Thursday, 29 August 2013

Motivation #2

In my last blog I wrote about starting to develop greater insight into the topic of motivation but wanting to find (a) more up-to-date and (b) more human-centric literature.
I have now started reading Understanding Motivation and Emotion (4th edition) by Johnmarshall Reeve (2005). The book is broken down into five sections, of which I have just finished the opening part. I think it would be most useful for me to reflect as I go along rather than read it all first, as I can give myself a chance to assimilate any new knowledge, not just for the purposes of my inquiry but also to aid and improve my professional practice.
The first three chapters tackle, respectively, the general subject area, the history of development, and the physiology behind, motivation. However, I'm not going to look at each chapter independently but rather in summary relative to my thoughts and ideas.

I am, as a teacher, always concerned about the 'motivational states' (Reeves, 2005) of my students, and also how much influence I have over them. Hence my chosen subject for inquiry. However, just because it has a priority in my teaching practice doesn't necessarily mean that it has value! - I'm talking, of course, about the subjectivity of truth, bias, perspective, personal experience, etc.
However, very early on in the text, Reeve says,
'People with high-quality motivation adapt well and thrive; people with motivational deficits flounder.' (p.11)
This, then, affords a vital importance to motivation. But this is motivation as an isolated construct, of little or no use in practice. In my job, I need to know if what I do, as teacher, has any effect on my students? If not, then a study of 'motivation in the dance class' will be of very little use to me.
Again, Reeve comes to the rescue,
'A person's motivation cannot be separated from the social context in which it is embedded. That is, ...a student's motivation is strongly affected by the social context provided by the school' (p.16)
So, by extrapolation, it is possible to say that how a (dance) student experiences (dance) school is, in (large) part, down to the environment that the (dance) school provides.
Reeve (referencing Ryan & Deci, 2000) goes on to talk about 'nurturing and supportive' versus 'neglectful and damaging' (p.16) environments and the positive and negative effects, respectively, that these have on well-being and personal growth (p.16).
Of particular importance to me, as I hope you will see, and to the potential value of my research, is the following statement,
'In education, an understanding of motivation can be applied to...inform teachers how to provide a supportive classroom that will nurture students' needs and interests' (p.16).
In my case: a stronger grasp of motivation as a phenomena, coupled with input from my students, will surely afford me, as researcher/teacher, a more knowledgeable standpoint from which to understand better (as Reeve puts it) their 'needs and interests.'

So, that's all well and good but how?
Well, by observing the expression of 'positive emotions such as joy, hope, interest, and optimism,' which suggest flourishing motivational states or 'negative emotions such as sadness, hopelessness, frustration, and stress' (p.16).
In the case of my inquiry this will not be first hand observation but through the 'self-report' of my students, in the form of both diary entries and verbal communication in interview.

But, as Reeve discusses at a later point, under a sub-heading entitled We Are Not Always Consciously Aware of the Motivational Basis of Our Behavior (which pretty much says it all!), sometimes we cannot vocalise or indeed may not even be consciously aware of the motives behind our actions (p.66). 
How can I understand my students' motivational states if they themselves might be unaware of them!

This is where I had been struggling. Since proposing this inquiry I have been worrying about the 'analysis' aspect of my research. Yes, my main concern is the ideas and thoughts of my students, but, in order for my research report to have any coherency and interest for the reader, I need to organise and analyse my data.
I can't use graphs or pie-charts, or other methods of presenting quantitative data, as my information will be qualitative in nature; I'm not asking my students a set list of questions so there is no direct correlation(s) to be made, as in, for example, 8 out of 10 students said wearing legwarmers made them feel really motivated therefore there is a strong correlation between positive motivational states and the wearing of legwarmers!
However, I think I may have found a possible direction for my data analysis in a statement from Reeve that 'motives vary not only in intensity but also in type' (p.14). He goes on to explain that as well as strong-weak (or high-low) levels of motivation there are also motivational theorists who suggest the existence of types of motivational state - 'for instance, intrinsic/ extrinsic...' and approach/ avoidance (p.14).

So, now I have a possible starting point for analysis, depending on the data I collect over the coming weeks.
For example, a statement from student A is "I really doesn't like it when the teacher praises me in class." The inclusion of the word really indicates to me the strength of the motive. But what type? It could be that (a) the student has a problem accepting praise from the teacher - perhaps she doesn't feel that she deserves praise, or that (b) the teacher is just saying it without really meaning it, or (c) perhaps it is from embarrassment and being singled out in front of the other students, albeit for positive reasons. These three possibilities may then be reinforced or discredited by further triangulation of diary entries or other statements made in interview or from the non-verbal cues observed by researcher.
If it turns out, say, that (b) is the most likely, and it is perhaps seen in other data from other students, then in report it could be suggested that students enjoy praise but only when it is merited...

I've clearly still got a long way to go before I begin any data analysis but I feel that the door has opened a crack to allow me to, metaphorically, put my foot in and, hopefully, push it wider.


Reeve, J. (2005). Understanding Motivation and Emotion. 4th ed. USA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc..



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