Friday, October 17, 2008

CESTL Paper-Motivation: The Forgotten Tool

Motivation: The Forgotten Tool

Consuelo Moran
EDCI 6304 Learning & Cognition (Fall 2007)
School of Education
University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College

Literature Review

Motivation. The importance of motivation is widely known, however, the high drop-out rates in our school and low test scores at our schools suggest that maybe we have all forgotten just how important motivation is. “High motivation and engagement in learning have consistently been linked to reduced dropout rates and increased levels of student success” (Halwah, 2006, p.1). Literature has shown that “student's motivation for learning is generally regarded as one of the most critical determinants, if not the premier determinant, of the success and quality of any learning outcome” (Halwah, 2006, p.3). Therefore, motivation as well as the relationship between motivation and academic achievement need to be studied as well. This study will discuss motivation in details through my personal experience with motivation and the significance it plays in learning. This research offers an insight to the age-old question of how we should get our school children to learn and keep them from dropping out of school.

Many children, especially adolescence, often believe that they know everything and they have no need to learn something new. Lack or motivation is derived from this exact sentiment which impedes the learning process. “If there really is no need to acquire anything or attain anything or improve yourself, if you are already whole and complete and by that same virtue so is the world, then why on earth bother…” (Kobat-Zinn, 2005, pg.1). Most research introduced in this paper are related to motivation in second language acquisition, but it can be applied to the learning process and why most children lose their motivation.

Definition of Motivation

What exactly is motivation? Motivation consists of many different elements. These kinds of motivation are part of the overall structure of motivation which cannot be broken. To put it in another way, a person must first possess some type of motivation and then they begin the learning process. “Motivation is referred to as multidimensional: it measures impulsive and deliberate action, is concerned with the internal and external factors, and observes causes for behavior” (Halwah, 2006, p.4). Motivation can be described as “the combination of effort plus desire to achieve the goal of the language plus favorable attitudes towards learning the language” (Moiinvaziri, 2002, p.1).

Different researchers have divided motivation into different categories. First of all, motivation can be categorized into intrinsic or extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation comes from the desire of that person to learn or to achieve a goal. Extrinsic motivation comes from an outside source or the desire of the person to achieve a goal to make others feel proud. For example, my motivation is mostly intrinsic because I wish to be the best that I can be, although I also want to make my family proud. Gottfried (1999) found that students who are more intrinsically than extrinsically motivated perform better academically and students who are not motivated to learn are unlikely to succeed. Intrinsic motivation plays a great part in learning (Halawah, 2006). Many studies have seen a positive correlation between intrinsic motivation and academic achievement. Halawah (2006) found that young students with higher academic intrinsic motivation had significantly higher achievement and intellectual performance. When a student begins to learn and they begin to do well, it in turn makes them to feel more motivated. That intrinsic motivation produces a better achievement.

Secondly, motivation has been divided into different categories based on individual and interpersonal factors (Vokell, 2001). Individual factors include: 1) Challenge, where the individual wants to learn to achieve a goal; 2) Curiosity, where the learner wants to discover more about the subject; 3) Control, where the individual wants to control their environment; and 4) fantasy, where the individual is motivated by a possible beneficial situation. The interpersonal factors include: 1) Competition, which is where the individual wants to learn to be the best; 2) Cooperation, where the individual wants to help others progress; and 3) Recognition, where the individual wants others to see their achievements (Vokell, 2001). These types of motivation are related to the reasons why a person wants to learn or achieve their goals.
Thirdly, motivation is also categorized into instrumental and integrative motivation (Ellis, 1995). Instrumental motivation is used to achieve an economic goal and the integrative motivation is used to integrate into a group, respectively. This is mainly seen with second language learning and with children who want to learn to be with a different group of classmates or to be considered at the same level as them.

Lastly, motivation can be categorized based on its situation or environment. These kinds of motivation can be used for many different subjects and circumstances. These types are global motivation, situational motivation, and task motivation. Depending on why motivation is needed, it can be used for all occurrences, dependant on what is happening, or dependant on what the subject is, respectively (Ellis, 1995). This definition recognizes that motivation can change by environment. For educational purposes, knowing a student’s motivation is very important because the teacher can maintain this motivation through the lesson and maybe even the school year. Also, all the aspects of motivation are related and are part of a continuous cycle which I will explain later in this paper. It is the responsibility of the educator to motivate the students so that they will not lose that motivation.

Components of Motivation

Motivation are affected by many components. These components are affective, physiological and basic human needs. These components, although separate, come together to create the overall possession of an individual. The affective component of motivation deals with the feelings that a person has towards a subject. These feeling can be seen through the actions of the individual when they are learning (Vokell, 2001). For example, you can tell if someone is not enjoying a lecture or an activity by the fact that they are not participating or the faces they are making. This feeling of boredom reduces the levels of motivation and can impede learning.
The second component of motivation is physiological. According to this component, the level of arousal of an individual determines how they learn. “In addition to an intellectual and emotional interest, a person's tendency to engage in a behavior is at least partially determined by the person's physiological state” (Vokell, 2001, p.1). Level of arousal is one factor of the physiological state. Level of arousal can vary in amount, but research has indicated that a high level of arousal and a low level of arousal impede learning. If a person is too hyper and cannot stay still, they will not be able to pay attention to the lecture. On the contrary, if a person is too depressed or bored, they will not pay attention as well.

The last component of motivation is needs. This component is based on the notion that humans behave the way that they do to satisfy their basic human needs. This notion was based on Maslow’s Needs Theory. In relation to motivation, lower level needs must be at least temporarily satisfied before learners can be motivated by higher needs (Vokell, 2001). For example, if there is a student that is hungry, they will not be motivated to understand the subject matter. Therefore, the educators must be aware that all these needs are important and help them satisfy them or show them how school can help them satisfy these needs. The three components are affective, physiological, and basic human needs. Each one is different but all must be taken into account when trying to motivate children and have them learn. The problem with these components is that even when they are all met, sometimes problems still exist with getting learners motivated. These problems are very important because there can be no motivation if these problems exist in the learning environment.
Background of This Study

My interest in motivation was developed on the first day of taking this course. When I stated that I was interested in learning sign-language, it was pointed out that maybe I should do my research related to learning sign-language. Just then I remember about a game show called “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader”. There are so many contestants on that show that do not remember anything that they learned at a younger age. When my niece was born with Bilateral Atresia, all of my family were concerned. At that age, there was no way of knowing if she would hear at all or what her future would be. During this time, I became motivated to learn Sign-Language for my niece. One day my mom was commenting to me that my niece and nephew had learned some signs and I asked them to show me. I did not remember those signs at all. This sparked a reflection about my years in school. I remember how watching that game show made me wonder how I did not remember some of those questions. I also thought about how I do not remember a lot of math and I had to relearn History every time that it was taught to me through the course of my school years. This led me to believe that maybe my lack of motivation was the explanation for all these incidents.

Statement of the Problem

Although motivation has been identified as a very important factor in learning, current school and education faces problems with motivation. First of all, motivation often decreases during the transition period from elementary school to junior high school (Vokell, 2001). The reason behind this is because “there is often a mismatch between characteristics of the environment of typical middle school classrooms and the developmental needs of early adolescents” (Vokell, 2001, pg.1). During the elementary school years, children are put in an environment where they play more games and have more fun. Another reason is that the students are also not guided by teachers or administrators any more after they enter middle school. During the first year of middle school, students are expected to be more mature and are given tasks that are more difficult than they are capable of. This greatly decreases the level of motivation of the student and their developmental needs are not met.

Secondly, motivation has been a problem in most of the classroom learning. One major problem is that children are being taught at the inappropriate levels of difficulty. There is too much “interest in curriculum demands which fail to recognize the reality of communicative competence leading to, at best, frustration and, more often than not, antipathy” (Ryan, 1998, pg. 1).

Lastly, it is reported that “in a variety of different settings and using a variety of measures, investigators have found children's reported intrinsic motivation in school to decrease steadily from at least third grade through high school” (Halawah, 2006, pg. 5).
All the problems indicate the need to study more about motivation. How important is motivation? Does it matter if a learner possesses any motivation? These questions will be studied in this study.


After I made the reflection about my lack of motivation during my school years, especially in math, I became interested in studying motivation. I used the participant observation which means I took dual roles in the study. On one hand, I was the researcher who study and observe others; on the other hand, I was the subject myself and I studied my own learning process and motivation process through self reflection and observation. The subject I studied was a female named Mary Longoria, aged 30. She is a Hispanic woman that has a Medical Assistant degree. During the research, I assisted sign-language lessons and learned different signs along with my sister-in-law.

Research Question

The research question that I explored was:
Does a person’s motivation affect one’s performance in learning a specific task?

The research took place in the participant Ms. Longoria’s house in a small town in southern Texas. This town is located by the Texas-Mexico border has a dominant Hispanic culture. The area is considered to be one of the poorest counties in the state and almost all citizens of the area have a low economic status. The instructor visited the participant in her house weekly and taught her signs in the living room.


The participants in the research were only my sister-in-law and I. We both participated in the research by learning signs. Ms. Longoria is a 30-year-old Hispanic female who has a Medical Assistant degree. She is a mother of three children and is considered to be in low economic status. I am 23-years-old and have a Bachelor’s degree. I am also Hispanic and live in a poverty region.

Data Collection

I went to the participant’s house and observed her learning sign languages every week, one hour a week. The instructor provided us a sheet with different signs and went over each one individually. Every week before the instructor arrived I tested the participant and myself to compare the number of signs remembered. At the end of the observations, I conducted an interview on Ms. Longoria. The measurement of motivation was evaluated from the very beginning. Ms. Longoria was highly motivated because she had to learn for her daughter to function well in everyday life.

Data Analysis

After collecting the data, I found out the percentage of the number each participant knew and the overall number of signs. This was done every week. The interview I conducted is shown in the findings.


This study found that motivation plays a significant role in learning. After the first week of observation, Ms. Longoria had learned nine signs compared to my three which resulted in a 30 percent difference. The second week produced a greater difference of 35 percent where I learned five signs and my sister-in-law learned twelve. Finally, the result was a 55 percent difference in the amount of signs learned where she learned all twenty signs and I learned only nine. The data collected from the observation was that Ms. Longoria was more into the instruction. She participated a lot more than I did and she asked a lot of questions. She looked forward to the arrival of the instructor and was very excited to learn something new. The data from the interview reflected the views of my sister-in-law on the importance of motivation and the role it played in her learning process. The chart below is a representation of the results just mentioned.

This research also controlled the factor of intelligence or memory skills to ensure the findings are not influenced by them. Ms. Longoria stated in the interview that, “I have always know that it is hard for me to remember information, so when I figured out that I had to learn sign-language, I was very discouraged. I could never retain information longer than a few minutes. When I realized that learning sign-language was very important for my daughter, that importance motivated me to learn. It is because of that motivation that I have been able to learn so much and actually remember it.”

From the research, I have developed a diagram demonstrates the relationship between motivation and learning. The first step is possessing motivation, regardless how a learner possesses that motivation or why they want to learn. Once they have attained that motivation, they can go on to the next step, where they actually begin to learn the new information and retain it. Research shows that motivation is an important part in the learning process. Therefore, the student begins to learn a lot better than someone who with no motivation. Once they learn, they are able to retain this information a lot longer and the process begins all over again with new information or more explicit information. Initially, I believed that the hardest part for a student or anyone was to possess some type of motivation. After informal observation and personal experience, I have concluded that the most challenging step is the second stage: retaining the motivation. There are so many instances where a child starts off so excited to do something, but right in the middle of the activity, they become frustrated or discouraged and they lose whatever motivation that they possessed. The real challenge is for educators to maintain the students’ motivation throughout every activity. The chart is represented below.


There were several limitations of this research. First of all, learning is influenced by numerous factors with motivation as one of them, such as learning styles, practice, and intelligence, social/school environment, family environment. Duet to limited time, this study focused on motivation only. Secondly, I used a small sample size with only two participants. This made it very hard to generalize the findings into the large population. Lastly, as the researcher, I was also one of the participants who participated in the research. Therefore, it is possible that I already had a hypothesis about the importance of motivation and went into the study with my own assumptions and ideas. Believing that motivation mattered, I could have not learned as part of a self-fulfilling process. Therefore, my research findings could be biased.


This research suggests that when dealing with learners, no matter what they are learning, teachers should always remember that motivation is very important to many learners and try to motivate them to learn. More importantly, no matter how a child has become motivated or why they want to learn, educators and teachers should try to retain this motivation in students. For example, teachers can share with or explain to the students about why they want to learn, they can design activities to keep them interested. Many strategies can be used to motivate students to learn and teachers need to be aware about the different types of motivation and its components. The reason for this is that a teacher needs to know that level of arousal matters and should take the steps to either decrease or increase it.


Ellis, R. (1995). Individual learner differences and second language acquisition [electronic version]. Oxford University Press. 99-126

Gottfried, A.E. (1990). Academic intrinsic motivation in young elementary school children. Journal of Education Psychology 82(3), 525-538.

Halawah, I. (2006). The effect of motivation, family environment, and student characteristics on academic achievement [electronic version]. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 1-10.

Moiinvaziri, M. (2002). Motivational orientation in english language learning: a study of Iranian undergraduate students. Marjan Moiinvaziri. Retrieved on August 31, 2007 from

Ryan, S. (1998). Using films to develop learner motivation [electronic version]. The Internet TESL Journal, 4(11), 1.

Vockell, E. (2001). Educational psychology: a practical approach [electronic version].1. Retrieved on November 1, 2007 from Edpsy5/Edpsy5_summary.htm

Zinn, J.K. (2005). Why even bother: The importance of motivation. 1-2. Retrieved on October 16, 2007 from .

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