Re: Motives and goals

From: Jayson Seaman (
Date: Mon Feb 02 2004 - 10:02:12 PST

In reading some of the motivation literature, one of the perplexing
problems that arises is that, even when goal orientation is accounted for
and the academic environment supports a mastery orientation (as opposed
to a performance orientation, or performing for the sake of appearances
rather than for the "inherent value of learning"), minority students
still do poorly when compared to students of dominant
racial/socioeconomic status. It has been proposed that this is due to
stereotype threat on the one hand, and a picture of intelligence as fixed
on the other hand, both of which may lead to disidentification.

It is clear that students will approach a task differently based on a
number of factors, one of which is their goal orientation (if you agree
with the concept). From what I have read, much of the motivation research
approaches the issue from within the learner--even when acknowledging
that the environment interacts with goals. Different student approaches
can be accounted for through concepts such as goal orientation,
self-efficacy, and so forth.

What has yet to be articulated in the motivation literature, from what I
have seen, is a situational analysis of motivation in which I find it
difficult to even speak of motives and goals without sliding into
individualistic concepts. I wonder about Peter Smagorinsky's suggestion
that “The extent to which a person internalizes the values of a cultural
way of knowing depends on his or her degree of consonance with the
cultural tools that mediate development. Tools enable meaning
construction when they are sanctioned by the cultural environment of
learning, are recognized by the learner as tools, and are used
volitionally by the learner” (1995, p. 195).

It seems to me that motivation may require these concepts to get up off
the ground, and instead there may be another phenomenon at work when the
cutural tools are not consonant or are perhaps even rejected (in which
case, perhaps the motivation is to disidentify--as per Eugene's notion
that students mobilize cultural tools perhaps in conflict with one
another). By extending Peter Smagorinsky's assertion, there must be
agency on the part of the students specifically related to the tools in
use within the specific environment, perhaps whether the motive is to
simply perform or to master "material."

From another perspective, I am struck by the notion of "legitimacy" as
suggested by Jean Lave. Is legitimate participation a precondition for
motivation (at least in view of the telos of a given situation)? Is
motivation perhaps a situational achievement rather than a given? This
may help describe the performance of minority students in schools where
the parameters for participation are narrowly defined.

I don't necessarily see the disconnect between "inertia" and
"motivation," because one could perhaps say that some level of inertia is
required for motivation to occur, in which someone could be said to be
paricipating in the situation instead of in spite of the situation (which
is still a form of participation of course!). The notion of affordances
may not even be paricularly helpful--I'm thinking of Learning to Labor in
which the same situation afforded quite different motives and entirely
different constructions among different students. In this view
"affordances" are not static and are dependent also on the consonance of
cultural tools. In this example, given the standard view, the "ear'oles"
would have been seen as motivated, and the "lads" unmotivated. Clearly
this was not the case--the difference lies in the use of cutural tools to
construct meaning, before motivation could be taken into account....??

Jayson Seaman
Ph.D. Student
University of New Hampshire

Smagorinsky, P. (1995). The social construction of data: Methodological
problems of investigating learning in the zone of proximal development.
Review of Educational Research, 65, 191-212.
On Mon, 2 Feb 2004 19:13:16 +0700 Phil Chappell
<> writes:
> Mike refers to my terminology from within ANL's activity theoretic
> framework. Okay, so the level of motive accounts for why something
> is
> done, the level of goal what is done, and the level of operations
> how
> it is done. To keep to the second language learning analogy, a
> language
> learning task can result in different kinds of activity because the
> task will be approached differently depending on the underlying
> motives. The different activities may or may not result in different
> operations, and individual's motives and operations are generative
> in
> light of changing sociocultural conditions. This is not to defer to
> Eugene's problem of the learner as a container, but rather as an
> agent
> who responds to the shifting constraints and affordances of
> particular
> settings. Learners may approach a task differently on different
> occasions; they may think that a task at one time is a fun game,
> and
> at another a serious linguistic pursuit. This makes the analysis of
> collaborative learning activity all the more complex; as Jay
> mentions,
> the multi-intentionality of each learner, i.e. agency in situ,
> prevents
> us from making any causal relations. The relevance for the
> researcher
> here is that motives need to be "nailed down" (understood?) so that
> attempts can be made at understanding the interactions that occur
> during the task (I am defining task as an arena for the construction
> of
> activity). In particular for me, the supportive/"expert other"
> episodes
> that occur during the activity. I guess this might be trying to see
> as
> much of what is going on as we can?
> Phil

With regards,

Jayson Seaman
Orford, NH

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