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Keeping self-determination in perspective

In certain ways self-determination theory provides a sensible way to think about students’ intrinsic motivation and therefore to think about how to get them to manage their own learning. A particular strength of the theory is that it recognizes degrees of self-determination and bases many ideas on this reality. Most people recognize combinations of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation guiding particular activities in their own lives. We might enjoy teaching, for example, but also do this job partly to receive a paycheck. To its credit, self-determination theory also relies on a list of basic human needs—autonomy, competence, and relatedness—that relate comfortably with some of the larger purposes of education. Although these are positive features for understanding and influencing students’ classroom motivation, some educators and psychologists nonetheless have lingering questions about the limitations of self-determination theory. One is whether merely providing choices actually improves students’ learning, or simply improves their satisfaction with learning. There is evidence supporting both possibilities (Flowerday&Schraw, 2003; Deci&Ryan, 2003), and it is likely that there are teachers whose classroom experience supports both possibilities as well.

Another question is whether it is possible to overdo attention to students’ needs—and again there is evidence for both favoring and contradicting this possibility. Too many choices can actually make anyone (not just a student) frustrated and dissatisfied with a choice the person actually does make (Schwartz, 2004). Clearly the number of choices given must be developmentally appropriate: adolescents can handle far more choices than can kindergartners. Furthermore, differentiating activities to students’ competence levels may be challenging if students are functioning at extremely diverse levels within a single class, as sometimes happens. These are serious concerns, though in our opinion not serious enough to give up offering choices to students or to stop differentiating instruction altogether. In “Classroom management and the learning environment,” therefore, we explain the practical basis for this opinion, by describing workable ways for offering choices and recognizing students’ diversity.

References

Aronson, E.&Patnoe, S. (1997). The Jigsaw classroom: Building cooperation in the classroom, 2nd edition. New York: Longman.

Burke, M.&Sass, T. (2006). Classroom peer effects and student achievement. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association, Boston, USA.

Butin, D. (2005). Service learning in higher education. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Cohen, E. (1994). Designing groupwork: Strategies for the heterogeneous classroom, 2nd edition. New York: Teachers’ College Press.

Cohen, E., Brody, C.,&Sapon-Shevin, M. (Eds.). (2004). Teaching cooperative learning: The challenge for teacher education (pp. 217-224). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Darnon, C., Butera, F.,&Harackiewicz, J. (2006). Achievement goals in social interactions: Learning with mastery versus performance goals. Motivation and Emotion, 31, 61-70.

Deci, E.&Ryan, R. (2003). The paradox of achievement: The harder you push, the worse it gets. In E. Aronson (Ed.), Improving academic achievement: Impact of psychological factors in education (pp. 62-90). Boston: Academic Press.

Dowson, M.&McInerney, D. (2003). What do students say about their motivational goals? Toward a more complex and dynamic perspective on student motivation. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 28, 91-113.

Elliott, A., McGregor, H.,&Thrash, T. (2004). The need for competence. In E. Deci&R. Ryan (Eds.), Handbook of self-determination research (pp. 361-388). Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.

Flowerday, T., Shraw, G.,&Stevens, J. (2004). Role of choice and interest in reader engagement. Journal of Educational Research, 97, 93-103.

Harackiewicz, J., Barron, K., Tauer, J.,&Elliot, A. (2002). Short-term and long-term consequences of achievement goals. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92, 316-320.

Koestner, R.&Losier, G. (2004). Distinguishing three ways of being highly motivated: a closer look at introjection, identification, and intrinsic motivation. In E. Deci&R. Ryan (Eds.), Handbook of self-determination research (pp. 101-122). Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.

Midgley, C., Kaplan, A.,&Middleton, M. (2001). Performance-approach goals: Good for what, for whom, and under what conditions, and at what cost? Journal of Educational Psychology, 93, 77-86.

Ryan, R. M.,&Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78.

Ryan, R.&Lynch, M. (2003). Philosophies of motivation and classroom management. In R. Curren (Ed.), Blackwell companion to philosophy: A companion to the philosophy of education (pp. 260-271). New York, NY: Blackwell.

Schwartz, B. (2004). The paradox of choice: Why more is less. New York: Ecco/Harper Collins.

White-McNulty, L., Patrikakou, E.N.,&Weissberg, R.P. (2005). Fostering children’s motivation to learn: A guide for teachers. (Partnership Series no. 114). Philadelphia: Laboratory for Student Success.

Wigfield, A.&Eccles, J. (2002). The development of achievement motivation. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Wolters, C. (2004). Advancing achievement goal theory: Using goal structures and goal orientations to predict students’ motivation, cognition, and achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96, 236-250.

Much of the material from this topic was adapted from (Seifert and Sutton, 2011).

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