How can motivation help students with their studies

How can motivation help students with their studies? Motivation is defined as our enthusiasm for doing something. It is the ‘why’ behind every action. Motivation is the reason – or reasons – for acting or behaving in a particular way. It helps us to set a goal and reach it. The term ‘motivation’ is derived from the Latin verb ‘movere’, so quite literally, it’s what keeps us moving.

How can motivation help students with their studies

In education, motivation helps children and young people to focus their attention on a key goal or outcome. In doing so, they are unfazed by possible distractions, and are therefore able to maintain their attention during longer periods of time. Children who are motivated display goal-orientated behaviours. They take initiative, show resilience, harness their curiosity, and care for and respect their work. They are equipped to orchestrate their own learning journey.

Achievement motivation energizes and directs behavior toward achievement and therefore is known to be an important determinant of academic success. Achievement motivation is not a single construct but rather subsumes a variety of different constructs like motivational beliefs, task values, goals, and achievement motives. Nevertheless, there is still a limited number of studies, that investigated (1) diverse motivational constructs in relation to children’s’ academic achievement in one sample and (2) additionally considered children’s’ cognitive abilities and their prior achievement.

Because children’s’ cognitive abilities and their prior achievement are among the best single predictors of academic success, it is necessary to include them in the analyses when evaluating the importance of motivational factors for students’ achievement. Steinmayr and Spinath (2009) did so and revealed that students’ domain-specific ability self-concepts followed by domain-specific task values were the best predictors of students’ math and German grades compared to students’ goals and achievement motives. However, a flaw of their study is that they did not assess all motivational constructs at the same level of specificity as the achievement criteria.

For example, achievement motives were measured on a domain-general level (e.g., “Difficult problems appeal to me”), whereas students’ achievement as well as motivational beliefs and task values were assessed domain-specifically, e.g., math grades, math self-concept, math task values. The importance of students’ achievement motives for math and German grades might have been underestimated because the specificity levels of predictor and criterion variables did not match.

The aim of the present study was to investigate whether the seminal findings by Steinmayr and Spinath (2009) will hold when motivational beliefs, task values, goals, and achievement motives are all assessed at the same level of specificity as the achievement criteria. This is an important question with respect to motivation theory and future research in this field. Moreover, based on the findings it might be possible to better judge which kind of motivation should especially be fostered in school to improve achievement. This is important information for interventions aiming at enhancing students’ motivation in school.

We take a social-cognitive approach to motivation. This approach emphasises the important role of children’s beliefs and their interpretations of actual events, as well as the role of the achievement context for motivational dynamics. Social cognitive models of achievement motivation comprise a variety of motivation constructs that can be organised in two broad categories: students’ “beliefs about their capability to perform a task,” also called expectancy components (e.g., ability self-concepts, self-efficacy), and their “motivational beliefs about their reasons for choosing to do a task,” also called value components (e.g., task values, goals).

The literature on motivation constructs from these categories is extensive. In this article, we focus on selected constructs, namely children’s’ ability self-concepts (from the category “expectancy components of motivation”), and their task values and goal orientations (from the category “value components of motivation”).

According to the social cognitive perspective, students’ motivation is relatively situation or context specific. To gain a comprehensive picture of the relation between students’ motivation and their academic achievement, we additionally take into account a traditional personality model of motivation, the theory of the achievement motive, according to which students’ motivation is conceptualized as a relatively stable trait.

Thus, we consider the achievement motives hope for success and fear of failure besides students’ ability self-concepts, their task values, and goal orientations in this article. In the following, we describe the motivation constructs in more detail.

Students who are intrinsically motivated treat learning like play. As a result, they are more likely to flip the learning on its head to see it from a new angle. Motivated students are not more intelligent than unmotivated children, but their need to find out the answer to a question or to master a concept pushes their thinking.

Intrinsically motivated children will think about questions far beyond the confines of the classroom, because the presence of the teacher or the fear of a low grade are not the underlying drivers for their thinking. Therefore, motivated students, by virtue of thinking longer and harder and enjoying the challenge of being confused, will ask deeper, more thought-provoking questions. Motivated students are more able to adapt learned content to new situations because they tend to reflect on underlying causes or frameworks.


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