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Academic Motivation and the Culture of School in Childhood and

Cynthia Hudley and Adele E. Gottfried

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195326819

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195326819.001.0001

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Academic Motivation and the Culture of Schooling

Academic Motivation and the Culture of Schooling

Integration of Findings

(p.286) 13 Academic Motivation and the Culture of Schooling
Academic Motivation and the Culture of School in Childhood and Adolescence

Adele Eskeles Gottfried

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

While the previous chapter concentrated on the consistent themes presented in this book, this chapter focuses on examining the common threads visible in the findings about academic motivation and culture of schooling presented in this volume. It analyzes the convergence in results and conclusions both among chapters and across the entire volume as well. This chapter concludes with discussions of future directions in research and intervention strategies significant to the culture of schooling that might build on the findings from this volume and eventually inform both theory and practice.

Keywords:   academic motivation, culture of schooling, intervention strategies

This volume presents a discussion of school culture as a construct that plays a potentially causal role in the academic competence of diverse students. Maehr and Fyans (1989) conceptualized motivational culture as pertaining to individual differences between group members regarding their perceptions of the motivational academic environment. The present volume expands beyond this by examining the motivational culture of particular dimensions of schooling from a variety of theoretical perspectives—across varying ethnicities, developmental periods, and school contexts. Hence, motivational culture of schooling is addressed as a multifaceted construct. In this integration, findings are examined across the chapters focusing on developmental and contextual aspects of motivation in diverse groups of students; students' social cognitions, motivational processes, and outcomes in school; and interventions to enhance academic motivation.

The chapters by Rouse and Fantuzzo; Gottfried, Gottfried, Morris, and Cook; and Thorkildsen, Golant, and Cambray-Engstrom address developmental and contextual aspects of academic motivation and school culture across age and grade, classroom context, and ethnicity. What is notable is that despite differences among the investigations regarding populations studied, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, gender, and spe-cific type of academic motivation examined, the findings converge on similar conclusions regarding the developmental role of academic motivation in children's school achievement and competence, and in helping to defining motivational school culture. Among the convergences are these: (1) Motivational culture of schooling is not uniform but can be (p.287) expected to differ with regard to subgroups in the school population. (2) Students with low academic motivation are likely to be at risk with respect to their school competence from childhood through early adulthood. (3) Motivational school culture comprises classroom and school environments that may facilitate or impede competence motivation, academic intrinsic motivation, and student commitment to both autonomous and collective goals.

With regard to the first point, that motivational culture of schooling is not uniform, across these chapters, subgroups of students evidenced motivational differences that were related to varying levels and types of engagement in the schooling process. For example, in the Rouse and Fantuzzo chapter, children who were stronger in competence motivation were more successful in their transitions from Head Start to kindergarten and first grade. In the Gottfried et al. chapter, the students with at-risk academic intrinsic motivation evidenced a long-term history of poorer academic competence from childhood through early adulthood. In the Thorkildsen et al. chapter, adolescents with pluralistic civil identities (justice beliefs; commitment to community obligations and personal autonomy) endorsed justice aspects of an ideal school more strongly than adolescents in any of the three other identity statuses and were more likely to endorse working hard as an activity in which they engage. At the other extreme, adolescents with an unformed identity (few goals; belief that world is unjust) were the least engaged in school and the least likely to endorse ideal school aspects or working hard. The latter students may be similar to those who are motivationally at risk. From preschool through early adulthood, across diverse ethnicities, socioeco-nomic statuses, classrooms, geographic locations, and gender, differences in children's academic motivation were found to be significantly related to their academic achievement, beliefs, self-concepts, postsec-ondary educational accomplishments, and perceptions of student roles. Hence, the motivational culture of school is different for children who vary in these aspects inasmuch as their interactions with their school environments will elicit different outcomes. Even for students within the same classroom or school, their level of academic motivation per se is likely to play a significant role in defining their individual perspectives on motivational school culture.

With regard to the second point about at-risk motivation as related to educational performance, note first that academic motivation was a statistically significant and independent factor with regard to children's academic success. For example, Rouse and Fantuzzo cited evidence (p.288) that compared to other learning behaviors (attention/persistence and attitude toward learning), competence motivation during preschool was a better predictor of learning readiness and achievement through grade 1; they also cite evidence that competence motivation is distinct from general intelligence. A. E. Gottfried et al. provide data revealing that from childhood through adolescence, children evidencing at-risk academic intrinsic motivation showed a pervasive and long-term history of poorer school competence across a wide range of indices including achievement, intellectual performance, motivation, classroom functioning, test-taking skills, self-esteem, academic anxiety, and later, significantly less post-secondary educational accomplishment. Moreover, at-risk motivational status and lower IQ were found to be statistically independent of each other, a finding consistent with others as discussed in their chapter indicating that academic intrinsic motivation contributes to the prediction of achievement independently of IQ and consistent with findings cited in Rouse and Fantuzzo's chapter. In the Thorkildsen et al. chapter, students with more diffused identity status were least likely to endorse working hard in school, which suggests being academically at-risk. Relating these findings to the issue of motivational school culture in general, one can conclude that children and adolescents with lower competency motivation and academic intrinsic motivation or those who are more disengaged in goal orientation with regard to their identity status are significantly compromised in academic competence and performance, and these findings generalize across demographic groups. Regardless of whether children were from socieconomically depressed families, as for Head Start children (Rouse & Fantuzzo), from a wide middle socio-economic class range (Gottfried et al.), or from a diverse group of Latino adolescents (Thorkildsen et al.), the poorer the motivation, the lower is the student's school competence. Regardless of ethnicity, gender, or SES status, low motivational status places children at risk for compromised school achievement and more limited educational progress.

The effect of low motivation may be progressive—that is, it may increase as students move through schooling. This was suggested by Rouse and Fantuzzo, and also by Gottfried and colleagues who report in their chapter that stability of academic intrinsic motivation increases during adolescence making it more likely that these students will enter adolescence with low motivation. On the positive side of motivation, Rouse and Fantuzzo suggest that early and strong competence motivation serves as a buffer against potential school failure. Thorkildsen and colleagues suggest that students with a pluralistic form of identity (p.289) evidence the highest school engagement. Pluralistic identity appears to be more adaptive for developing an academic role. Gottfried and colleagues report that from childhood though early adulthood, those with high motivation are consistently more likely to excel across a wide range of academic accomplishments.

With regard to the motivational school context, all three chapters argue for and elaborate on creation of classroom environments that facilitate motivational processes to enhance children's academic competence. The emphasis across these chapters concerns teachers' roles in enhancing curiosity, mastery, and commitment to group and autonomy goals. All three chapters discuss development of curriculum to support students' self-initiated, or autonomous, learning competencies. Therefore, primary emphases regarding motivational school culture from the perspective of these chapters converge on the nature of school environment, teacher behaviors, and curriculum emphasizing interest, curiosity, mastery, justice, and reflection.

Several chapters examined student perceptions of cultural bias and stigmatization as members of underrepresented and often marginalized groups and how such perceptions affect students' academic motivation, achievement, and school engagement. In addition, the roles of teachers, parents, and peers are considered as influences on such perceptions. Another focus across chapters concerns the degree of continuity or discontinuity between students' perceptions and school contexts regarding academic motivation and expectations in relation to cultural group membership and identity along with the impact of such continuities and discontinuities on students' educational attainment.

In the Eccleston and Major chapter, the groups focused on are those shown to predominantly experience stereotype threat, primarily African American and female students. Hudley and Daoud's sample comprised Latino and Anglo-American high school students. Romo, Kouyoumdjian, and Lightfoot studied Latina girls attending alternative high schools, some of whom were pregnant or already mothers. Irving's population comprised African American male high school students. The ethnicities of the Warzon and Ginsburg-Block sample were diverse, including African American, Anglo-American, Asian American/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, multiracial, Native American, and other students. Interestingly, across these divergent groups, there was similarity in the way motivational processes affected academic motivation and performance. This similarity pertains to the impact of the students' perceptions of cultural, normative, stereotyped, or stigmatizing views held by (p.290) others on their school engagement and academic performance. Across diverse groups, to the extent that students perceived discrimination and bias, these perceptions were adversely related to academic outcomes.

There are, however, important differences among the content of such perceptions as each chapter carefully delineates. Eccleston and Major discussed a large body of evidence regarding the effects of stereotype threat on student performance. According to the authors, when negative stereotypes of abilities are associated with cultural group membership, such as for African Americans or women, these negative perceptions are likely to diminish the academic engagement and performance of affected students through anxiety produced by their perception of the stereotype. Therefore, to the extent that the academic environment implicitly or explicitly conveys such views, they are likely to be perceived as associated with negative academic outcomes.

The research by Hudley and Daoud clearly makes this point with regard to Latino and Anglo high school students. Their research provides evidence that students who had low perceived levels of teacher support and negative views of ethnic school climate showed significantly less school engagement, such as higher absenteeism and number of detentions. These negative perceptions were most detrimental for Latino students of lower socioeconomic status. Complex relationships among perceptions, student ethnicity, and socioeconomic status again bring home the point that motivational school culture is not a uniform entity. Even within ethnicity, students may hold different views of motivational school culture depending on their experiences and perceptions of acceptance by teachers and peers. Interestingly, in the interviews presented by Hudley and Daoud, members of underrepresented and mainstream ethnic groups reported adverse perceptions about the cultural atmosphere of the school. This needs to be addressed if schools are to create a synergistic cultural atmosphere among students in which all are able to express, elaborate, and collectively address often conflicting perspectives.

Irving's chapter concerns perceptions of cultural mistrust in African American male high school students and their impact on academic expectations and values using an expectancy-value perspective of motivation. Cultural mistrust is defined in this research as the tendency of African Americans to distrust White Americans in institutional, personal, or social contexts. It concerns the perception of racism and relegation to underclass status. Results were complex, showing that cultural mistrust was associated with higher outcome expectation but lower academic (p.291) achievement. This complexity may indicate that cultural mistrust works in both positive and negative fashion to increase efforts to achieve and overcome racial stereotypes; at the same time it is possible that cultural mistrust activates perceptions of stereotype threat that has been shown to adversely affect academic achievement. Again, the cultural context of schools does not have a uniform effect on motivation and achievement but can be expected to play a different role with regard to distinct motivational indices, such as academic outcome expectations and achievement.

Romo, Kouyoumdjian, and Lightfoot's work emphasized the importance of both peer culture and parental attitudes as influences on attitudes toward pregnancy and academic aspirations in Latina girls attending an alternative high school. Their results showed that the peer group has a pervasive influence on such attitudes, particularly with regard to the desirability of pregnancy and teenage parenthood. Girls' attitudes toward pregnancy and parenthood were most favorable and their academic aspirations lowest when they perceived their friends as positive toward pregnancy and parenthood. Girls who perceived their own parents' attitudes as negative regarding teenage pregnancy and parenting had the strongest aspirations to pursue higher education. Overall, these findings bring home the importance of peers and parents as sources of students' value perceptions and as influencing academic aspirations. Romo et al. link these perceptions to the norms of the school culture of the alternative school the girls attended inasmuch as there was a normative presence of teenage pregnancy and parenthood in the school. Despite this, parents may play an important role as well. Relating this to an expectancy-value model of motivation, the authors suggested that such perceptions affect students' values and choices regarding furthering their education.

The research by Warzon and Ginsburg-Block also shows the complexity of cultural continuity and discontinuity perceptions in the context of family-school relationships. They report on a Cultural Continuity Project, a study including an ethnically mixed sample, in which the perceptions of parents, teachers, and students were related to students' academic motivation and reading fluency. The results of their research show divergence depending on the respondent. For example, families reported the greatest satisfaction with the family-school relationship when they perceived the family-school environment as continuous, and when the teachers perceived family-school relationships as discontinuous. Warzon and Ginsburg-Block suggested that perhaps teachers' (p.292) perceptions of discontinuity helped them work to create a more continuous and sensitive classroom experience for the families. Regarding students, the more home-school continuity they perceived, the more positive was their academic motivation and the higher was their reading fluency. As in the other chapters, student perceptions of cultural school environment are important for student motivation and achievement. The authors propose that cultural awareness may best be considered as a component of good instructional practices in order for teachers to be sensitive to cultural discontinuity and to create culturally sensitive classes.

These chapters advance knowledge regarding the importance of the cultural context of the school environment with regard to student engagement, motivation, and achievement. One conclusion that can be made is that across the diverse ethnicities studied, continuities and discontinuities between students' perceptions of home and school environments can be expected to be significantly related to various aspects of school engagement, achievement, and behaviors. Conversely, the complexity of findings across chapters indicates that such perceptions are likely to be modified by the specific aspects of school environments in which students, peers, teachers, families, and even surrounding neighborhoods play a role in shaping perceptions. Therefore, an ecological approach (e.g., Bronfenbrenner, 1979) is needed to understand the intricacies of interactions between students' academic motivation and motivational school culture. There is likely to be much distinction between schools, and it is important for such specificities to be accounted for in theory, research, and practice.

Intervention programs are addressed by Welch, and Ginsburg-Block, Rohrbeck, Lavigne, and Fantuzzo. Welch described an intervention project that emphasized the important role of the teacher in facilitating a shared community of respect essential to students' development of a scholar identity that can provide a pathway to academic and life success. This project was conducted in the context of a 9-year study, Project EXCEL, aimed at helping educationally disadvantaged adolescents learn to define themselves as scholars and to pursue higher education. For African American students, this included an effort to counteract stereotypes regarding intellectual inferiority. This project also included other students who saw themselves on the outskirts of school life. The focus of the intervention program was on teacher-student interactions that emphasized an atmosphere of inquiry and respect (p.293) for self and the diversity of others with regard to the development of students' self-concepts of scholarship.

In the chapter, descriptions of classroom processes are presented involving questioning and sharing of opinions and personal perspectives. Students' contributions were valued, and misperceptions were clarified in class. Welch concludes that the class community of respect helps develop a scholar identity. Students were asked to write a paper describing how their identities had changed over the year. Examples provided emphasized an increase in students' curiosity for new experiences. Positive self-concept of racial identity and achievement were also focused on. Students' desire to change the community's perception of the school from an institution of underachievers to a place of academic accomplishment was also discussed.

Welch reported that all EXCEL students graduated from high school and were qualified to attend college. Students who had attained a scholar identity described themselves as successful and were likely to attend college, enter the military, or begin job training. Welch suggested that teacher training may benefit from analyzing a community of respect as part of school culture. Consistent with the ecological analysis offered above, the author discussed the role of the school in the larger community. Students were aware of the adverse views of the school held by the larger community and believed these negative views were reasons the school received fewer resources. Nevertheless, in seeking to define their scholar identity, they needed to understand such views and to go beyond them.

Ginsburg-Block, Rohrbeck, Lavigne, and Fantuzzo advance the theoretical and empirical bases for peer-assisted learning as a means to enhance academic motivation among diverse students. As proposed in their chapter, in the context of theory, peer interaction is facilitative of children's learning because the students involved are in the same zone of proximal development (Vygotsky) and provide each other the cognitive conflict necessary for moving to a higher level of learning (Piaget). Social learning theory is also a foundation for peer-assisted learning as peers are likely to be suitable models for one another in learning new behaviors (Bandura). Practices based on a peer-assisted curriculum include individualizing curriculum, establishing mastery goals based on individual improvement instead of group goals, scaffolding learning, and providing for autonomy. A host of results are cited in this chapter supporting the importance of peer-assisted learning instruction as a facilitator of (p.294) academic motivation and performance including achievement, intrinsic motivation, social and self-concepts, competence, and behaviors. Based on the results of two meta-analyses examining motivation as an independent variable with regard to the effects of peer-assisted learning, the authors conclude that the social (e.g., pro-academic norms among students) and intrinsic motivational aspects of peer-assisted instruction significantly contribute to cognitive and behavioral engagement that thereby indirectly enhance academic outcomes.

Ginsburg-Block et al. present a third meta-analyses in which motivation is examined as an outcome of rather than a contributor to peer-assisted learning in elementary school students. Results of this meta-analysis indicate positive effects of peer-assisted learning on motivation, with stronger effects for samples they term as vulnerable including students who are of minority status, of lower socioeconomic status, and attending urban schools. Programs including multiple features that would be expected to enhance motivation had stronger ef fects than those with fewer components. The authors suggest incorporating motivational strategies within peer-assisted learning programs, such as interdependent reward contingencies, individualized curriculum materials and evaluation strategies, structured student roles, and self-management. With regard to school culture, Ginsburg-Block et al. suggest that peer-assisted learning develops social motivation for academic norms as well as emphasizing communal views of learning rather than competition and individualistic reward structures. Communal values were noted to be more consistent with the values of the homes of un-derrepresented students such as African American and Latino families. Because peer-assisted learning appears to incorporate social and intrinsic motivation processes, the authors further suggest that for children already strong in those areas, peer-assisted learning is less likely to have an effect. A number of different peer-assisted models are described.

Conclusions: Academic Motivation and the Culture of Schooling

Whereas these two latter chapters address, describe, and cite evidence for the effectiveness of specific program models designed to enhance academic motivation in diverse populations of students, there are also intervention implications that emanate from the other studies in this volume. If one were to define an optimal motivational culture of (p.295) schooling, collectively, all of the studies converge on the importance of the motivational environment of educational settings including the various ecological levels of schools as a whole, classrooms, families, peers, and students. The implications for practice pertain to teacher training. For example, it is important for teachers' motivational strategies to enhance student academic motivation in its various theoretical orientations that may include opportunities to experience excitement about learning and student autonomy; students' perceptions of teachers' sup-portiveness, respect, and understanding of their cultural background; and enhancement of collective efficacy and identity among students to promote the norm of student academic engagement. All chapters also stress that educators must be sensitive to students' motivations, identities, and social perceptions—their sense of competence, being at risk for academic intrinsic motivation, stereotype threats regarding ethnicity and gender, marginalization and oppression, influence of peer norms, and disengagement. In essence, teachers must learn how to take the role of the students and perceive the school environment as their students do. Learning activities, curriculum, and classroom and school motivational activities need to be planned accordingly.

Based on the contributions of each author, it can be concluded that there is no single motivational culture of schools. Generalizations can be made about the manner in which motivation and cultural beliefs may affect various students' levels of engagement, but the results and analyses presented show clearly that the essence of motivational culture of schooling resides with the individual students in their interactions with the specific nature of the educational environment in which they are embedded. Motivational school culture must incorporate an understanding of the individual students' experiences in addition to knowledge about their home cultures and learning orientations. The populations represented across chapters vary in age from preschool through high school, college, and into adulthood and include a spectrum of cultural groups and socioeconomic status; therefore, the generality of these conclusions applies broadly across the student population. Research should continue to delineate these specific relationships.

Finally, who is responsible for implementing an approach tailored to each child? Facilitating a detailed and scientifically informed approach toward implementing motivational school culture responsive to individual children necessitates a coordinated effort among scientists and researchers who need to continue contributing research in this field; academic faculty involved with training educators; school personnel (p.296) including administrators, teachers, school psychologists, counselors, and others; families and peers who need to be included in the process; and students who will both benefit from the coordination of these efforts and who will contribute to their solution through the development of their motivational and cultural inputs to education. With the combined efforts of all, a multidisciplinary approach can be taken to continue to refine academic motivation and the culture of schooling for the betterment of children, families, schools, and our society as a whole.


Bibliography references:

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Maehr, M. L., & Fyans, L. J., Jr. (1989). School culture, motivation, and achievement. In M. L. Maehr & C. Ames (Eds.), Advances in motivation and achievement: A research annual (Vol. 6, pp. 215–247). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.