One of the most important challenges facing educators today is that many teenage students simply lack the motivation to do the academic work they are asked to do. For reasons that are still not well understood, many teenagers lack the desire to do well in school.
A study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology attempts to deepen educators’ understanding of student inertia toward academic performance and achievement with a four-dimension taxonomy of amotivation. Their research emphasizes the role of social support by peers, parents and teachers in boosting students’ motivation and promotes a view of amotivation as a symptom of unmet social needs. But researchers note that social relatedness with peers can work to both engage and disengage students and needs more recognition as a factor in amotivation.
Researchers at the University of Ottawa and the Universite du Quebec en Outaouais conducted three studies comprising a total of more than 1,400 Canadian francophone high school students. Two studies were conducted to validate the four-dimensional construct of academic motivation and a third study focused on correlations between the interpersonal support of parents, teachers, and friends and the various forms of academic amotivation found in their first two studies. The third study also examined subsequent academic behavioral and psychological consequences of amotivation.
Four sources of amotivation
The taxonomy proposes four sources of academic amotivation. Researchers note that under self-determination theory, amotivation is seen as a “one-dimensional construct”, as a state of “learned helplessness” where students “cannot perceive a relationship between their behavior and that behavior’s subsequent outcome.” To deepen educators’ understanding of amotivation, the researchers propose the following four sources for it:
Ability beliefs–A student’s lack of confidence in his ability to do academic tasks can translate into academic disengagement.
Effort beliefs–Even if they believe they can do the work, however, some students lack belief in their ability to initiate or maintain the effort that is required by academic tasks.
Value placed on the task–If a student does not value a task, does not think there is any point to it, amotivation may result.
Characteristics of the task–Finally, if a student is not stimulated or engaged by the work, when it is seen as boring, routine or tedious, the activity is likely to be neglected.
Under this taxonomy, students will be motivated to do academic work if they have confidence in their ability to do the work and in their ability to put out the effort, and if they place value on the task and are engaged or stimulated by it.
The researchers validated these four classes of reasons for amotivation with two studies. One study was conducted with a group of 351 francophone high school students in the Ottawa-Gatineau region who had a median age of 14 and an age range of 14-18 and a self-reported grade-point average of 73.8%. The students completed the Academic Amotivation Inventory, developed by a panel of motivation experts to measure these four factors.
A second group of students (349 francophone students from various high schools in the region) was drawn from a large-scale motivation survey. These students scored low on the scale of a single item: “How often do you find that you do not want to study or do school work?” Self-reported academic average was 76.5%. Students rated 16 items from the Academic Amotivation Inventory and an abridged version of the Academic Motivation Scale which measures students intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and amotivation. Students also provided self-reported behavioral and psychological measures.
Researchers say their findings support earlier research “that students who believe that they are neither smart nor capable of exerting effort are indeed those students who are most detached from school.” The importance of values placed on behavior was also highlighted. “Values affect behaviors by influencing the perceived desirability of situations and experiences, and by contributing to the organization of personal goals,” the authors write.
Researchers recommend that educators cast a critical eye on the characteristics of the tasks they ask students to perform, another factor they introduce in the research on student amotivation.
Certainly tasks that students perceive as uninteresting, uninspiring, monotonous or dull should be re-examined in an attempt to make them more appealing,” the researchers write. The third study in the series examined the role of social supports in student motivation. The 741 students in this study completed the Interpersonal Behavior Scale.
Diminished social support a factor
Researchers conclude that “diminished social support from key figures” is associated with academic amotivation, although parents, teachers and friends affect students in different ways. Parents’ attitudes towards education and the value they place on education have a particularly important influence on students’ attitudes toward school, more so than teachers or friends.
In contrast, only teachers made a significant difference in a student’s feelings of competence. The researchers note that “these results suggest that students may be looking more fervently to teachers for information that supports their academic abilities.”
Deficiencies in relating with any key figures, particularly parents and friends, were associated with a devaluing of school and behaviors such as skipping school, not doing work and tardiness. This finding fits with previous research that stresses the importance of role models in the socialization of values.
According to the researchers, the level of value students placed on academics was closely tied “to students’ intention to drop out, underscoring once again the crucial role of values in the development of self-determined motivation to learn.” Researchers stress the important roles of parents in placing value on education and preventing dropping out.
Peers can spread amotivaton
Social relatedness with peers is an important factor in school success. But relatedness with peers can also spread amotivation, they warn. “Given the significant influence of peers during adolescence, the role of peer deviance in high school disengagement and dropout is a major concern,” the researchers note. Peer support groups, either academic peer support groups within the curriculum or in the form of extracurricular involvement, is an effective way to improve morale.
“Why Do High School Students Lack Motivation in the Classroom? Toward an Understanding of Academic Amotivation and the Role of Social Support”, Journal of Educational Psychology, Volume 98, Number 3 August 2006,, pps. 567-582.
Published in ERN September 2006 Volume 19 Number 6