Motivating Students to Learn Better through Own Goal-Setting

By Madden, Lowell E. | Education, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview

Motivating Students to Learn Better through Own Goal-Setting


Madden, Lowell E., Education


What is an effective way to motivate students to learn? Should the use of academic expectations be employed to set their learning direction? Or should they be allowed to set their own goals? To begin the search for answers to these questions let's first explain the difference between goal-setting and academic expectations. Goal-setting is the level of achievement that students establish themselves to accomplish; whereas, academic expectation is defined as the level of achievement that students must reach in order to satisfy the standard established by the teacher. Unlike academic expectations, goal-setting is a target to aim for rather than a standard which must be reached.

Next let's look at a definition of motivation. Linskie (1977) says that "motivation is generally described as the desire to achieve a goal that has value for the individual." She states that motivation is a process which leads students into experiences in which they can learn, which energizes and activates them, that keeps them focused on a specific task, and which helps fulfill their needs for immediate achievement and a sense of moving toward larger goals. As a result she asserts that students are interested in the things which they plan themselves. They work much harder on self-made goals than they ever would on the expectations of someone else. She states that "successful teachers seem to have a special ability to involve students in goal-setting, in identifying with the learning problem, and in generating a kind of sense of personal excitement for new ideas."

Research Findings and Expert Opinion: What Can Be Learned?

Now let's learn from the review of salient research and expert opinion how to effectively motivate our students to grow. Schunk (1984) states that goal setting for the learner involves the establishment of an objective to serve as the aim of one's actions. He states that goal properties are (1) specificity, (2) difficulty level, and (3) proximity. Specificity means stating precisely what the learner wants to accomplish, such as spelling 8 out of 10 words correctly rather than doing as good as you can or having no goals at all. Difficulty level for specifically stated goals should be moderate. Too easy a goal is no challenge; too difficult a goal causes discouragement and results in giving up. Proximity aims at helping the learner reach the goal quickly.

Cauley, Linder and McMillian (1989) assert that students who feel that they have the self-efficacy (competence or power) to attain a goal show greater effort and persistence than those who lack it. They also state that the need for performance explains that effort and persistence are greater in individuals who have set their own goals than for those who have expectations set by others. Punnett (1986) shares that goals provide a form of motivation to perform well on given tasks. She also suggests that providing rewards for successful completion of goals is also an effective motivational approach. Schunk (1984) states that receipt of a reward also validates self-efficacy because it symbolizes progress. He also asserts that combining performance-contingent rewards with proximal goals leads to higher self-efficacy than either by itself and strengthens goals commitment. Knowing that they are reaching their goals is important in developing self-efficacy, particularly in young children who may not be aware of how well they are performing. Learning about how well the task was completed (feedback) soon after the performance also is effective pedagogy. Rapid feedback in relation to goal achievement may be a form of reward for the student. Bardwell (1984) states that quantitative (concrete) feedback is more effective for children than qualitative comments, such as "you answered all the questions correctly" rather than "you are a great student."

Punnett (1986) also says that the perceived ability of the learner to achieve the goal is necessary for successful goal setting. …

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