Introduction: Revealing the Test Results
Motivation is an essential part of a student’s evolution as a learner, both in terms of their academic life and in a more general sense, i.e., the willingness to cognize the unknown and to improve one’s skills, evolving as a professional. Therefore, it is crucial that students should be motivated for their studies. Seeing that, despite the new opportunities provided to them, African American students show desperately low performance and retention rates, motivation of the students in question must be assessed to provide a solution to the problem and find the way to motivate the students for a better performance.
A 14-question test has been designed to assess African American students’ motivation and define the key factors that affect the latter. It has been suggested that the construct under consideration is affected both by the strategy adopted by the teacher and the students’ family background and environment. In other words, both social and cultural aspects are assumed to matter in shaping the students’ motivation.
Rationale/Problem Statement: Specifying the Issue
The analysis of students’ motivation, which is the construct of interest, is the key to developing an efficient teaching strategy. More to the point, motivation often defines the performance that a student delivers, therefore, affecting students’ retention rates. It is especially tricky, yet nonetheless interesting, to define what affects motivation; to be more particular, it is necessary to figure out to what extent cultural issues, as well as home and school environment affect students’ motivation, and define which effect is the strongest in each case. Assessment of motivation may allow for measuring a range of characteristics and behaviors, including the incentives that the students need, the strategy that a teacher should adopt and the effects that the students’ culture, the students’ families and the school environment has on the learners’ enthusiasm and, thus, retention rates. The effects of the aforementioned culture clash, in their turn, can be measured with the help of another assessment. It is desirable that all characteristics of motivation (e.g., students’ culture and its conflict with the teacher’s culture, the effects of the teacher’s strategy and the influence of parents) should be included into the assessment. However, because of the restrictions in the number of questions, the evaluation of these factors may be somehow superficial.
Research Question: Modifying the Initial Query
Previously, the research question revolved around the effects that the collision of the teacher’s and the students’ culture may have had on the students’ motivation for further learning. However, after a more thorough analysis of the existing literature, as well as the analysis of the answers to the questionnaire designed in the previous paper, it has been revealed that students’ motivation is influenced by two powerful factors, i.e., the environment, in which a student appears in once they cross the threshold of their school, and the atmosphere, in which the student has been born and raised, or, in other words, the student’s family background. The support of the family members, or the lack thereof, can also be included into the list of factors belonging to the family environment.
In light of the aforementioned fact, it will be reasonable to suggest shaping the research question towards defining the factors that affect the students’ motivation. Therefore, the research question is going to sound tin the following way:
To what extent is the students’ motivation for learning is defined by their family background, what role does the strategy adopted by the teacher plays in shaping the students’ motivation, may the lack of the African American culture representation in the school setting affect the motivation of African American students at the early stages of their academic life, and does the introduction of the factors improving the students’ motivation will affect the retention rates among African America learners?
The question asked above is targeted at both measuring the students’ motivation and creating the premises for defining the strategy that a teacher can use to address the lack of motivation among African American students and, therefore, improve the retention rates.
Literature Review: Assessment Tools and How They Can Assist
The issue of disturbingly low retention rates is not new, and it has been discussed in a variety of papers. More importantly, the reasons for the African American students to receive such low grades compared to their more successful peers have also been analyzed quite closely. For example, Love, Trammel & Cartner (2010) have mentioned the tremendous impact that motivation has on students’ retention rates, making it clear that, unless students are motivated properly, a teacher has no chance in improving the students’ score: “Transformational leadership theory could only be effective by including African-American students and getting them involved” (Love, Trammel, & Cartner, 2010, p. 76). In the process of researching the root causes for students to neglect the opportunities that the U.S. education system provides them, several tools for measuring motivation as the key to students’ retention rates have been provided. Very few of these tools, however, have been designed to assess the motivation of African American students specifically. In other words, the tools created for evaluating the rates of motivation among students are not traditionally meant to address the needs of a specific ethnic group, which seems to be a major oversight in the development of measurement tools.
Indeed, taking a closer look at what the currently represented motivation measurement tools are, one will see inevitably that the chances that they provide for addressing the needs of African American students are unbelievably scarce. According to the existing studies, the Motivated Strategy for Learning (Rassuli, 2012), the Revised Two-Factor Study Process Questionnaire (Stes, Maeyer, & Petergem, 2013), the National Survey of Student Engagement (Popkess, & McDaniel, 2011), the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory (Sultan, & Hussain, 2012), the Approaches and Study Skills Inventory for Students (Walker, Spronken-Smith, Bond, Mcdonald, & Reynolds, 2010) and various Likert Scale surveys (Bakirtzoglou, & Ioannou, 2011) are the most well known tools for analyzing students’ motivation, and none of these tools takes cultural, national and ethnic specifics of the students into account (Love, Trammel, & Cartner, 2010).
The significance of the Revised Two-Factor Study Process Questionnaire (Stes, Maeyer, & Petergem, 2012) has been outlined in a range of studies; according to the latest researches, the given type of tests allows for a more accurate evaluation of the cultural issues (Derrington, 2009); particularly, cross-cultural sensitivity can be assessed with the help of the tool in question (Mareno, Hart, & VanBrackle, 2013). Unfortunately, none of the recent researches indicates that the tool can be used successfully in order to consider the construct in question. Indeed, the studies in which the R-SPQ-2F model was used as a tool for assessing motivation or the related phenomena are quite scarce (Stes, De Maeyer, & Petergem, 2012).
Though designed specifically for evaluating students’ motivation in an attempt to increase retention rates among students, the National Survey of Student Engagement clearly lacks focus and is far too general to be applied to a specific case (Carle, Jaffee, Vaughan, & Eder, 2009). True, the tool can be used as a foil for developing a more comprehensive and specific test (Thorndike, & Thorndike-Christ, 2009), which can target the students that are not motivated enough (Popkess, & McDaniel, 2011). However, to address the issue of motivation among the African American students, a considerable emphasis on the culture and its representation must be made, which the test in question fails to facilitate (Carle, Jaffee, Vaughan, & Eder, 2009).
As far as the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory is concerned, the process of students’ motivation assessment seems to fall flat due to the lack of insight regarding the outside factors affecting the construct in question (Sultan, & Hussain, 2012). True, the volition of a student to study a specific subject is predetermined by the student’s interest in the first place, and, unless the learner is enthusiastic about a specific subject, it is very doubtful that any of the extrinsic factors, including rewards and appraisals, are going to alter the situation (Sultan, & Hussain, 2012). However, the test developers seem to have left a major detail out of their sight; according to other researches, intrinsic motivation is influenced by the external factors considerably (Sultan, & Hussain, 2012), and, therefore, the analysis of the latter is inseparable from the evaluation of the intrinsic factors. As a result, the test mentioned above can be only used to evaluate the learner’s current motivation, yet does not provide the answer to the question concerning how the motivation rates can be enhanced, not to mention the fact that the factors affecting the student’s motivation are left completely out of sight (Sultan, & Hussain, 2012).
Compared to the questionnaires and surveys listed above, the tool known as the Approaches and Study Skills Inventory for Students (Walker, Spronken-Smith, Bond, Mcdonald, & Reynolds, 2010) does not seem to add anything to the analysis of the cultural issues that African American students may face when dealing with the educational environment, which has been built in the setting that is entirely alien to them (Walker, Spronken-Smith, Bond, Mcdonald, & Reynolds, 2010). True, the test attempts at measuring the students’ enthusiasm for acquiring new skills; nevertheless, like many other tests, it focuses on what students feel and think about learning, yet fails to embrace the factors that shape the students’ attitude towards the studying process (Walker, Spronken-Smith, Bond, Mcdonald, & Reynolds, 2010).
Likert Scale surveys, in their turn, are very efficient as a basis for developing a survey for assessing students’ motivation, yet they clearly lack focus (Bakirtzoglou, & Ioannou, 2011). In fact, Likert scales should be seen as a framework for a test to be based on rather as a test that can stand on its own (Bakirtzoglou, & Ioannou, 2011). Therefore, several Likert-scale questions can be included into the test assessing students’ motivation, yet other types of questions must also be included into the assessment (Seibert, 2002).
It is remarkable that none of the tools represented above assists in analyzing the atmosphere in which students learn. While understanding whether the student is capable of handling the amount of information that is being provided to them at school is essential, it is nonetheless important to figure out if the environment, in which a student studies, helps the latte by facilitating the academic climate favorable for learning (e.g., enhances the significance of learning, shows the way in which the acquired skills can be used in practice, references the situations that a student can relate to based on their culture and experience, etc.). In fact, models for recruitment of minority students have been designed (Gordon, & Copes, 2010), yet very few of the existing researches focus on the problem of the conflict between the environment of the school and the one, to which students are accustomed to (Gordon, & Copes, 2010). The closest that the tools mentioned above got to addressing the issue of students’ motivation in an unfamiliar cultural setting was the introduction of a cross-cultural analysis in the administering of the Revised Two-Factor Study Process Questionnaire (Stes, De Maeyer, & Petergem, 2012). The greatest challenge concerning the teacher’s task of bridging the two cultures – the African American and the European American ones – is to maintain balance in acknowledging the specifics of the students’ ethnicity without succumbing to traditional stereotypes, since the latter tactics is most likely to have even worse effects and result in students losing interest in studying completely (Johnson-Ahorlu, 2013). Therefore, the need to create a tool that can be used to not only assess the motivation rates among the students of a specific ethnicity (African American in the given case), but also help outline the factors predetermining the lack of interest towards the studying process. Much to the credit of the developers of the Intrinsic Motivation Survey, the internal factors, including the type of personality, the students’ inclinations, the issues of interest, etc., have been made possible to access. However, the external factors, including the sociocultural environment, in which the student has been raised, the conflict between the aforementioned environment and the one that students face when enrolling in a school, the attitude towards studying cultivated in the student’s family, etc., have been left out of the analysis, thus, making the latter rather superficial and one-sided.
Methodology: The Many Benefits of a Quantitative Research
As it has been stressed above, qualitative research has been chosen as the basic research method, and a questionnaire was created as the key research tool.
Speaking of the methods in which the research has been administered, the test (questionnaire) was suggested to six students from two different schools. One of the students refused to participate; therefore, only five respondents have provided the information sufficient for the research. Prior to carrying out the research, the consent of the participants was retrieved. In addition, seeing how the students were clearly under age (10, 11, 9, 10 and 8 correspondingly), it was required that the parents of the students should give their permission for the students to answer the questions provided in the test. It should be noted that among the participants, there were two boys (the 10- and 9-year-old students) and three girls (the 11-, 10- and 8-year old students). The two ten-year-old participants study in different schools. It should also be kept in mind that the questionnaire was provided to the students at the end of their classes in the realm of their academic setting. While the formal atmosphere of the aforementioned setting could have affected the choices made by the students, it was important that the students’ answers should not be influenced by their parents, which would have been a tangible threat if the questionnaires had been filled out by the students at home. The key specifics of the participants can be summarized in the following way:
Table 1. Participants Selection
|Participant||Age||Gender||School||Financial background||Academic performance||Personality type|
|Student A||11||Female||School A||Upper middle class||A-grader, role model||Extravert|
|Student B||10||Male||School A||Middle class||Satisfactory (C)||Extravert|
|Student C||10||Female||School B||Lower middle class||Unsatisfactory (D/F)||Introvert|
|Student D||9||Male||School A||Lower middle class||Good (B–)||Introvert|
|Student E||8||Female||School B||Middle class||Satisfactory /Unsatisfactory(C–D)||Extravert|
Results Discussion: What the Test Has Shown
The test results have provided a lot of food for thoughts. According to what the test has shown, most of the students have identified the classroom environment as the one that causes most problems. Nevertheless, the family background also seems to be playing a major part in the academic progress of the students – or, to be more exact, the lack thereof.
As the questionnaire was administered to the students, some of the questions have caused misunderstandings among the specified group of learners; particularly, the representation of the students’ culture raised a few eyebrows. The statement concerning the authors of the textbooks, in its turn, seemed to have caught the participants completely off guard, since they started checking their textbooks immediately to see whom they were written by.
As far as the test results are concerned, it has been proven experimentally that the motivation rates of African American students are dependent on four key factors, i.e., the strategy chosen by the teacher, the introduction of the elements of the African American culture into the class, the support of the family and the attitude towards studying that the students’ families promote to their children. To be more exact, the results of the test indicate that the students clearly suffer from the underrepresentation of their culture in the class. A closer look at the test answers, especially the ones that the students were supposed to provide on their own by filling in the gaps, show that their teaches fail to connect to the students by relating to the elements of the African American culture. It is also rather disturbing that none of the students marked the following answer as suitable: “When explaining the topic, the teacher makes a lot of connections to the African American culture.” In addition, the test allows students identify themselves as learners and helps a teacher see what image of themselves as learners students have; the latter is crucial for understanding the students’ motives (Psych Tests Aim, Inc., 2011).
The instrument designed for assessing the motivation of young African American students clearly has a potential as a tool for not only evaluating the motivation rates among African American learners, but also as a means to distill both external and internal factors, which affect students’ motivation and therefore, contribute to the retention or the corresponding dropout of a student. The key strength of the tool is that it splits the entire amount of factors into two major groups based on the environment in which they affect a student, i.e., the influence of the family values and the impact of the school environment. The latter, in its turn, is evaluated from two key perspectives with the help of the test, i.e., as a helpful environment, in which a student is capable of acquiring new information, and as a place where the conflict between the culture of the African American students and their teachers occurs. Speaking of which, the test offers a very strong evaluation of the possible conflict between the two cultures. A range of questions in the assessment are designed in such a way that the possible sources of the culture clash could be located; for instance, the specifics of the teacher’s strategy, their attitude towards the students and the success in integrating the elements of the African American culture into the classroom environment, as well as the skill of drawing parallels between the studied material and the students’ culture have been taken into account. For example, such elements of the questionnaire as “On a scale from 1 (Very poor) to 5 (Excellent), evaluate how well your culture is represented in the classroom” allow for nailing down the nature of the cross-cultural conflict, should such be the reason for the poor retention rates among young African American students. More to the point, it is crucial that the test also helps to assess the rates of parental control, which African American students are subjected to, as well as the parental involvement in general. However, when it comes to defining the key strength of the test, one must mention that it incorporates the self-image of a student into the assessment. This is crucial to the outcomes of the testing, since a self-image of a learner is an essential component of a student’s intrinsic motivation (Sultan & Hussain, 2012). Eventually, it is important that, in multiple choice questions, the students have been provided with an opportunity to give their own unique answer, which may fall out of the pattern suggested by the questionnaire (for example, the question “Do you think that your teachers are perfect?” presupposes that the student should evaluate either the teaching strategy that their tutor adopts, or the relationships between the tutor and the student; however, the “e) field” with blank lines to be filled suggests that the student may be experiencing difficulties of a different kind when communicating with the teacher). As a result, the test allows for a maximum honesty and openness of the responses, though objectivity may suffer (e.g., in the evaluation of the teacher and their strategy). Thus, the issue of motivation can be evaluated objectively, with both internal and external factors being the focus of the test.
The questionnaire, however, also has several weaknesses. To start with, the test could have included more questions in order to deliver more precise results. As it has been mentioned above, the factors that supposedly affect students’ academic performance were split into two large groups, which means that each of these groups of factors should have been paid equal amounts of attention to. However, seeing how not only the effects of the school and home environment, but also the teacher’s strategy, the parents’ control, the effects of the collision between the school culture and the African American culture, and the possible underrepresentation of the African American culture in the class is a major focus of the research, a stronger emphasis should have been put on the aforementioned issue. Hough these factors have also been evaluated in the course of the test, the limitation in the amount of questions and the huge number of factors that needs to be incorporated into the assessment, makes the latter rather complicated to carry out. In addition, the balance between the evaluation of the culture related issues and the assessment of the elements of the students’ social and family backgrounds is quite hard to maintain. As a result, the lack of such a balance is obviously one of the major weaknesses of the questionnaire designed to assess the motivation rates of African American students.
Therefore, it can be concluded that the test in question is rather trustworthy as a tool for assessing African American students’ motivation and defining the factors that affect both the students’ motivation and retention rates. Besides providing a very decent assessment of the required construct, which the retention rates hinge on, the questionnaire also sets the premises for designing further strategies in improving the students’ motivation and, thus, increasing retention rates among older students. More to the point, the strategies designed based on the results of the questionnaire may affect the students’ academic life on a much higher level, clarifying the necessity to be able to learn to the students and, thus, encouraging the latter to become lifelong learners. In other words, the questionnaire suggested for measuring the students’ retention rates may be used as the premise for designing not only an efficient teaching strategy, but also an entire philosophy of teaching and learning.
Ethical Considerations: No Harm Done?
The ethical side of the question should be brought up together with the results discussion as an essential part of a test (Diem, 2002). Though it has already been stressed that everything possible has been done to avoid the possible issues, including the fact that the informed consent was retrieved from both the students and their parents, the test may have affected the students in a negative way. For example, such questions as “Do you think that the teacher is fair to you?” may make the student taking the test develop a wrong attitude towards the teacher and the role of the latter in the school setting by recalling the instances when the teacher was too strict and, thus, misunderstanding the purpose of the teacher’s being picky. These adverse effects of the test can be averted by giving advance notice to the students concerning the categoricalness of the test statements.
Limitations: When Five Participants Is Not Enough
Even though every single question of the test has been designed to define whether the students are motivated properly and isolate the facts that the students may be under when defaulting on their assignments, the fact that the questionnaire embraced the experiences of only five participants is clearly a serious limitation. While everything has been made to make the test setting diverse (e.g., the number of male and female students was nearly the same, two different schools have been chosen, students from different grades have been selected, etc.), making a commentary about the education system faults on a nationwide level is hardly possible based on the answers retrieved from only five students. Nevertheless, as a probe taken from a modern education setting and the challenges that it sets for African American students, the study still seems rather solid, and its results are quite valid.
Bakirtzoglou, P., & Ioannou, P. (2011). Goal orientation, motivational climate and dispositional flow in Greek secondary education students participating in physical education lesson: Differences based on gender. Facta Universitatis: Series Physical Education & Sport, 9(3), 295-306.
Carle, A. C., Jaffee, D., Vaughan, N. W., & Eder, D. (2009). Psychometric properties of three new National Survey of Student Engagement based engagement scales: An item response theory analysis. Research in Higher Education, 50(8), 775-794.
Gordon, F. C. & Copes, M. A. (2010). The Coppin Academy for pre-nursing success: A model for the recruitment and retention of minority students. ABNF Journal, 21(1), 11-13.
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Love, D., Trammell, A. M., & Cartner, J. (2010). Transformational leadership, campus climate and its impact on student retention. Journal of Organizational Culture, Communication and Conflict, 14(2), 75-81. ProQuest document ID: 763234786.
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Appendix A: The Survey
Studying is important, because… (Choose as many answers as you need):
- It will make me smarter
- It will help me when I get a job
- It will make my family proud
This is a very difficult question; please, try to answer it honestly. Do you think that your teachers are perfect?
- No, they should be more patient
- No, they should be less strict
- No, they should be more attentive to me and my problems
- Yes, they are all very good
What do you think of your studying?
- I think that I am doing my best to study.
- I deserve better marks. The teacher is unfair to me.
- I could study better, but I do not have time
- I could study better, but I don’t need studying
What can you say about your classroom?
- I like the way the classroom looks.
- I do not really care.
- It is awful, and it does not let me study.
- It is pretty bad, but it does not bother me.
What do you think about yourself as a student? Are you a bad student or a good student? Explain your answer.
What do your parents say about your studies?
- They say that I must study well
- They say that marks do not matter, only studying does
- They do not actually say or do anything about it
What would you like to change in the school lessons? (You can choose several answers)
- Add more speaking activities
- Add more group activities
- Add more personal assignments
Which of these statements are correct? (Choose as many answers as you need)
- There is at last one African American student, whom I see as a role model
- I am a model student in my class
- When explaining the topic, the teacher makes a lot of connections to the African American culture
- Sometimes I get a penalty during classes for my behavior, but I cannot see why it is wrong, because I do the same things at home and never get punished for it
- When penalizing me for my behavior, the teacher never says what is wrong with it
- All of the course textbooks are written by European Americans
Do you think that the teacher is fair to you? Why/Why not?
- Yes, because __________________________________________________________________________________
- No, because __________________________________________________________________________________
What is your favorite subject, and why? If you do not have any, why?
What kind of activities do you like best, and why? If you do not like any, why?
On a scale from 1 (Very poor) to 5 (Excellent), evaluate how well your culture is represented in the classroom:
On a scale from 1 (Very little) to 5 (Very much), evaluate how much support you get in your studies from your parents:
|Very little||Little||Just enough||OK||Very much|
On a scale from 1 (Very little) to 5 (Very much), evaluate how much support you get in your studies from your teachers:
|Very little||Little||Just enough||OK||Very much|
Table 2. Survey Results
|Answer A||Answer B||Answer C||Answer D||Answer E|
|Question 1||Student A, Student D||Student A||Student A||Student A||–|
|Question 2||Student B, Student E||Student B, Student E||Student B, Student E||Student C: “They’re all very bad.”||Student A|
|Question 3||Student A, Student D||Student B, Student E||Student B, Student E||Student C||–|
|Question 4||Student A, Student D||Student C||Student B||–||–|
|Question 5||Student A: “I do my best”; Student B: “I ‘m very lazy”; Student C: – (nothing added); Student D: “I think I’m pretty good”; Student E: “I’m the worst of them all.”|
|Question 6||Student A: b; Student B: a; Student C: a; Student D: a; Student E: c|
|Question 7||Student A: a, b, c; Student B: a; Student C: – (nothing chosen); Student D: b; Student E: c|
|Question 8||Student A: b (added: “I think”), f; Student B: a, f; Student C: d, f (added: “I guess”); Student D: a, d, f; Student E: d, e, f|
|Question 9||Student A: “Yes, because she sees how hard I try and says she appreciates it.” |
Student B: “Yes, because she knows I am no good and still gives me Cs.”
Student C: (no particular answer chosen; the answer written on the side of the answer sheet): “I don’t care.”
Student D: “Yes, because she often gives me second chance to get a good mark.”
Student E: “No, because she’s very picky.”
|Question 10||Student A: “I love math, because math tasks challenge me.” |
Student B: “I like Literature and Languages, because I like reading.”
Student C: “I don’t have any.”
Student D: “Geography. Someday I’ll be a traveler.”
Student E: “Literature is great.”
|Question 11||Student A: “I like group activities, because I like working in a team.” |
Student B: “I want more of games where we make teams.”
Student C: “Doing exercises. It’s fast and easy.”
Student D: “I like all of them.”
Student E: “Personal exercises. I am bad in a team.”
|Question 12||Student D, Student B,||–||Student A, Student E||Student C||–|
|Question 13||–||Student C||Student E||Student B,||Student A, Student D|
|Question 14||–||–||Student E||Student B, Student C||Student A, Student D|