What_motivates_children_to_learn_? (Sam Curran)

According to Coon and Mitterer (2010), motivation can loosely be defined as internal processes and external incentives to satisfy some kind of goal a person might have. McGregor (1960) as cited in Capel and Gervis 2007 pg 123) categorised motivation as being either extrinsic (from another person such as a teacher or parent) or intrinsic (where a person is self-motivated). To a pupil in a classroom environment, their objective could be to gain high marks in their GCSE exams or to simply answer a question in a textbook correctly. All of this will depend on why and how each pupil is motivated as every pupil learns in their own individual manner (Coffey 2011 pg 197).

Capel and Gervis (2005 pg 120) suggest that there are a number of factors that affect pupils’ motivation such as how valued a certain pupil feels. If a pupil does not feel appreciated or respected they are likely to regard school as being unimportant (Fine 1986,1989 and Finn 1989,1993 as cited in Capel and Gervis 2007 pg 120) and as a result may be less motivated to achieve academic success. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (1970) a pupil will spend energy trying to meet this need (by trying to improve their self-esteem) before they can move onto the next stage of self- actualisation where they have the desire to fulfil their academic potential, which would possibly contribute to the pupil becoming intrinsically motivated. To help children progress, the teacher may have a role in trying to improve their self-esteem by extrinsically motivating them. Skinner (1953) advocates using behaviourist strategies such as praise and rewards to try and achieve this. However, attempts by teachers to meet these higher-level needs may not be successful if a pupil does not have sufficient access to basic rudiments such as food and sleep. This type of situation is quite common in the United Kingdom: 1.6 million children in the UK live in poverty and the proportion of impoverished children is as high as 27 % in areas such as London and Manchester (Guardian 2011).

According to the Department for Children, Schools and Families (2009), a child’s socio-economic circumstances can have an impact on both the attainment and motivation of students. This is further validated by a recent PISA study (OECD 2006) which showed that if a pupil had a more affluent socio-economic background they were likely to do better in core subjects like Science. Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds may have low career aspirations and expectations of their school experience (DCSF 2008) which could make them less motivated which in turn could affect their self belief: the long-term ALSPAC research project concluded that children from deprived areas tended to have less belief in their own academic ability (Bristol University 2012). These low aspirations could be further emphasised by parents who had negative educational experiences which resulted in a lack of affluence: DCSF (2008) concluded that parents are the key influence in affecting their chidren’s aspirations. A lack of ambition could have a crucial impact in lessons and on children’s performance in exams as children may not see the point in completing activities due to their self-perceived lack of ability. As a result of this, these children may require a different type of approach from teachers compared to pupils from a more prosperous environment. Eccles and Wigfield (2001) suggest that the teacher-student relationship may be a key factor in motivating these types of pupils: if the pupil and teacher have a good rapport this might create a sense of belonging for the pupil and motivate them to try and attain success. Furthermore, Rogers (1982 as cited in Capel and Whitehead 2010 pg 116) implies that if a teacher has high expectations of a pupil they are more likely to perform and behave well. This could be even more significant if the pupil respects the teacher and possibly views them as a type of role model. Bandura (1977) states that most learning occurs through observation: this could have the implication that the student follows what the teacher’s exposition more carefully and retains more information therefore possibly improving their academic performance.

Abbott (2011) states that Special educational needs (SEN) pupils have a multitude of barriers which block their participation and involvement within a lesson. Consequently, they may become less motivated to engage in the lesson. Price (2007) says that teachers need to take into account SEN pupils’ diverse needs and create activities that stimulate their learning and motivate them. This could be in form of group activities which gets them involved with other pupils or more specialised tasks which are adapted for their learning style. Many schools take into account SEN pupils’ specific requirements by employing staff (normally teaching assistants) who are specially trained to support SEN pupils in their learning. This one-one approach could motivate SEN pupils more as their self-esteem and personal requirements are being met allowing them to be able to try and address more sophisticated needs such as doing well in their studies (Maslow 1970). However, TES (2009) suggest that having such a system could be detrimental to the pupil’s learning: with some students taught by support staff lagging one year behind their mainstream counterparts. This seems to exemplify just how complex and difficult it is to satisfy the needs of every pupil within the class and adequately motivate them.

The way each pupil is motivated seems to be unique: every pupil will probably require a slightly different approach. However, one thing that seems very clear is the importance of motivation to a pupil’s learning: Murdock (1997 as cited in Capel and Gervis 2007 pg 120) proposed there is a direct correlation between a child’s level of motivation and the quality of their academic achievements. It also seems to be equally important to make sure that every child is motivated and is sufficiently included within the lesson. Capel and Gervis (2005 pg 121) suggest that it is the teacher’s responsibility to create a motivational climate in which students learn successfully. This is further reinforced by the latest edition of the standards for Qualified Teacher Status which says that teachers should be able to use methods that address pupil’s needs in order to involve and motivate them to learn. (DfE 2012).



• Coon, D. and Mitterer, J. (2010) Introduction to Psychology: Gateways to mind and behaviour. 12th edn. Belmont: Wadsworth. • Coffey, S. (2011) ‘Differentiation in theory and practice’ in Dillion, J and Maguire, M. (eds.) Becoming a teacher: issues in secondary teaching. 4th edn. Maidenhead: Open University Press. pp. 197-209. • Abbott, C. (2011) ‘Special Educational Needs and inclusive schooling’ in Dillion, J and Maguire, M. (eds.) Becoming a teacher: issues in secondary teaching. 4th edn. Maidenhead: Open University Press. pp. 236-248. • Capel,S. and Gervis,M. (2005) ‘Motivating Pupils’, in Capel,S., Leask,M. and Turner,T. (eds.) Learning to teach in the secondary school: a companion to school experience. 4th edn. Dawsonera [Online] Accessed at http://www.dawsonera.com/ (Accessed: 2 April 2012). pp.120-135. • Eccles, J. and Wigfield, A. (2001) Development of Achievement Motivation. San Diego: Academic Press. • Capel,S. and Whitehead,M. (2010) Learning to teach physical education in the Secondary School: a companion to school experience. 3rd edn. London:Routledge. • Price, G. (2007) ‘Special Educational Needs’ in Ellis, V. (ed.) Learning and Teaching in the Secondary School. 3rd edn. Exeter: Learning Matters. pp. 135-150.

Government Publications

• Great Britain. Training and development agency. Every Child Matters: Children’s needs and development: self study task 4. London: Training and development agency. [Online]. Available at: https://mylearning.cumbria.ac.uk/bbcswebdav/courses/p_1012671044/TDA%20Children%27s%20needs%20and%20devleopment.pdf (Accessed: 2 April 2012). • Great Britain. The department for children, family and schools (2009). Breaking the link: between disadvantage and low attainment. [Online]. Available at: https://mylearning.cumbria.ac.uk/bbcswebdav/courses/p_1012671044/breaking%20the%20link%202009.pdf (Accessed: 2 April 2012). • Great Britain. Department for Further Education (2012) Standards for Qualified Teacher Status. [Online]. Available at: http://www.tda.gov.uk/training-provider/itt/~/media/resources/training-provider/teachers_standards_2012.pdf (Accessed: 2 April 2012). • Great Britain. Department for Children, Schools and Families (2008) Aspiration and Attainment among young people in deprived communities. [Online]. Available at: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/social_exclusion_task_force/short_studies/aspirations.aspx (Accessed: 18 April 2012). Websites • The Guardian (2011) The Child Poverty Map of Great Britain. Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/feb/23/child-poverty-britain-map (Accessed: 2 April 2012). • Mcleod, S. (2007) Operant Conditioning. Available at: http://www.simplypsychology.org/operant-conditioning.html (Accessed: 2 April 2012). • OECD (2006) PISA 2006 Science Competencies for Tomorrow’s World. Available at: http://www.oecd.org/document/2/0,3343,en_32252351_32236191_39718850_1_1_1_1,00.html (Accessed: 2 April 2012). • Bristol University (2012) Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children by Indices of Multiple Deprivation. Available at: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/alspac/ (Accessed: 2 April 2012). • Cherry, K. (2008) Social Learning theory. Available at: http://psychology.about.com/od/developmentalpsychology/a/sociallearning.htm (Accessed: 2 April 2012). • TES (2009) TA’s: Teaching Assistants impair pupil’s performance. Available at: http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6022071 (Accessed: 2 April 2012.)


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