Motivation as an Enabler for Academic Success

Article excerpt

Abstract. Student motivation as an academic enabler for school success is discussed. Contrary to many views, however, the authors conceive of student motivation as a multifaceted construct with different components. Accordingly, the article includes a discussion of four key components of student motivation including academic self-efficacy, attributions, intrinsic motivation, and achievement goals. Research on each of these four components is described, research relating these four components to academic achievement and other academic enablers is reviewed, and suggestions are offered for instruction and assessment.

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Psychologists and educators have long considered the role of motivation in student achievement and learning (for a review see Graham & Weiner, 1996). Much of the early research on student achievement and learning separated cognitive and motivational factors and pursued very distinct lines of research that did not integrate cognition and motivation. However, since at least the 1980s there has been a sustained research focus on how motivational and cognitive factors interact and jointly influence student learning and achievement. In more colloquial terms, there is a recognition that students need both the cognitive skill and the motivational will to do well in school (Pintrich & Schunk, 2002). This miniseries continues in this tradition by highlighting the contribution of both motivational and cognitive factors for student academic success.

The integration of motivational and cognitive factors was facilitated by the shift in motivational theories from traditional achievement motivation models to social cognitive models of motivation (Pintrich & Schunk, 2002). One of the most important assumptions of social cognitive models of motivation is that motivation is a dynamic, multifaceted phenomenon that contrasts with the quantitative view taken by traditional models of motivation. In other words, these newer social cognitive models do not assume that students are either "motivated" or "not motivated" or that student motivation can be characterized in some quantitative manner between two endpoints on a single continuum. Rather, social cognitive models stress that students can be motivated in multiple ways and the important issue is understanding how and why students are motivated for school achievement. This change in focus implies that teachers or school psychologists should not label students as "motivated" or "not motivated" in some global fashion. Furthermore, assessment instruments that generate a single global "motivation" score for students may be misleading in terms of a more multifaceted understanding of student motivation. Accordingly, in the discussion of motivation as an academic enabler, many aspects of student motivation including self-efficacy, attributions, intrinsic motivation, and goals are considered.

A second important assumption of social cognitive models of motivation is that motivation is not a stable trait of an individual, but is more situated, contextual, and domain-specific. In other words, not only are students motivated in multiple ways, but their motivation can vary depending on the situation or context in the classroom or school. Although this assumption makes it more difficult for research and assessment efforts, it means that student motivation is conceived as being inherently changeable and sensitive to the context. This provides hope for teachers and school psychologists and suggests that instructional efforts and the design of classrooms and schools can make a difference in motivating students for academic achievement.

This situated assumption means that student motivation probably varies as a function of subject matter domains and classrooms (e.g., Bong, 2001). For example, within social cognitive models, motivation is usually assessed for a specific subject area such as math, reading, science, or social studies and in reference to a specific classroom or teacher. …