Feedback vs. Grades: How is students' motivation to study affected?
Motivation plays a crucial role in students' performance. It is well known that not all students share the same amount as well as kind of motivation for the same tasks and activities. Also, not all teachers apply the same motivation strategy in their lessons as well as when giving grades and feedback for student performances. Whereas some teachers really struggle with a demotivated class, others are able to generate dynamics that benefit the whole class and help to even exceed expected results in performance. Why do some succeed while others struggle? What strategies are important for maintaining as well as developing students' motivation towards tasks and activities? In order to generate answers to these questions, this term paper focuses on the effect of feedback on students' motivation. In order to address the topic accordingly, in the beginning, the term motivation as well as the different kinds are explained. Then current theories regarding verbal and written feedback as opposed to letter and numeral grades are analyzed. Lastly, the findings are put in contrast with the current situation in schools.
Motivation: An Overview
Deci & Ryan (2000) characterize motivation as the mental desire for action, meaning to be energized and activated and ready to do something . There exist several distinctions regarding the term motivation and we are rarely driven by only one of them. Most theories see intrinsic and extrinsic motivation as the most prominent distinction. Deci & Ryan (2000) refer to intrinsic motivation when the task or activity is carried out simply for the joy of the action itself. Hereby the reward is the task or the activity itself and the motivation comes from the inside. Carrying out a task in order to reach a goal that is not directly connected to the task refers to extrinsic motivation and the motivation comes from outside. Such can be a certain grade, language acquisition in the long run or simply because you are asked to carry out the task. Susanto (2018)
also distinguishes between high attitude and low attitude regarding motivation. The former is considered positive, useful and efficient whereas the later is connected to weakness and causing mental blocks.
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Figure 1. Based on Deci & Ryan (2000). Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic
Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being. American Psychologist. 55(1),68.78.)
Hereby, apart from “amotivation” referring to not being motivated at all and “intrinsic motivation”, extrinsic motivation is divided into four subcategories from more external to more internal. The most external extrinsic motivation is regulated by compliance and external rewards or punishments. An example could be, a student doing his/her homework for the approval of the teacher or parent. Introjected Regulation is still considered somewhat external but involves internal rewards or punishments. Using the same example as before, this could be a student doing homework in order to not end up being the only one in class who has not done it and therefore being shamed for it (peer pressure). “Identified Regulation” is considered somewhat internal as the task and activity is of considerable personal importance. By this means, the student has realized the importance of the homework for his/her future goal of language acquisition and is therefore determined to do it. The last and therefore most internal form of extrinsic motivation is called “integrated regulation”. Hereby a synthesis of external and internal factors of motivation take place. Regarding our example, the student is still doing the homework because of its importance for his/her future goals but also shows slight interest in the task/activity itself. Consequently, motivation has a great range, from amotivation/unwillingness, to passive compliance all the way to personal commitment (Deci & Ryan, 2000).
Now this entails that there are more and less efficient kinds of motivation. A student that is intrinsically motivated will put much more effort into a task than a student that just wants to please the teacher. This leads to the question of what factors influence students' motivation in general. Ghenghesh, Astuti and Bakar (2010, 2013, 2014) point out that the motivation of the students is affected by the classroom, assessment but also their teacher(s) whereas Alnatheer and Susanto & Fazlinda (2016) connect it to learning strategies. However, all theories underlie the fact that students' motivation to learn decreases gradually at school over the years (Lamb, 2004). This does not come as a particular surprise as humans show the desire to learn and explore without external reinforcement in the early stages of development, but this drive stagnates and declines later on with the increase of social obligations. However, this does not entail that this drive is solely limited to childhood but rather is narrowed down to certain tasks and activities. Obviously, people are motivated for certain tasks and activities but do not share the same energy for others (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Whereas for a child almost everything is triggered by intrinsic motivation and the desire to learn as much as possible, an adult has much more difficulty to generate the same motivation. This issue goes hand in hand with Ellis (1994), who points out that (language) teachers are aware of the importance of learner's motivation but admit a frequent struggle to generate it in their students. This leads to the assumption that after the phase of interest in almost all topics and activities there exist fixed areas of interest for students that can't be altered. Consequently, a student that has always favored learning mathematics will never develop intrinsic motivation for let's say foreign language learning.