Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Motivators of Educational Success: Perceptions of Grade 12 Aboriginal Students

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Motivators of Educational Success: Perceptions of Grade 12 Aboriginal Students

Article excerpt


One of the latest reports to surface from a federally appointed Canadian panel of policy experts provides a clear message--the quality and provision of education for Canada's Aboriginal peoples requires vast improvement (Haldane, Lafond, & Krause, 2012). Many additional Canadian reports have made a similar point (e.g., Howe, 2011; Mendelson, 2008; Richards & Scott, 2009; Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1996; Sharpe & Arsenault, 2009). The changes needed to improve Aboriginal education require urgent political, financial, curricular, and pedagogical attention, a process that necessitates collaborative efforts among Canadian leaders and educators. Interestingly, though, as government leaders, policy makers, school administrators, and classroom teachers attempt to ameliorate the educational experiences of Aboriginal students, a key group of Aboriginal stakeholders whose voices are muffled is the Aboriginal students themselves. Through this paper, we attempt to address the lack of attention given to Aboriginal students and their perceptions about education.

The purpose of this paper is to identify motivators that support educational success, as perceived by 12 Aboriginal high school students enrolled in two urban Saskatchewan schools. Analyzing the findings through an Aboriginal worldview, we found the students' motivation to learn was enhanced through experiencing four quadrants of learning--awareness (east, physical), knowledge (south, mental), continuous improvement (west, emotional), and perseverance (north, spiritual). The findings of this study may be of particular interest to educational policy makers, senior educational leaders, principals, and educators who promote the educational success and well-being of Aboriginal students.

Before we present the details of our research, the significance of the study warrants explanation. Regardless of whether students are Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, it is important to address the question "What motivates students to learn?" When that answer is implicit, educators are better able to infuse motivational types of learning into school and classroom environments. In turn, a student's learning journey becomes an enticing, natural, and personally relevant experience. Studies have shown that high motivation to learn is directly related to cognitive engagement, enjoyment of the learning experience, and increased achievement in the classroom (Areepattamannil, Freeman, & Klinger, 2011; Metallidou & Vlachou, 2007; Pajares, 1997). These findings highlight the potential and positive impact of our research with regard to Aboriginal students. In sum, educators need to understand what motivates Aboriginal students to succeed in school and use this knowledge to promote increased educational success for Aboriginal students.

Background: Motivational Learning

There are a number of studies pertaining to learning and student motivation. For example, two studies (Assor, Kaplan, Kanat-Maymon, & Roth, 2005; Reeve, 2002) have revealed that students are less motivated to learn if their teacher exhibits controlling behaviour such as regularly giving rigid directions, monitoring students too closely, not giving students choices, and not providing opportunities for students to voice differing opinions. Elliot (2006) claimed that an individual's cultural values and traditions serve as motivation if classroom dynamics and learning are aligned with these cultural features. Liem, Martin, Porter, and Colmar (2012) found that students were motivated to do well in an attempt to meet parental and teacher expectations. This research highlights that a student's motivation to learn is influenced by sociocultural components such as classroom dynamics, individual expectations, and home life.

In attempting to locate research that specifically addresses the contextual realities of Aboriginal students and motivational grounds for succeeding in school, we had limited success. …

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