Motivational Theory, Self-Efficacy, Attribute theory

Motivation is the force that drives a person to do something. It includes emotions such as: initiative, drive, intensity, and persistence; that inhibit, neutralize, or promote goal-directed behaviors.

It is internal.

Students choose to learn or escape from learning.

If students believe in their self-efficacy to learn, they will eagerly choose to be active, in or outside of school, search for new things, and learn.

If they believe they are incapable of learning and powerless to change, they will choose to be inactive, not involved, and withdraw from learning experiences and their performance is reduced.

In actuality people are somewhere between two extremes of empowered and helpless. This is represented by the line between these two extreems in this diagram.

image helpless to self-efficacy

Outstanding teachers use interactions that invite, encourage, and assist students to set and achieve goals, which motivate student participation. Motivation, achieved by manipulation of the environment to assist students with new learning experiences that start with students current understanding and challenge them to achieve with progressive learning experiences, maintaining high expectations, assisting students to resolve conflicts and achieve success. Students' involvement is crucial and degrees of involvement are illustrated in the following model.

image for involvement

Learning is an integral part of our total body and brain physiology. This physiology is controlled not only by the intellectual responses a person is capable of making, but the perceptual and emotional responses that are subconscious and may be beyond the control of the conscious mind. However, both conscious and subconscious events influence our actions or inactions. Responses, which are not singular in nature, but more like an explosion that ripples changes throughout the body creating internal changes that initiate and accompany external observable behaviors.

The point is, we must recognize that what appears as a simple external response is accompanied by internal chemical and neurological responses that have been constructed by each of us. Constructed individually, based on experiences each person has had over their lifetime. Starting with the genetic material inherited from their parents and their interactions with their environment, even before conception. These interactions, both positive and negative, have created the individual each of us is over our lifetime. As teachers we will find some students more acceptable to change than others. To understand the influences on what motivates change let's consider variables from a couple of theories and a model.cover Choice Theory

William Glasser, in Choice Theory, identifies five variables he believes influence the choices people make:

  1. Love,
  2. Power,
  3. Freedom,
  4. Fun, and
  5. Survival.

Book cover Moral SenseJames G. Wilson, in Moral Sense, identifies four variables he believes influence the moral decisions people make:

  1. Sympathy,
  2. Fairness,
  3. Self-control, and
  4. Duty.

Students engage in activities or attempt to learn a behavior they value, or feel is worthwhile, and believe they can successfully use. As they participate or with draw from participation, they establish an understanding of their abilities (self-efficacy), which they will use to judge success in their participation in future activities, which they use to determine the likelihood and level of their success. This perception is self-efficacy.

Attributes for success that contribute to self-efficacy

Self-efficacy can be understood by considering attributes that contribute to each person's perception of success or failure to achieve their goals.
The following flow chart shows how attributes can affect self-efficacy and self-confidence. (adapted from M. Kay Alderman, 1990)

flow chart attributes of motivation image

Goal setting and self monitoring (metacognition) plays an important part in cultivating self-motivation (Bandura, 1986) and self-efficacy. When students first encounter a task they consider what their goal will be.

Through self-talk and self-monitoring (metacognition) students decide goals while anticipating their success or failure based on their ability, effort, the difficulty of the task, or the luck they feel they might have while attempting the task. Their anticipation of success or failure is based on these variables.

If they anticipate failure, they may reason the failure is attributed to: lack of ability, lack of effort, difficulty of the task or bad luck based on illogical reasons. What they believe contributes to their failure or success determines how they approach a task.

A motivational theory and attribution model can be used to understand student's reasons for success and failure to make better choices to assist students in setting goals, selecting learning strategies, and positively affecting students' motivation.

The following research examples supports this.

Research Related to Attributes of Success and Failure

Suggestions to motivate, set goals, and develop self-efficacy

Behaviors related to motivation, goal setting, and self-efficacy
Mastery oriented Self-limiting
Productive accomplishments, performances, and skillful performance Counter productive activity, failure,
Confident Doubt
Optimistic Pessimistic
Self-efficacy Confusion, unambitious, avoidance, unwilling to attempt or try, with draw, weak, anxiety, believe in luck
Goal oriented with realistic ambitions and plans Care free, lackadaisical
Constructive, integrate skills into cohesive performance Destructive
Effort, practice, seek corrective feedback (tips & hints) Lack of effort
Persistent Not persistent
Use productive monitoring. Metacognition, Physiological monitoring: heart rate, emotions, nerves, calm steady, self talk.  


Procedure to model and achieve self-efficacy

Procedure for achieving self regulation

Self-regulation requires fore thought, reflection, co-regulation through observation, imitation, and self-control through behaviors such as:

Procedure for setting and achieving goals

Four steps of goal setting

  1. Focus
  2. Set goal
  3. Select and implement
  4. Monitor and adjust

Four step goal setting procedure

  1. Focus on the situation and recognize a need for change. See change
  2. Set goal
    • Select a goal by gathering and analyzing appropriate information for a variety of options and their consequences. See decision making process
    • State the goal clearly.
    • Check to see if the goal is realistic and attainable.
  3. Select effective strategies and make a plan with a procedure to implement and achieve the goal.
  4. Monitor, evaluate, and reflect on the plan and its implementation and make adjustments as necessary.


See also maladaptive behaviors and work inhibition


Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes &