A Sociocultural Perspective on Motivation
University of Southern California
Luis C. Moll University of Arizona
Many current school reform initiatives in the United States are motivated by concern among educators over low school achievement ( Holmes Group, 1987; National Coalition of Advocates for Students, 1988; National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983). A common element in many of these discussions is implicit or explicit reference to students' motivational deficiencies ( Dunn, 1987). However, there are significant limitations with the rather narrow perspective often found in discussion of motivational factors in schooling. In this chapter, we argue that current theories of motivation are limited in that they conceptualize motivation as an individual "in-the-head" phenomenon, with little or no attention paid to the sociocultural context and the interpersonal processes within which individual activity occurs.
The purpose of the present chapter is to highlight the importance of a sociocultural perspective in understanding motivation and its impact on school performance, as an alternative to more individually based, traditional cognitive formulations. We propose a conceptualization of motivation consistent with current sociocultural, interactionist perspectives on cognitive ability as distributed and socially constructed ( Forman, Minick, & Stone, in press; Salomon, in press; Wertsch, 1991). After a brief review of more traditional conceptualizations of motivation, we will outline the rudiments of an alternative sociocultural perspective. Following this, some of the key principles of this alternative perspective are illustrated with examples from our work that has focused on the acquisition of literacy with language minority (Latino) students, and implications for the structure of educational programs are discussed.