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Measuring motivation in students with challenging behaviour: difficulties and rewards

by Robert on March 12th, 2010

Robert Ely, Anna Bortoli & Mary Ainley
Melbourne University

Presentation for Symposium: “Once more unto the breach dear friends, once more”: motivation and engagement in students and teachers.
Australian Association for Research in Education’s Annual Conference, 30th November – 4th December, 2008.


This paper provides a new perspective on some of the difficulties inherent in measuring motivational states in students who have challenging behaviour, and the potential benefits for such students if their motivation for learning is better understood. The implications of measuring motivation in such students are examined, in the context of a classroom where attendance is compulsory. Despite a wide range of research into the importance of motivation for successful learning among the general school population little research has targeted patterns of motivation in students who have challenging behaviour, or the implications for successful learning in these students. This paper considers these issues and outlines a mixed-methods case study that measures motivational responses of 14 students in the middle years of school with challenging behaviour. In this evaluative case study, data gathering involved students’ self-reported Motivational Response Profiles (MRPs), participant observation, video data, and online probes contained within a specialist software tool. The research approach demonstrated the advantages to of data triangulation from both qualitative and quantitative sources in the analysis of responses. Findings indicated that different groupings of motivational responses existed for this cohort of students – from unmotivated to fully-engaged – and academic achievement varied across these motivational groupings. Negative motivational groupings tended to relate to poor achievement, and positive motivational groupings to higher achievement. A compliant motivational grouping produced performance ratings well below those of the fully engaged motivational grouping, supporting a hypothesis that compliance is a necessary but not sufficient condition for learning in these students. These findings highlight the potential benefits of further research into the relationship between motivation to learn and academic achievement, both for the benefit of students with challenging behaviour, and the teachers who teach them.

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