor verbal skills, they often exclude him from group activities. Some peers pass nasty remarks and would exclude Ron by not talking to him. Ron is aware that his peers do not accept him and accepts his peers negative reactions without questioning or standing up for himself, given that he is functioning at the preconventional level of Kohlberg's theory of moral understanding. Ron chooses to work alone to avoid bad feelings and unwanted attention. He makes little or no effort to develop friendships and does not try new activities with peers. He lacks the motivation to learn with his friends and would rather study independently. He is passive and withdrawn during group activities. Ron's self-concept and self-esteem is affected by the rejection and lack of peer acceptance in his class.

Teaching and learning that takes place in a classroom is affected by and can affect the self concept and esteem, moral development and relationships between peers of students in the classroom. These aspects of personal and social development seem to be interdependent. Moral development can affect how students relate to their peers, just like how Ron responds to his peer negative reactions towards him. Although Ron displays high academic self esteem, his development of self esteem and self concept towards learning heavily depends on his peer relationship as friendship is a pivotal role in a student's life.

Cognitive abilities and dominant expression of intelligence

Siegler (1998) explained Piaget believed that intelligence develops through a series of four qualitatively distinct stages and in the same order. According to Piaget, in the first two years, children are in the sensorimotor stage. Development progresses to the second stage, the preoperational stage which can span from two years to six or seven years of age. The third stage is concrete operational stage spanning from six or seven years to eleven or twelve years of age. The fourth and final stage is the formal operational stage which extends from eleven or twelve years of age to adulthood (Berk, 2006).

Ron is the third stage described by Piaget, the concrete operational stage. Beard (1969) explained that children in Piaget's concrete operational stage will be able to perform mental operations on physical or "concrete" objects and are able to master concrete operations such as conservation, classification, seriation and spatial reasoning. However, children in this stage will have difficulty in understanding abstract ideas and theoretical concepts.

When shown beakers of water for the conservation-of-liquid-quantity problem, Ron could realize that the amount of liquid is the same although the dimensions changed. He could also explain why the number of ten-cent coins in rows was the same (conservation of number) even when placed apart and clay amount the same even when stretched (conservation of solid quantity). As Siegler (1998) emphasizes, children in the concrete operational stage will realize that changing the appearance or arrangement of objects does not change the key properties such as number, amount, length, weight and area. Ron demonstrated Piaget's concept of conservation in all tasks given; thus, he is in the concrete-operational stage.

According to Piaget, children are also able to perform classification and seriation in concrete operational stage (Boereel, 2006). Siegler (1998) defined classification as the ability to classify items by focusing on common features and grouping them together. Seriation is putting things in order along a single dimension such as size. Ron was given a classification task during his art and craft lesson. He was provided with square and circle chips of two different sizes. Each set of square and circle chips were of two different colours as well. He successfully sorted the chips according to the two different dimensions (colour and size) when asked. Given a seriation task of arranging straws of different lengths in order of height, Ron was able to arrange them from the tallest to the shortest with no difficulties. Therefore, Ron is in the concrete operational stage.

According to Howard Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences, all individuals possess not only a general intelligence but a basic set of intelligences. He formulated eight intelligences, such as Linguistic intelligence and Logical-mathematical intelligence that are valued in school. He described Bodily-kinesthetic, Musical, Spatial, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Naturalist intelligences (Pohl, 1999) and believed there might be more, yet to be identified. According to Smith (2002), Gardner's multiple intelligences are used at the same time and complement one another in skills that people perform or develop. Hopper and Hurry (2000) explained that Gardner's multiple intelligences are useful to help learners achieve academic goals by offering them a variety of learning activities which encompass the various intelligences. It is believed that learning experiences involve a complex interaction of various intelligences. Thus, it is recommended that teachers draw upon the various intelligences as appropriate during activities allowing students to make use of their strengths and improve their weaknesses.

Ron participates actively in hands-on activities such as experiments. He enjoys watching documentaries, movies and listening to music. According to Rath & Kennedy (2004), children participate in learning when they are engaged in activities which they feel comfortable with. It is observed that Ron participates in learning actively when activities involve music, combined with touch and body movements. Based on Howard Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences, Ron learns through bodily-kinesthetic and musical intelligences.

Theory and Practice in terms of scaffolding techniques for engaging the pupil and teaching for understanding

Learning objectives can be achieved when appropriate teaching strategies are selected to match the learning needs of individual learners in a classroom. Teaching strategies can also help foster metacognition, where students would have knowledge and understanding of their thinking processes and learning strategies to use in particular learning situations. Jensen and Kiley (2000) also believe that teaching strategies can be used to develop metacognition by helping students know how to select and use various strategies in the various learning situations.

For Ron to improve in his personal and social development, class activities and discussions can be a great tool to evaluate feelings, situations and encourage personal views. These activities should be targeted at not only the individual but the whole class, increasing class cohesion and learning. Small group learning such as cooperative learning can be used to encourage interaction among Ron and his peers. As Ron and his peers work towards achieving common goals set by the teacher, there will be an increasing active engagement and conversation in these new groups. The presence of a teacher to facilitate discussions and to model social behaviours will help promote peer acceptance and increase active engagement among students. The success of learning for Ron and his peers increase as cohesion increases.

Piaget's theory on cognitive development has had an impact on education. Piaget believed that development and adaptation of mental operations progress through rich interaction with the world (Eggen, 2001). Based on Piaget's theory, Ron should be provided with activities and materials where he will be able to learn through discovery. The activities and materials provided should allow for assimilation and accommodation so that Ron acquires knowledge related to the stage he is in, the concrete operational stage. During the activities, he would need to explore, experiment, question and search for answers for himself so that learning becomes more meaningful.

Classroom activities should help increase learners' interest in the topic and at the same time expose them to a variety of learning styles that uses different intelligences, helping them to stretch beyond their own learning styles. According to Zile (2003), multi-modal learning integrates all the various intelligences into lesson design. Activities used in multi-modal lessons accommodates to the various learning needs of diverse learners. Discussion, analyzing materials, drama and movement, music, and experiment are some activities involve the use of multiple intelligences. As these activities allow Ron to see, hear, touch, move and interact in many other ways, he is given the opportunity to use his different intelligences in the activities. Through these activities, Ron will be able to develop his interest in the topics, beginning to think and question further.

According to Boone Jr, Boone and Gartin (2005), Bloom's Taxonomy helps develop higher order thinking in students through questioning. Wilhelm (1999) believes that questioning involves inquiry-based learning as it allows learners to find their own ways to the answers. Learners develop a deeper understanding as they begin to think critically, generate ideas, share and discuss ideas and reflect on the ideas (Wilhelm,1999). Thus, through questioning, Ron is placed in an interactive way of learning, allowing him to explore and critically analyse problems and solutions to questions.