What are Motivational Problems?


Many of my students frequently state in class or in written assignments: “I have no motivation” or “I need to get motivated.” Unfortunately, I find that many students do not understand the meaning of these statements. Actually, everyone is motivated. Educational researchers have found that many different patterns of beliefs and behaviors can limit academic success. Therefore, many different types of motivational problems can be identified in any group of students. Let’s look at five students who have diverse motivational problems (adapted from Stipek, 1998): Defensive Dimitri, Safe Susan, Hopeless Henry, Satisfied Sheila, and Anxious Alberto.

Defensive Dimitri

Dimitri is having difficulty in his first term in college and is beginning to doubt his ability to compete with other students in his classes. As a result, he puts his energy into preventing anyone from interpreting his poor performance as evidence of lack of ability. Basically, he appears to be more motivated to avoid failure than to succeed. Dimitri uses a number of failure-avoiding strategies, such as asking instructors several questions to give the impression that he is interested in the material, telling friends that he does not spend much time studying for exams when he really does, and spending time trying to find out what information appeared on tests in other sections of the same course. Unfortunately, the strategies he uses to avoid looking like a poor student prevent him from developing his academic abilities.

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Safe Susan

Susan is a bright student with high SAT scores. However, she can be classified as an underachiever. Her primary goal is to attain high grades and recognition from her instructors. She is upset if she obtains any grade less than an A. She takes courses that offer little challenge and over studies for every test. Susan rarely reads anything that is not required in a course and does not allow herself to be challenged. She learns only what she is told to learn.

Hopeless Henry

Henry has a very negative opinion of his ability to do college work. He realized early in the term that he was having trouble understanding college textbooks and taking lecture notes. In fact, he has no study skills of which to speak. Henry does not attempt to seek help because he believes it is useless to try because nothing seems to work. When talking to friends, he constantly puts himself down. He sleeps late and misses many classes and finds himself falling further and further behind in his coursework.

Satisfied Sheila

Sheila is a likable student who enjoys college life. She joined a number of social organizations the first term in college and is a Cave rage student who could easily attain A grades. Sheila does not want to push herself and lets course work get in the way of having a good time. She is not worried about getting C grades and is especially satisfied with any grade that does not require much effort. Sheila enjoys reading novels and writes very well. In fact, she has submitted some of her poetry to her college literary magazine. Unfortunately, she does not apply her intellectual interests and abilities to her schoolwork.

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Anxious Alberto

Alberto lacks self-confidence and is very anxious about academic tasks. He constantly worries about his performance on every test or assignment. His anxiety is so great that he forgets material on tests even though he prepares well. Alberto has trouble sleeping, constantly has stomachaches, and does not enjoy college.

Each of these students has a different set of beliefs and perceptions that limit his or her present and possibly future academic success. All of these students have motivational problems. Defensive Dimitri doubts his ability and is concerned that others will not see him as capable. Safe Susan does not want to take any risks or challenge herself. She just cares about doing well. Hopeless Henry does not believe anything he does will make a difference in succeeding in college. He has learned to be helpless. Satisfied Sheila does not value her academic accomplishments. As a result, she chooses to spend her time and effort in nonacademic areas. Anxious Alberto wants to be a successful student. However, his constant worry causes considerable anxiety that interferes with his academic success. Do any of these students resemble anyone you know? As you read this chapter, think about how the content can help you better understand each of these students.

After studying this Posts, you will be able to:

Identify the factors that influence motivation.

Assess your beliefs and perceptions to account for your own motivation.

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