Evidence LibrarySystematic reviewsMotivation
A systematic review of what pupils, aged 11–16, believe impacts on their motivation to learn in the classroom

What do we want to know?

There is evidence that how motivated or demotivated individuals feel affects their levels of engagement with a task, their enjoyment of activities, how and what they learn, and ultimately, their performance. Given that demotivation can lead to disaffection with, and even disengagement from learning, what pupils themselves have to say about their motivation to learn is an important prerequisite for informing teaching practices in the classroom.

Who wants to know?

Policy-makers, teachers; those involved in teacher education.

What did we find?  

Six themes were identified as the key to motivation:

  • The role of self. A range of factors influence pupils' decisions about school subjects, and once made, these decisions become the dominant influence on levels of engagement. Group work results in greater engagement, and teacher expectations affect the effort expended by pupils.
  • Utility. Students are more motivated by activities they perceive to be useful or relevant.  But even then, they are not necessarily motivated to go beyond the requirements of the specific learning task.
  • Pedagogical issues. Pupils prefer activities that are fun, collaborative, informal and active.  The teacher's attitude affects their engagement, and authentic learning tasks are more likely to engage pupils cognitively.
  • Influence of peers. Being perceived as clever is a source of social respect unless combined with other characteristics that transgress peer group norms.  It is important not to be made to appear foolish in front of the peer group.  Pupils perceive that the norms and organisation of school interfere with other more desirable peer group interactions.
  • Learning. Pupils believe that effort is important and can make a difference; they are influenced by the expectations of teachers and the wider community.
  • Curriculum. A curriculum can isolate pupils from their peers and from the subject matter.  Some pupils believe it is restricted in what it recognises as achievement; assessment influences how pupils see themselves as learners and social beings.  The way that the curriculum is mediated can send messages that it is not accessible at all.

What are the implications?

  • It appears to be easier to nurture students' desire to learn than to reverse demotivation.

  • Engagement is more likely if lessons appear to be: fun; varied, collaborative and participative; useful and authentic.

  • Policy-makers should examine teacher attitudes, expectations and pedagogy within secondary schools.

  • Policy-makers should examine the curriculum, looking at what is recognised and valued as student achievement, and the role of assessment in motivating or demotivating.

How did we get these results?

Eight studies were synthesised, in which secondary school pupils had been asked about their education, including issues of motivation. The studies came from Western and Eastern Europe, North America and Australia.

This summary was prepared by the EPPI-Centre

This report should be cited as: Smith C, Dakers J, Dow W, Head G, Sutherland M, Irwin R (2005) A systematic review of what pupils, aged 11-16, believe impacts on their motivation to learn in the classroom.  In: Research Evidence in Education Library. London: EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.

  
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