Motivation for Achievement: Possibilities for Teaching and Learning

By M. Kay Alderman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Attributional Beliefs and Motivation

Sylvia has been failing and has no confidence in herself to do the work. As a teacher, you believe that the main thing Sylvia needs is to experience success on the task. So you ask another student to help her with the task. Sylvia is able to complete the task successfully. You now expect her to be more confident. However, when you ask Sylvia about the likelihood of completing other similar tasks, she seems doubtful that she can do it. "I only did it the last time cause Sharon helped me."

When students like Sylvia lack confidence, a common response by teachers is to help them attain success on a task, as in the example. Although Sylvia has a successful experience, she still lacks confidence. What is the explanation for Sylvia's continuing low confidence? The motivation theory that can provide insight into Sylvia's response is attribution theory. Attribution is a cognitive theory that considers a person's beli-+efs about causes of outcomes and how those beliefs influence expectations and behavior. An understanding of attribution theory will help you:
understand seemingly illogical beliefs of students (like Sylvia still having low expectations after experiencing success);
understand and address lack of effort;
identify strategies that can be used to help students succeed and gain in confidence; and
understand your own causal beliefs about success and failure and how these influence student motivation.

Because attribution is concerned with causes given for outcomes, it is the theory of motivation that is most directly concerned with this question: "Why do people do what they do?" This question is

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