Yes, it is a proven fact that students vary markedly in their academic performance and they do so over time. The reasons for these differences depend on several factors:
- The socio-cultural context of the students, highlighting the socioeconomic and cultural level of the family and the opportunities offered by the social context.
- The school factors, being the coexistence in the center, the teaching staff, the methodology and didactic resources and the work climate in the classroom are the most relevant aspects.
- The personal characteristics of the students, such as: aptitudes, previous knowledge and school history, attitudes, work habits and motivation for study.
Feed the effort
Among all the factors mentioned, school motivation is one of the most determining factors. This refers to the taste for study and the energy that goes into it. In a word: to the effort.
Using the analogy of the car: if the skills are the engine, the effort is gasoline, so no matter how much engine there is, if we don’t feed it well, it doesn’t work. Or by mimicking Einstein’s famous formula, academic performance is equal to the student’s ability due to his motivation squared: R = cm 2.
Student profiles for their motivation
In a recent investigation , we studied student motivation at two different times: when they were in 4th of Primary Education (4th of EP) and four years later, when they were in 2nd of Compulsory Secondary Education (2nd of ESO).
Regarding motivation, three basic profiles of students were found:
- Highly motivated or with a better disposition towards study. The students in this group affirm that they like to study and strive to achieve good results, they attend in class, they keep their notebooks clean and tidy and they persist to finish their tasks, even when they find it difficult.
- Student body applied. You acknowledge that you do not like to study and therefore do not include study among your preferred activities. However, he understands study as a duty and behaves consistently with that conviction: he pays attention and effort in his work and perseveres in understanding and carrying out the tasks that pose difficulties for him.
- Low motivation. It is the most worrying profile: he does not like to study and he does not recognize that study supposes a duty or a commitment. Therefore, he does not understand the need to strive, be attentive and finish his tasks.
But how does the motivation of students change throughout schooling? The results of the study are very clear and indicate that motivation declines sharply with the course of schooling, deteriorating especially between Primary and Secondary Education.
Thus, in 4th EP, 63% of the students are in the highly motivated group, while four years later this group only concentrates 16% of the students. On the other hand, in Primary Education only 3% of the students respond to the low motivation profile.
However, in secondary this group agglutinates to 25%. In other words, between primary and secondary, practically 70% of the students experience a clear drop in their levels of school motivation.
In short, in Primary Education, the vast majority perceive homework as a non-negotiable duty. However, in Secondary Education these same students have interests and interests far removed from academics, where it is difficult for them to find incentives to exert themselves in school, beyond grades.
What is the reason for the drastic fall?
If motivation is strongly connected to school performance and we started by pointing out three factors associated with said performance (social, school and personal), it is reasonable to think that the decrease in motivation will be related to the aforementioned triad.
Today’s liquid, interconnected and changing world offers immediate stimuli and satisfactions that rival study and access and construction of academic knowledge, where rewards are always deferred and long-term.
On the other hand, school motivation has two main components: belief in one’s own competence (I can do it, I am a good student) and the expectation of profit from the task (studying, trying hard will be useful to me).
However, a significant percentage of students consider that school content is not useful and is far from their daily interests.
In addition, in Secondary Education the school requirement increases, which forces to increase the effort without necessarily being reflected in the academic results. This causes frustration and a deterioration of their academic self-concept, producing a vicious circle: students begin to believe that they are not a good student, which fuels a decrease in motivation, and this, in turn, feeds back the low academic performance. .
Finally, there could be a distal and generic reason, such as the students’ own evolutionary development. Secondary Education coincides with a period of physical, psychological, and socio-affective changes that can destabilize personal adjustment and minimize interest in school affairs.
It is not easy, but, to paraphrase Isaiah Berlin , “you have to continually try.”
First of all, it is necessary to recognize that, in more than a few cases, the discourse on diagnosing and improving school motivation is a kind of crossfire: teachers speak of low levels of student effort, families argue that they lack interest and a response from the center, and the students insist on the irrelevance of the learning.
Therefore, the first condition is to articulate a strategy where the work of all the agents involved converges and acts on all areas of the student’s life.
The role of the family
Educational research has pointed out the role of the family . Specifically, he has highlighted the importance of motivating children academically, a style of family involvement in the study that encompasses diverse behaviors: transmit high expectations, emphasize the usefulness of schoolwork and talk about everyday school issues and their academic future.
At the individual level, students must be encouraged to have the control to modify their personal skills, generating a proactive mindset that makes changes possible.
It is about developing your capacity for executive control of your actions, learning to plan and delay your rewards.
In addition, as Judith Harris taught us well , at those ages, peers, peers, are essential. Therefore, not only do you have to work at the individual and family level, you also have to intervene in the peer group.
The last reflection points towards academic organization and teaching methodology. In Spain, the organization of the curricula replicates the disciplinary content of scientific subjects and, in general, this academic organization assumes the point of view of teaching and teaching staff.
It is likely that in compulsory schooling, academic ordering needs to be downloaded from cognitive-intellectual content and to enhance communication, interpersonal relationship, critical thinking, autonomous learning, entrepreneurship and creativity capacities, so that teaching content is better aligned with interests. of the student body.
Author Bios: Rubén Fernández-Alonso is Professor of the Department of Education Sciences, Álvaro Postigo Gutiérrez is Predoctoral researcher, Eduardo García Cueto is Professor of Psychometry, José Muñiz is Professor of Psychometry and Marcelino Cuesta Izquierdo is Professor of Psychometry all at the University of Oviedo