The Intersection of Culture and Achievement Motivation

By Trumbull, Elise; Rothstein-Fisch, Carrie | School Community Journal, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

The Intersection of Culture and Achievement Motivation

Trumbull, Elise, Rothstein-Fisch, Carrie, School Community Journal


Achievement motivation is something that all members of the school community want to support in students, however few may recognize that it is influenced by culture. The very meaning of "achievement" is culturally variable, and the motives that students have for achieving may be quite different, depending upon their cultural background. The practices of schools tend to reflect the individualism of the dominant U.S. culture. Many students come from families that are more collectivistic. Elementary bilingual teachers used a cultural framework of individualism/collectivism to guide understanding and innovations related to achievement motivation. Examples illustrate cultural differences and how they can be bridged.

Key Words: achievement motivation, cultural differences, bridging cultures, individualism, collectivism, academic goals, social goals, schools, teachers' practices, parents, Latino, action research, expectations


Achievement motivation is an important contributor to students' academic success (Pintrich & Schunk, 1996) and, hence, of interest to all stakeholders in the community of the school. It is well documented that cultural differences affect achievement motivation (Henderlong & Lepper, 2002; Kaplan, Karabenick, & DeGroot, 2009; Maehr & Yamaguchi, 2001; Otsuka & Smith, 2005; Urdan & Maehr, 1995). For that reason, parents and teachers may be coming at the issue from very different perspectives because of cultural differences between home and school (Rothstein-Fisch & Trumbull, 2008). We believe that if a school community truly wants to promote the success of all students, it must recognize how achievement motivation varies culturally within the population it serves.

School personnel need to learn from parents how students have been socialized at home to think about academic achievement. At the same time, they can also help parents understand the culture of the school and the kinds of expectations schools may have of their children. Such communication is key to forging continuities between home and school (Shor & Bernhard, 2003; Trumbull, Rothstein-Fisch, Greenfield, & Quiroz, 2001). In this article, we use a cultural framework (individualism/collectivism) to explain how Latino immigrant students' achievement motivation may be different from that of their mainstream American peers. We offer examples from elementary teachers' classroom-based research to illustrate how achievement motivation can be approached in a more culturally responsive way. Our findings come from Bridging Cultures,®1 a teacher collaborative action research project.

What Is Culture?

"Culture" is a contested construct: Nearly everyone believes it exists, but few can agree on exactly what it is and whether using research about culture to inform educational decisions is more helpful-leading to insights-or damaging-leading to stereotypes (Hollins, 1996). Nevertheless, faced with increasing student diversity and evidence that students from a given cultural background appear to share certain understandings and "powerfully motivating sources of their action[s]" (Strauss & Quinn, 1997, p. 3), many educators are paying attention to culture.

We characterize culture as a dynamic system of values, expectations, and associated practices that help organize people's daily lives and mediate their thoughts and actions. These values, expectations, and practices are learned in social contexts and are transmitted across generations, even as they are modified by people within a culture in interaction with people from other cultures and in the face of new needs (Greenfield, 2009). Cultures are not strictly bounded; that is, there is considerable overlap in the values, expectations, and practices of different cultures (Strauss & Quinn, 1997).

Approaches to Achievement Motivation

Achievement motivation theory has been primarily cognitive in nature, attributing the sources of motivation to individual goals (e. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Intersection of Culture and Achievement Motivation


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.