Motivating the Unmotivated

Motivating the Academically Unmotivated: The Why’s and How’s

  • To bolster students’ academic interest, teachers can facilitate a learning environment that nurtures:

    • Incremental beliefs about intelligence

    • i.e., the belief that intelligence can be increased through efforts

    • Adoption of mastery goals

    • i.e., the desire to acquire additional knowledge or master new skills

    • Engagement in intrinsic motivation

    • i.e., engaging in academic activities out of interest and enjoyment

Motivating the Unmotivated is a research study that sought to provide answers on why (i.e., causes) and how (i.e., underlying mechanism) students are motivated or unmotivated in their academic pursuits.

Based on three major theories in motivation literature i.e., the self-determination theory, the achievement goal theory, and implicit theories of intelligence (see Figure 1: Three major theories in motivation literature), the study investigated:

Benefits-of-CoVAA

Figure 1: Three major theories in motivation literature( available for download here )

While the project was set in Normal stream Mathematics classrooms, the findings and implications may be applied to a wider variety of teaching and learning contexts.

The Motivating the Unmotivated research advances the education research frontier in these areas:


  • it is a first where causal relationships between intelligence beliefs, achievement goals, learning engagement and performance can be derived

  • it links teachersreported teaching preferences with their intelligence beliefs

  • it links teachers’ feedback with students’ intelligence beliefs and achievement goals

It is therefore logical to expect findings from this result, if translated sensitively and accurately, to improve teaching and learning experiences in the classroom.



The Motivating the Unmotivated research study was conducted in 2 waves. All students in both waves were in Secondary 1 to 3 at the time of the data collection.


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Figure 2: Motivating the Unmotivated - The Research Methodology ( available for download here )


  • Based on the research sample, five distinct motivational profiles of students emerged:



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Figure 3: Five Motivational Profiles of Students ( available for download here )

The Five Motivational Profiles of Students are:


  • Autonomously Regulated (15.6%)

  • Intrinsically and Extrinsically Motivated (29.3%)

  • Averagely Motivated (38.1%)

  • Control Regulated (12.6%)

  • Minimally Motivated (4.54%)


Amongst the five motivational profiles, becoming Autonomously Regulated is considered optimum. Students who are autonomously regulated have these characteristics:


  • highly self-directed

  • enjoy and see the importance of the subject matter

  • do not need pressure or rewards to engage in school


Further, the research team also plotted the five motivational profiles against the:


  • four subscales of the Academic Self-Regulation Questionnaire (see Figure 5: Continuum of Self-Determination below for explanations on the subscales) i.e., external, introjected, identified and intrinsic

  • intrinsic motivation levels, i.e., enjoyment, value, effort, competence and self-concept

  • homework and revision time


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Figure 4: Cluster Analyses of the Five Motivational Profiles ( available for download here )

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Figure 5: Continum of Self-Determination ( available for download here )



The research team also found out that:


  • Teachers’ and students’ beliefs about the nature of intelligence were not domain-specific, as evidenced by the positive correlations between academic and sport beliefs in both waves of the study.

  • Students who believe intelligence may be increased with hard work (as opposed to being a fixed trait) tend to endorse mastery goals (as opposed to performance goals) in Mathematics. These students tend to enjoy, value, and feel competent in Mathematics classes.

  • There is a positive relationship between teachers who believe intelligence may be increased with hard work and their usage of teaching methods that encourage and challenge students to think and achieve more in Mathematics.

  • Although teachers’ intelligence beliefs did not significantly predict students’ intelligence beliefs, achievement goals, or learning motivations, teachers’ endorsements of teaching methods were correlated with students’ intrinsic motivations, enjoyment, value, effort, and competence in their Mathematics classes.

  • Students who report higher levels of intrinsic motivation tend to perform better academically in test results at both waves.


To bolster students’ academic interest, teachers can facilitate a learning environment that nurtures:


  • Incremental beliefs about intelligence

  • i.e., the belief that intelligence can be increased through efforts

  • Adoption of mastery goals

  • i.e., the desire to acquire additional knowledge or master new skills

  • Engagement in intrinsic motivation

  • i.e., engaging in academic activities out of interest and enjoyment


Benefits-of-CoVAA

The Motivation in Educational Research Laboratory (MERL) is one of the six centres of research excellence in the National Institute of Education of Singapore.

With Professors Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, creators of the Self-Determination Theory and founders of the Rochester Human Motivation Laboratory as consultants, MERL focuses on:

  • Motivational issues in education and sports

  • guided primarily by the Self-Determination Theory and other major motivational theories

On the MERL website, you’d find practical guides for teachers and practitioners in Singapore for direct application in Singapore classrooms.

Research led by
Author
Principal Investigator
Prof John Wang
Author
Co-Principal Investigator
A/P Liu Woon Chia
Author
Co-Principal Investigator
A/P Tay Eng Guan
Author
Co-Principal Investigator
A/P Nie Youyan
Author
Co-Principal Investigator
Ast/P Stefanie Chye Yen Leng
Author
Co-Principal Investigator
A/P Gregory Arief D Liem

Researchers above are from NIE

Co-Principal Investigators:

Prof Chiu Chi-Yue, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Prof Hong Ying-Yi, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Prof Edward Deci, University of Rochester

Ast/P Lim Boon San Carol, formerly of NIE

For enquiries on Motivating the Unmotivated, john.wang@nie.edu.sg

Contents

Research led by
Author
Principal Investigator
Prof John Wang
Author
Co-Principal Investigator
A/P Liu Woon Chia
Author
Co-Principal Investigator
A/P Tay Eng Guan
Author
Co-Principal Investigator
A/P Nie Youyan
Author
Co-Principal Investigator
Ast/P Stefanie Chye Yen Leng
Author
Co-Principal Investigator
A/P Gregory Arief D Liem

Researchers above are from NIE

Co-Principal Investigators:

Prof Chiu Chi-Yue, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Prof Hong Ying-Yi, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Prof Edward Deci, University of Rochester

Ast/P Lim Boon San Carol, formerly of NIE

For enquiries on Motivating the Unmotivated, john.wang@nie.edu.sg

Motivating the Unmotivated

Motivating the Academically Unmotivated: The Why’s and How’s

Question-Icon
What Motivating the Unmotivated advises
  • To bolster students’ academic interest, teachers can facilitate a learning environment that nurtures:
    • Incremental beliefs about intelligence

    • i.e., the belief that intelligence can be increased through efforts

    • Adoption of mastery goals

    • i.e., the desire to acquire additional knowledge or master new skills

    • Engagement in intrinsic motivation

    • i.e., engaging in academic activities out of interest and enjoyment

Question-Icon
What is Motivating the Unmotivated?

Motivating the Unmotivated is a research study that sought to provide answers on why (i.e., causes) and how (i.e., underlying mechanism) students are motivated or unmotivated in their academic pursuits.

Based on three major theories in motivation literature i.e., the self-determination theory, the achievement goal theory, and implicit theories of intelligence (see Figure 1: Three major theories in motivation literature), the study investigated:

  • the relationship between students’ intrinsic motivation, self-regulation, intelligence beliefs and goals adopted in Mathematics
  • teachers’ intelligence belief and teaching methods, with an aim towards informing a follow-up intervention study
Benefits-of-CoVAA

Figure 1: Three major theories in motivation literature ( available for download here )

While the project was set in Normal stream Mathematics classrooms, the findings and implications may be applied to a wider variety of teaching and learning contexts.


Question-Icon
Why Motivating the Unmotivated?

The Motivating the Unmotivated research advances the education research frontier in these areas:

  • it is a first where causal relationships between intelligence beliefs, achievement goals, learning engagement and performance can be derived
  • it links teachersreported teaching preferences with their intelligence beliefs
  • it links teachers’ feedback with students’ intelligence beliefs and achievement goals

It is therefore logical to expect findings from this result, if translated sensitively and accurately, to improve teaching and learning experiences in the classroom.

Question-Icon
Explanation of how it works


The Motivating the Unmotivated research study was conducted in 2 waves. All students in both waves were in Secondary 1 to 3 at the time of the data collection.



Benefits-of-CoVAA

Figure 2: Motivating the Unmotivated - The Research Methodology ( available for download here )



Question-Icon
Key findings


  • Based on the research sample, five distinct motivational profiles of students emerged:
  • Benefits-of-CoVAA

    Figure 3: Five Motivational Profiles of Students ( available for download here )



The Five Motivational Profiles of Students are:



  • Autonomously Regulated (15.6%)
  • Intrinsically and Extrinsically Motivated (29.3%)
  • Averagely Motivated (38.1%)
  • Control Regulated (12.6%)
  • Minimally Motivated (4.54%)

Amongst the five motivational profiles, becoming Autonomously Regulated is considered optimum. Students who are autonomously regulated have these characteristics:

  • highly self-directed
  • enjoy and see the importance of the subject matter
  • do not need pressure or rewards to engage in school

Further, the research team also plotted the five motivational profiles against the:

  • four subscales of the Academic Self-Regulation Questionnaire (see Figure 5: Continuum of Self-Determination below for explanations on the subscales) i.e., external, introjected, identified and intrinsic
  • intrinsic motivation levels, i.e., enjoyment, value, effort, competence and self-concept
  • homework and revision time
Benefits-of-CoVAA

Figure 4: Cluster Analyses of the Five Motivational Profiles ( available for download here )

Benefits-of-CoVAA

Figure 5: Continum of Self-Determination ( available for download here )

The research team also found out that:

  • Teachers’ and students’ beliefs about the nature of intelligence were not domain-specific, as evidenced by the positive correlations between academic and sport beliefs in both waves of the study.
  • Students who believe intelligence may be increased with hard work (as opposed to being a fixed trait) tend to endorse mastery goals (as opposed to performance goals) in Mathematics. These students tend to enjoy, value, and feel competent in Mathematics classes.
  • There is a positive relationship between teachers who believe intelligence may be increased with hard work and their usage of teaching methods that encourage and challenge students to think and achieve more in Mathematics.
  • Although teachers’ intelligence beliefs did not significantly predict students’ intelligence beliefs, achievement goals, or learning motivations, teachers’ endorsements of teaching methods were correlated with students’ intrinsic motivations, enjoyment, value, effort, and competence in their Mathematics classes.
  • Students who report higher levels of intrinsic motivation tend to perform better academically in test results at both waves.
Question-Icon
How can teachers get started?

To bolster students’ academic interest, teachers can facilitate a learning environment that nurtures:


  • incremental beliefs about intelligence
  • i.e., the belief that intelligence can be increased through efforts
  • adoption of mastery goals
  • i.e., the desire to acquire additional knowledge or master new skills and
  • engagement in intrinsic motivation
  • i.e., engaging in academic activities out of interest and enjoyment
Question-Icon
Related links
Benefits-of-CoVAA

The Motivation in Educational Research Laboratory (MERL) is one of the six centres of research excellence in the National Institute of Education of Singapore.

With Professors Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, creators of the Self-Determination Theory and founders of the Rochester Human Motivation Laboratory as consultants, MERL focuses on:

  • Motivational issues in education and sports
  • guided primarily by the Self-Determination Theory and other major motivational theories

On the MERL website, you’d find practical guides for teachers and practitioners in Singapore for direct application in Singapore classrooms.

Question-Icon
Research team

For enquiries on Motivating the Unmotivated, please contact the Principal Investigator Prof John Wang at john.wang@nie.edu.sg.



    Principal Investigator
  • Prof John Wang, Office of Graduate Studies & Professional Learning, NIE
    Co-Principal Investigators
  • A/P Liu Woon Chia, Psychological Studies (PS), NIE
  • A/P Tay Eng Guan, Mathematics & Mathematics Education, NIE
  • A/P Nie Youyan, PS, NIE
  • Ast/P Stefanie Chye Yen Leng, Office of Teacher Education, NIE
  • A/P Gregory Arief D Liem, PS, NIE
  • Prof Chiu Chi-Yue, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
  • Prof Hong Ying-Yi, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
  • Prof Edward Deci, University of Rochester
  • Ast/P Lim Boon San Carol, formerly of NIE

This research on Motivating the Unmotivated was funded by Singapore Ministry of Education (MOE) under the Education Research Funding Programme (OER 21/12 WCK) and administered by National Institute of Education (NIE), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Singapore MOE and NIE.


This knowledge resource was written by Tan Giam Hwee.

Phase of education

Secondary school

Academic subject

Mathematics

Research Participants

m-prose-icon 9298 students

m-prose-icon 222 Mathematics teachers