Learning Paths


Reshaping the curriculum: the role of motivation

Luciano Mariani


Perspectives, a Journal of TESOL-Italy - Vol. XXV, Nos. 1-2, Spring-Fall 1999


1. Introduction

Some time ago I saw "Wilde", a film about Oscar Wilde's life and trial. At the very end of the film, you can hear Wilde's voice telling one of his well-known aphorisms. It sounds like this: "In this world there are only two tragedies: the first is when you don't get what you really want; the second is when you get it." I would like to lead the readers through this paper, so that, by the end of it, they will be able to appreciate the relevance of this aphorism to the topic we are going to investigate.

This is a paper about motivation in the curriculum. "Curriculum" is a fashionable word today, especially now that the whole educational system is being reshaped. We often hear about changing objectives, subjects, timetables, syllabuses and standards. These are all essential elements of an "official", "institutional" curriculum, what we might call its "overt" structure - the topic of so many debates, papers and arguments. However, there is another part of a curriculum which is rarely talked about, what we could call its "covert" or "hidden" structure - and that is what the people involved - students, teachers, parents, administrators, and the community at large - bring to it, in terms of beliefs, attitudes, expectations, and - the magic word - motivations.

I have a feeling that this underlying structure affects any curriculum change in ways that are very little known, but may in the end decide the ultimate success or failure of the change itself. My assumption is that if we alter the status of these beliefs and attitudes, if we bring them up to the surface, we stand a better chance of managing any process of change.

The word "motivation" brings to our mind two basic concepts: 1) the reasons ... 2) for doing things. "Reasons" refer to people, to features of individual people. On the other hand, "doing things" refers to what people are asked to do. In a curriculum, students are asked to do tasks. However, this happens in a classroom, that is, in an interactive environment, where we, the teachers, act as a sort of buffer, or, if you like, make the first connection between students and tasks. Of course, we work within the context of a school, which means having to do with parents, headmasters, administrators - and beyond that, we work and live in the wider context of families and communities, of local and global societies.

So motivation is not, as we are often inclined to think, just a psychological concept - it hasn't just got to do with individual feelings and attitudes. Rather, it is the result of a complex interaction between individual people and a variety of contexts. In this view, motivation is seen not so much as a prerequisite, a pre-existing condition, a fixed set of unchangeable personal features, a gift of nature ... but rather as an educational objective, a competence to be acquired through interaction in a context.

So if we change the context, for example if we reshape a curriculum, we also, inevitably, affect people's motivation. This is why I would like the reader to join me in exploring the various, sometimes subtle ways in which teachers and institutions can influence a student's willingness to learn - through the features of the tasks we set and the quality of the interaction we promote at school. Through this process of discovery, instead of asking, as we often do, how motivated my students are, we will rather ask how my students are motivated. It may look like a simple exercise on word order, but in fact it shows a complete change of perspective. We will not focus on the quantity of motivation in our students (how motivated my students are), but rather on the quality of their motivation. In other words, we will ask: Which specific factors shape the motivation of individual students? How do students differ in their motivational profiles?

I would like to make a couple of preliminary remarks.

First, I am very well aware that any discussion of motivation in the curriculum makes very little sense if we just consider student motivation and don't take teacher motivation into account at the same time. However, I think the reader will agree with me that examining teacher motivation with a minimum of consistency would require another paper (if not two or three!). On the other hand, I hope I will soon be able to show that student and teacher motivation are really two sides of the same coin, so to say, so that one mirrors the other, and in a way, what motivates students is also, although not exclusively of course, what motivates teachers too.

Secondly, my discussion of motivation will not cover all possible aspects of this topic. Rather than providing a general overview, I would like to concentrate on a few specific problems. And to do this, I will introduce the reader to three students who will act as a sort of signposts in our journey. My readers won't know these people, but they will easily recognise students they have met in the past - or are perhaps teaching just now: Simona, Matteo and Barbara. These three people will help me focus on three specific aspects of motivation:

* the role of feedback;

* the features of tasks;

* the influence of beliefs.


2. The role of feedback

Let's start with Simona. Simona is the kind of student that at least some teachers would like to have in their classes. She is diligent, punctual and hard-working. She always does her homework and meets any deadlines you set for her. She usually gets good marks whenever you test her for facts, figures or rules - she is not so good at being creative or critical, and rarely shows to be interested in other than what are, strictly speaking, the teachers' demands. In fact, she seems to keep on the safe side, so to say, and never gets involved in tasks that would put her at risk. She is so used to getting good marks that she can't stand the prospect of losing her standards.

Simona's case is an obvious example of extrinsic motivation at work: when you do things only - or mainly - to get a reward or avoid a punishment, not because you enjoy the activity itself. Of course rewards can range from marks to parents' or teachers' approval; from getting a job to finding a boyfriend or a girlfriend; from having some kind of social recognition and improving your role and status in society to becoming a member of a group. If you are extrinsically motivated, for example to learn English, this means that you either see your proficiency as instrumental to something else, or see it as a way to integrate yourself within a different cultural community. Of course, we all know by experience that instrumental and integrative motivation are not mutually exclusive: you may be eager to join the global English-speaking community and, at the same time, please your father, your employer or your teacher, and, for that matter, even enjoy the task you are doing. In other words, each of us usually has a combination of reasons for doing something rather than just one single reason, and our own motivational profile is, among other things, what makes us unique as individuals and as learners.

However, some people like Simona seem to be driven most and foremost by some kind of extrinsic motivation, and the good marks that she usually gets probably reinforce this tendency of hers. Her teachers would rather she didn't work just to get a good mark; sometimes they would like to see her more actively engaged, and maybe they feel that she's losing something, or perhaps quite a lot, in studying the way she does. Does this mean that rewards lower achievement and performance levels, and ultimately kill intrinsic motivation?

There is an old joke that provides a nice example of the issue at stake here (I take it from Kohn 1987). An elderly man was harassed, day after day, by the noise and provocations of his neighbour's children. So he devised a plan. On Monday night he offered to pay each child a pound if they would all come back on Tuesday and yell their insults again. The next day they did so eagerly and received the money, but he told them he could only pay them fifty p on Wednesday. When they returned, insulted him again and collected the money, the man said that Thursday's rate would be just ten p. "Ah, forget it, " they said "it's not worth it." And they never tormented him again.

Do rewards always kill motivation in this way, and if so, why? As for the first question, researchers seem to agree that much depends on the nature of the task (see, e.g. Kohn 1987). Rewards, particularly positive rewards, can help students to start getting involved in the task, and maybe to get over the hard, sometimes uninteresting work that can be associated with initial learning - think of basic oral or written drill-type exercises. In such cases, rewards work as a means to an end. I remember how hard it was for me to start studying Shakespeare's History Plays at university, and how interested and involved I became later, when I had got over the impact of the language and the intricacies of the plots - then I started feeling a sense of mastery and I also started enjoying learning. I think most of us have experienced this. As Ausubel (1968; quoted in Vincent 1983) wrote, "motives are not fixed and we come to acquire new motives for actions as we learn new reasons for what we do".

However, research also suggests that the more the task involves creative, critical thinking, cognitive flexibility, open-ended problem-solving, the worse people tend to perform when a reward is involved. So we are left with our second question - why should rewards make performance worse? The answer clearly lies in how the reward is experienced by individual people. Rewards can encourage people to do a task as quickly as possible, to take a shortcut and avoid the risks involved in more difficult tasks. This is what Simona probably does. Also, people can feel as if they were controlled by the reward, as if their own responsibility and autonomy were reduced, and, as a result, as if the task were not worth doing in its own right. As one researcher put it, there seems to be a difference between saying, "I'm giving you this reward because I recognise the value of your work" and saying, "You're getting this reward because you've lived up to my standards" (Ryan, quoted in Kohn 1987).

I think this has important implications for the feedback we constantly give students, with particular regard to praise and encouragement. What I think is particularly interesting is the relationship with our own teaching styles (see Appendix 1).

Sometimes we are in what we may call a "controlling" mode. When we behave like this, we may praise a student because she or he has completed a task or has done it well. By providing a generic praise like "Terrific job, Simona," or "You wrote an excellent essay, Luca," we may be highlighting a performance aim: that is, we are giving a judgement on the student, we are giving a sort of self-oriented feedback. If we should say, maybe in public, "Your test is one of the best in the class, Paola. Great!," then we would also be adding an element of competition and comparison with others, we would be giving some indication of the student's status in the group. In this sense, we may actually be lowering the student's intrinsic motivation.

On the other hand, consider what we are actually doing when we are in what we shall call an "informing" mode, when we provide specific encouragement as opposed to general praise. If we say something like "I can see that your spelling and punctuation are definitely improving, Giorgio," or "Your use of past tenses is definitely better than in your last composition, Patrizia," then we are highlighting a learning aim: that is, we are giving a judgement on the task rather than on the student, and we are comparing the student's present and past performances rather than stressing her or his position in the group. In this sense, we may be reinforcing the student's feeling of competence, and thus her or his intrinsic motivation.

The "controlling" mode tends to favour summative, norm-based evaluation: the student's performance is seen as a kind of finished product; there is no scope for change or improvement, and mistakes are final. The student must conform to a standard set for the group, and, by definition, norm-based evaluation must produce some bad, some good, and some average results. There will always be people in the lower, negative range, no matter how hard these people try. Also, by placing an emphasis on external standards, students tend to develop a feeling of dependence on somebody else's approval.

An "informing" mode, on the other hand, tends to favour formative, criterion-based evaluation: students can focus on the features of their own work, including the reasons for their mistakes. They can see their performance as work in progress, as a step towards proficiency and mastery. They can measure the results of their efforts and develop their own criteria for successful learning. They realise that they can aim for specific improvements in specific areas, even if they cannot always produce "terrific" or "great" pieces of work. Perhaps the most important aspect of this kind of feedback is that it creates expectations of success for the future (Hitz and Driscoll 1989; Stipek 1993; "Student Motivation and Disposition" 1993, Lieury 1996).

Interestingly, the use of both negative and positive rewards has been described as "control through seduction" (Deci and Ryan 1985). As two researchers, Hitz and Driscoll (1989) put it, punishments prompt the question, "What do they want me to do, and what happens to me if I don't do it?", while rewards prompt the question, "What do they want me to do, and what do I get for doing it?". Neither strategy helps people to grapple with the question, "What kind of person do I want to be?".


3. The features of tasks

"What kind of person do I want to be?" - this is perhaps a question that Simona has never been prompted to ask herself. But what about Matteo?

Matteo is a mystery for many of his teachers. He has definitely got many skills and qualities, but doesn't really seem to use them - at school at least. He has been quick to realise what teachers can reasonably expect of an average student, and does what is strictly necessary to get a mere "pass" mark. The problem is, he sometimes does just a bit less of what he should, so that he is often on the verge of failure. However, he is popular with his classmates because he is a real expert on computer and video games. He knows everything under the sun in this area, and has even managed to write his own games. Just let him talk about them and you will see him "burst into life".

Matteo is a living example of intrinsic motivation - unfortunately, at least from our point of view as teachers, his motivation applies only to his out-of-school interests. It is very obvious that Matteo's reason for doing things is the pleasure he takes in the activity itself. As Mary Finocchiaro once put it (1976), it is "the feeling of security and achievement that the learner experiences as a result of successful performance". The question of tasks becomes central here. We know that this feeling of achievement depends on a variety of task features. We know, for example, that tasks must stimulate curiosity, develop competence and promote self-esteem. We also know that this happens when we reach an optimal balance between the students' level of competence and the challenge provided by the task. Put it another way, a task must be neither too easy nor too difficult, neither too supportive nor too challenging (Mariani 1998) so that it matches the students' level of "readiness to learn".

This is an extremely difficult balance to achieve - coping with the question of task difficulty can be compared to walking on a tightrope. This is actually how we often feel - on the verge of falling down one side or the other most of the time. Let me give you an example from my own experience as materials writer. I have found that one of the most demanding and puzzling aspects of writing teaching materials is just this - finding a balance. Many many times I have come up with materials which looked nice but did not seem to teach much, or, on the other hand, materials which seemed to teach a lot but also looked dull and dreary. I have often been faced with a terrible alternative: enjoyable but useless or boring but instructive? Shall I choose a text that provides stimulating information but is difficult and full of unusual vocabulary or shall I choose an easier text on a familiar but uninteresting topic? Shall I provide a quick, efficient glossary of new words or shall I engage students in longer, more demandg word-guessing exercises? Shall I leave students free to process the text using their own intuition or shall I provide clear but maybe unexciting and predictable step-by-step tasks?

The problem becomes even more daunting when you think that what works for some students will not work for others at all. As the old saying goes, "You can please some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time". And we know that individualised instruction - providing different students with different materials - is not a very easy option either.

This reminds me of a Chinese experience I have recently read about (Stevenson and Stigler 1992, quoted in Stipek 1993). Chinese teachers have devised a way to make classroom activities challenging for all students without necessarily individualising the tasks. Any set of tasks includes some very easy problems, that any student can solve, and some very difficult problems, that no student can solve. Therefore, all students start working with the expectation that they will be able to solve some problems but not all. There is enough challenge for the stronger students while at the same time the weaker ones get enough support to try and do their best. I am not claiming that this would work in our classrooms, but it is interesting evidence that the problem of task difficulty can be approached in many creative ways.

However, task difficulty is not the only criterion which we need to take into account. There is no doubt that Matteo finds his favourite hobbies and pastimes motivating in a number of other, different ways. I would like to present a model which I think effectively summarises the features of motivating instruction. It is called the ARCS model and has been developed by Keller, an American researcher (Keller 1987) (see Appendix 2 ).

ARCS is an acronym for Attention, Relevance, Confidence and Satisfaction. Rather than illustrate the model in theoretical terms, I would like to apply it to a concrete example. While writing this paper I tried to follow the ARCS model - in other words, I asked myself: "How can I make this paper as motivating as possible?" and also, "How can I make the task of reading it as motivating as possible?". I checked what I was doing against the guidelines of the ARCS model several times, and now I'm going to report what my own thoughts were in the process of producing this paper.

First, attention. How can I provide novelty and surprise? How can I stimulate curiosity? Well, I thought, I will start by mentioning the Oscar Wilde film and quote one of his aphorisms. I will not explain how it relates to the topic of the talk, but will leave the explanation to the very end. But then I need to pose a problem. I will try to highlight the question of "how my students are motivated" and just hint at three areas - the role of feedback, the features of tasks and the influence of beliefs. Of course I need to provide a range of methods and media to vary the presentation and meet the needs and learning styles of a mixed audience. Well, I can add a few diagrams, pictures and tables, and I can try to provide practical examples as well as more theoretical parts.

Then, relevance. Here I must make the objectives and purpose of the paper as clear as possible, and match them to my audience's needs and motives. I will try to show that we need to become aware of the "hidden curriculum" because this will increase the chances of successfully reshaping the whole curriculum - this is a hot issue nowadays, one which should get readers involved. Of course, I have still got the problem of making the content of my talk familiar and understandable, clearly related to my audience's experiences and background knowledge. This is difficult to do, I don't know my readers in person, I can only guess. I will assume that the basic ideas about motivation are well known. I will try to focus on a few aspects which seem relatively new to me, but I will have to constantly refer to our shared experiences - the fact that we are all involved in teaching and working at school. It is really like walking on a tightrope: I must try to make my content both challenging and achievable.

After that, confidence. If this paper were followed by some kind of evaluation, I would have to make my assessment criteria as explicit as possible well in advance. Luckily this is not the case! A paper is evaluation-free for the readers! Unfortunately, though, it is also very rigid and limited in scope. I cannot provide my readers with a variety of success opportunities other than what I am writing right now - except, perhaps, to invite them to refer to the bibliography at the end of the paper. As for a feeling of personal responsibility, again there is not much I can do to give my readers feedback on their own efforts to follow this paper.

Finally, there is satisfaction. This implies both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, including equity, or the use of fair and consistent evaluation standards. I can only hope my readers are enjoying, or at least not rejecting, what they are reading, and I am afraid I cannot give out prizes, bonuses or awards!

So this was my train of thoughts as I was writing this paper. Of course, designing tasks for the classroom is a different thing, but, on the other hand, all of these criteria will apply in a more natural and direct way. The ARCS model can be used, for example, as the starting point to produce a checklist, and then to evaluate the tasks we set, or the tasks in our textbook, and find out which features make them more or less motivating.


4. The impact of beliefs

Let us now turn to our third student - Barbara. Barbara is a sad story. Everybody - her teachers, her classmates, her parents, even herself - thinks that she is a living failure, and that, after all that has been done for her, there is very little chance that she will ever improve. She is bad, or very bad, at most subjects. You couldn't really say that she has stopped trying. She still seems to work quite hard when she has a test, but the results are poor most of the time. Of course she doesn't have much to look back on - mostly a series of failures. She seems resigned to reach the end of the year and probably leave school - but she hasn't got a clue about what she might do after that.

Barbara can help us focus on our third main theme: the impact of beliefs. I think this is perhaps the most important and intriguing issue in dealing with motivation. To put it bluntly, we can say that how people perceive the cause of their performance is more important than the actual cause as described by an external observer. In other words, I may well tell you that I am sure your good results are due to your efforts and skill, but if you believe the opposite, that is, that you have done well because you were lucky, or because the task was very easy, then no matter what I say, you will continue to think, and, most importantly, to behave according to your belief. This is often called attribution theory (cfr. e.g. De Grada and Mannetti 1988, Marini 1990, Stipek 1993; see also Cornoldi 1995), and I find it extremely useful because it provides us with a framework to understand and describe student behaviour, like Barbara's, which would otherwise be difficult to explain.

Basically, what this framework offers us is a way to investigate people's beliefs as regards the origin and duration of the causes of their success or failure. The two criteria can be combined (Fig. 1):




effort | fate




ability | context




Fig. 1

on the horizontal line we describe the origin of the cause - this may be internal or external to the person. On the vertical line we describe the duration of the cause - this may be stable or unstable. So, for example, if I believe that I have been lucky to get a good mark, I am actually attributing my success to luck or fate - of course luck is something I cannot control (it is external) and can change in time (it is unstable). On the other hand, if I think that the tasks in my textbook are very easy or my teachers are incredibly strict, then I am using an external but stable attribution (I cannot control the demands of the tasks - and cannot change my teachers!).

What happens when my attributions are internal, that is, when I believe that the cause of my results lies in me? It depends. I may think that I am very good or very bad at languages, or that I have been able or unable to acquire the necessary skills: in that case I am attributing my success or failure to my ability, which tends to be seen as a stable, unchangeable feature. But if I think that my good or bad results are due to the effort and commitment that I have put in, then of course I see the cause of my success or failure as unstable, because I can always put in more or less effort - in other words, I am in control. Most of us intuitively think that results depend on the quantity and quality of effort: Victor Hugo is reported to have said that "genius is ten per cent inspiration and ninety per cent perspiration" (Lieury 1996).

The whole question of attributions is further complicated by the fact that I may see the cause of my results as global or as specific. I may believe that what I think applies to me only or to everybody: for instance, I may think that the questions the teacher asked me were particularly difficult, or I may think that the teacher always asks everybody difficult questions. Similarly, I may think I'm good at school, that is, at all subjects, or rather that I'm good at English but bad at maths.

In addition to that, people vary in the way they use their system of attributions. Positive results, for example, are generally attributed to high ability ("see how good I was?"), while negative results are attributed to lack of effort ("I know I can do better, it's just a question of working harder"). The purpose of this is obviously to maintain a good image of oneself, and is a sign of a high degree of self-esteem. Now of course most people would do anything to preserve this feeling of self-worth. It is better to be seen as a clever but lazy student rather than as hardworking but stupid!

This is why effort has been described as a double-edged sword (Covington and Omelich 1979), which has quite different meanings for students and teachers. Teachers want students to try hard, to put in as much effort as possible, but students want to perceive themselves as intelligent as possible: "If I get a good mark without studying too hard, that will mean that I'm clever". On top of that, we know that in a competitive class people inevitably compare one another's results, and some students' self-esteem is always in danger, because, by definition, in such a class there must always be somebody below the average.

This leads us to consider those people who use the opposite system of attributions - people like Barbara, who thinks, "I usually get bad marks. I know why. I'm no good at this subject. Perhaps I'm no good at anything, no matter how hard I try. Yes, I know that occasionally I get a good mark, but that's a piece of luck, or maybe the test happens to be easy". Barbara is clearly showing signs of a negative self-image, a low degree of self-esteem. Her attributions of failure are internal and stable - her repeated experiences of failure have led her to believe that there is nothing she can do to reverse the cycle. She is an example of what has been called "learned helplessness", or complete resignation. Her idea of "intelligence" is probably very stable, in the sense that she doesn't believe you can improve your basic skills and aptitudes.

Now, the experience of success or failure is an individual one, but it is also the result of interaction with people, and, through people, with tasks. So we can ask, what part do we as teachers play in this process? How do the tasks we set and the interaction we promote in the classroom affect the experiences and the attributions of individual students?

We all know about the so-called "self-fulfilling prophecies". In a classical study called "Pygmalion in the classroom", which was conducted thirty years ago (Rosenthal and Jacobson 1968), teachers were told that some of their students had been found to have a particularly high potential for achievement. This was not true, but eight months later, these students had really achieved better results than the others: they had fulfilled their teachers' expectations. How was this possible? Can we really influence the learning environment so that it reacts in the way we want it to react?

Apparently we can, and in ways that are subtle and often unconscious. For example, we may devote more time and attention to people that we believe to be more capable than others: we may ask them more questions, give them more clues or ask them to elaborate on their answers. If such students give a wrong answer, we may tend to attribute it to a lack of attention rather than to a lack of skill or aptitude. All this may actually give these students more chances of improving their performance.

As another example, think of the reactions we sometimes have towards students who do badly in a test. I think that many of us tend to get angry with people who we assume to be capable or gifted but who do not put in enough effort ("You could do so well if only you wanted to - why on earth don't you try harder?"); on the other hand, we may tend to be more sympathetic to people who seem to do their best although they achieve very little ("Poor thing, he tries hard but can't really go beyond this"). We may tend to help these students even beyond what they need, or praise them in a general way when what they actually need is perhaps some more focussed and specific feedback. Our behaviour and emotional reactions may be interpreted by students as proof of what we actually think of their ability or even intelligence level. In other words, our "hidden theories", what we consciously or unconsciously believe to be the causes of success or failure, can have an impact on the expectations we set for a class or for an indidual student.

Of course, we know we can also communicate our feelings and expectations in even more subtle ways, for example through gestures, facial expressions, eye contact and the like, and even more so if the class atmosphere tends to be competitive rather than cooperative. This feeling of competition may also go beyond the boundaries of a single class or subject and involve the whole school curriculum, giving rise to the notorious "subject hierarchy". I remember my first few months of teaching in a technical school many years ago. The status of English was so low compared to other more "technical" subjects that neither students nor teachers expected high motivation or high results in English. Conversely, if students weren't good at computer programming or maths they ran the risk of being seen as complete failures, no matter how good they were at other subjects. Perhaps the most serious consequence of this was that these students couldn't see their failure as limited to one particular area, but were rather inclined tottribute it to some general cause, including their low level of intelligence or ability.

Curriculum implications are also called into play when we consider how attributions change over the years, as students grow and change schools. I have recently had a chance of working with colleagues from primary school, and they confirmed an interesting fact, that is, that children do not really make a difference between effort and ability. In other words, if a child is successful at doing something, she will think that this is due both to her ability and to the effort she has put in ("I've done it because I've worked hard and because I'm clever"). This system of attributions does not usually involve comparison with other children. However, things gradually change with age. As children grow older, they start differentiating between ability and effort, so that if success is the result of a big effort, this may be perceived as a lack of ability, especially if comparison is made with other students: if I get the same results as my friend, but I have worked much harder, this must necessarily mean that I am not intelligent as him.

Why is it so? What happens in the crucial years between childhood and early adolescence? There is no definite answer here, but it is interesting to relate this change in attributions to the changes in curriculum and teaching styles. When I look back to my experience as a teacher, first at middle school, and then at high school, I can see clear differences both in the way I managed tasks and classroom interaction, and in the way students seemed to react to this. At middle school I tended to put an emphasis on effort, good working habits and social skills, but at high school I concentrated more on students' individual performance as reflected by marks, and this included a strong element of comparison between students. Although I did not realize it at the time, now I think that this may have stressed the primacy of ability over effort. In other words, I may have contributed, although quite unconsciously, to the hidden theory that success is most valued when it is the result of ability, that is to say, that if y have to put in more effort, this must mean that you are less gifted. So comparing ourselves with others is important, because it can help us to judge our performance more objectively, but at the same time it may become a threat to our self-esteem.


5. Conclusion

I hope I have been able to show that the relationship between learning and motivation is complex, and works both ways: motivation is not only the cause of learning - it can also be the effect of learning. This also implies that motivation is, among other things, a function of the learning/teaching relationship. The most immediate implication of this is that we can ask ourselves what we can realistically do as teachers. I say "realistically" because it seems clear to me that not all aspects of motivation are directly accessible to us, and we must therefore identify some limited, specific areas for research and action. Now, the more I study the problem of motivation, the more it appears to me as an intriguing puzzle - a puzzle which calls for the simultaneous activation of a number of educational strategies. Within this puzzle, I have tried to concentrate on three main issues: the role of feedback, the features of tasks, and the influence of beliefs.

These three issues can point to three possible directions for research and action.

First, we can give more thought to the way we give feedback to our students. How often are we in an "informing" mode? How often are we in a "controlling" mode? To answer these questions, we need to focus on specific aspects of our verbal and non-verbal communication. A grid like the one in Appendix 1 can help us think about what we do and say each time we react to what our students do and say.

Secondly, we can evaluate the tasks we set in the classroom and for homework in the light of their potential for motivation. I have already mentioned the ARCS model (Appendix 2). There is no doubt that a model such as this can profitably be used as a tool for textbook evaluation as well.

Finally, the influence of beliefs is so important that I think we need to know more about our students' individual motivational profile, and to make them more aware of their own profiles. We know that each of us, and each of our students, is a unique cluster of attitudes and expectations, values and assumptions. What individuals bring to the learning process, their "hidden curriculum", needs to be brought to the surface and be recognised as important as school objectives, subjects, timetables, assessment procedures and technologies. Questionnaires, surveys and other observation and discussion tools can be used to start off in this direction (see Appendix 3).

Oscar Wilde said that "In this world there are only two tragedies: the first is when you don't get what you really want; the second is when you get it." This is the same as saying that happiness lies half-way in between, that happiness lies in the process of getting what you want. But what moves us in this process if not motivation, the driving force behind our efforts to get what we want? I don't know if Wilde was right ... what I do know is that lifelong learning, including learning to teach, is a motivating process well worth the effort.



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“Controlling” vs “Informing” feedback

  • "Controlling" feedback"
  • Casual
  • General, global
  • Self-oriented: focus on person
  • Based on inference
  • Judgmental; stresses the teacher as authority
  • Prompts comparisons with others (norm-based evaluation)
  • Disregards the meaning opf achievement (for the individual student)
  • Focus on isolated performance as final ( summative evaluation)
  • Stresses ability only or external causes (e.g. ease of task, luck)
  • Favours extrinsic motivation
  • “Informative” feedback
  • Systematic
  • Specific, detailed; refers to performance criteria
  • Task-oriented: focus on behaviour
  • Based on observation
  • Descriptive; provides information about competence
  • Prompts comparison between the student's present and past performances (criterion-based evaluation)
  • Recognizes success in difficult tasks (for the individual student)
  • Focus on improvement and work-in-progress ( formative evaluation)
  • Stresses ability and effort to raise expectations of success
  • Favours intrinsic motivation

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The ARCS Model identifies four essential strategy components for motivating instruction: Attention, Relevance, Confidence and Satisfaction.

  • Perceptual Arousal: provide novelty, surprise, incongruity or uncertainty.
  • Inquiry Arousal: stimulate curiosity by posing questions or problems to solve.
  • Variability: incorporate a range of methods and media to meet students' varying needs.
  • Goal Orientation: present the objectives of the instruction and specific methods for successful achievement.
  • Motive Matching: match objectives to student needs and motives.
  • Familiarity: present content in ways that are understandable and related to the learners' experience and values.
  • Learning Requirements: inform students about performance requirements and assessment criteria.
  • Success Opportunities: provide challenging and meaningful opportunities for successful learning.
  • Personal Responsibility: link learning success to students' personal effort and ability.
  • Intrinsic Reinforcement: encourage and support intrinsic enjoyment of the learning experience.
  • Extrinsic Rewards: provide positive reinforcement and motivational feedback.
  • Equity: maintain consistent standards and consequences for success.

(Source: ERIC Digest prepared by R. V. Small - ERIC Clearinghouse on Information & Technology - The complete document is available on the Internet at the following site https://eduref.org )

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Sample questionnaire on students' attributions.

STUDENT'S INSTRUCTIONS: Read the following statements. How true of you is the reason mentioned in each case? Write 3, 2, 1 or 0 next to each statement.

3. Always or nearly always true of me

2. Often

1.  Sometimes

0.  Rarely or never true of me


1. If I get a good mark in an oral test, it's because I've been lucky.

2. If I understand the lessons in a textbook, it's because I've put in a lot of effort.

3. If I can't follow a class lesson, it's because the teacher can't explain lessons very well.

4. If I get good results in English, it's because I'm good at learning languages.

5. If I make a lot of mistakes in a piece of homework, it's because it's difficult.

6. If I get a bad mark in a test, it's because I haven't studied hard enough.

7. If I can answer my teacher's questions, it's because she/he always asks easy questions.

8. If I do well in a class test, it's because I'm bright.


TEACHER'S INSTRUCTIONS: Write each student's score in the appropriate boxes and consider her/his system of attributions.



|_| Questions 2+6 | Questions 1+5 |_|


effort | fate


ability | context


|_| Questions 4+8 | Questions 3+7 |_|




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