Shehna Javeed, University of Toronto Scarborough
Academic and social challenges in university can test a student’s motivation and resiliency. Theories of motivation have evolved from motivation resulting as a response to basic needs and drives and developed toward goal setting and task orientation as key to success (Brophy, 2010). A discussion about motivation must also consider resiliency strategies, also known as the “bounce-back factor,” since rising from setbacks is so important for continued motivation.
Advisors and learning strategists often work with students who are aware that they lack motivation; however, these students do not know how to change their predicament. Advisors can inspire motivation by introducing tangible tasks that move the student to action. Motivation comes both from action and from gentle, honest, and optimistic evaluation of these actions. Two ways that this can be done are self-management and task analysis. Additionally, resiliency, or the ability to bounce back, can play a vital role in sustaining motivation.
One effective self-management strategy is self-directed talk. Alderman (1999) suggests that this can be accomplished through self-instruction. Although self-instruction can be a covert process, recording it overtly on a worksheet can help the student to manage her self-talk.
According to Alderman, some of the self-instruction techniques include:
- Strategy statements
- Self-correction statements
- Coping and self-control statements
After identifying the problem, the student must select the strategy that will work for her and record it: “I will read the textbook using the method I was taught in the workshop I just attended.” A self-correction statement serves to assess the strategy and see why it may not be working, and looks toward self-correction. In this case, the student may book an appointment with a study skills peer coach to evaluate and seek feedback on her method of reading and see if she is on the right path. Coping and self-control statements manage emotions and ensure that she stays on track: “No need to panic, I have some time to understand this.” Self-reinforcement is a necessary strategy, especially in a testing situation, by which the student can remind herself that “I know the material because I studied it. I can do this.”
The method is twofold. The strategy and self-correction statements address the strategy or method that moves the task forward while the latter two statements, coping and self-control and self-reinforcements, manage the negative emotions that may be evoked. The two-fold method addresses thoughts and emotions within the context of self-instruction. Although Alderman does not attach rewards to these statements, it must be said that rewards for maintenance and achievement can support and reinforce repeat behavior.
Task analysis requires self-evaluation. It compels the student to reflect and consider the steps to action. Covington and Teel (1996) suggest using a worksheet with questions to record the next steps. Planning early is essential, thus time management is also included in this task analysis. Their suggested questions are:
- What do I have to do to complete the assignment?
- What will be hard about this assignment?
- What will I do to make the hard part easier?
- What do I think I will enjoy most about this assignment?
The questions help the student to strategize. The last question compels the student to think about the learning as well as the enjoyment of the task which can be easily forgotten when there are multiple deadlines to meet. Recording the anticipated positive experience here makes it integral to the student’s understanding and can build an appreciation for learning.
When it comes to achieving one’s goals, occasional or even frequent setbacks are inevitable. Resilience, or the ability to bounce back in the face of adversity, is necessary to maintain motivation. The task analysis worksheet clarifies that it is the task and the various steps within that task which may be the cause of temporary failure, and not the individual’s self-identity or self-worth. Thus, motivation strategies can work hand in hand with resiliency techniques.
Reivich and Shatté (2002) offer an interesting exercise in building resiliency called “putting it in perspective.” They outline the following steps:
- Worst case belief
- How likely?
- Best case belief
- Most likely outcome
Let’s examine a scenario and contextualize the method above. It is late at night and Ella is working on a history paper that is due the next day. The paper is worth 30% of the course. For each day that the paper is late, Ella will lose 10% from the paper. She has not finished the paper and cannot possibly hand it in the next day. An exam also remains to be written in the course as part of the full evaluation.
Worst case beliefs: Ella is overwhelmed with anxiety due to not finishing the paper on time. She catastrophizes that not submitting the paper on time will amount to a poor grade and lead to failure in the course. She has never failed a course in the past. How humiliating! Her parents will be disappointed in her.
How likely?: Ella thinks about the worst case scenario and she is asked to consider how likely is it that she will fail the course. This step requires a percentage or rating. What is the probability? (e.g. 100% likely, 50% or 10%?) When she considers that this paper is worth 30% of the total course and she knows that she has a B- standing in the course currently, she knows that she would have to do very poorly on the paper and the exam to fail the course. Thus the probability that she could fail this course is low – estimating perhaps 10%. Further thought leads Ella to believe that she could try to get this paper in one day late. Examining the probability can reduce anxiety.
Best case belief: This requires Ella to think creatively. It requires “out of the box” thinking. For example, the best case belief here could be that if she were to fail the course, she will drop out of university and travel to a warm country with a beautiful landscape and work in hospitality and tourism. This may bring a smile to her face. She knows that she is not about to quit university. This step can be challenging for an individual who is currently feeling anxious; however, it can also rejuvenate the student and lead her away from limiting and catastrophic thoughts. Although a challenging step, it becomes the turning point toward resilient thinking.
Most likely outcome: She will hand in the paper late. She is not likely to fail the course unless she also does poorly on the exam, which she does not expect to be the case.
Solution: She will clear her schedule the next day so she can focus solely on the paper and hand it in one day late and expect a 10% reduction in the paper’s evaluation, with minimum impact on her final grade.
As illustrated in this article, motivational strategies and resiliency techniques support each other. Students can learn simple strategies that if practiced regularly can lead to increased motivation and enhanced resiliency, benefitting all areas of their lives.
Academic & Learning Strategist
Academic Advising & Career Centre
University of Toronto Scarborough
Alderman, M. K. (1999). Motivation for achievement: possibilities for teaching and learning. Mahwah. NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Brophy, J. (2010). Motivating students to learn. New York: Routledge.
Covington, M.V. & Teel, K.M. (1996). Overcoming student failure: changing motives and incentives for learning. American Psychological Association.
Reivich, K. & Shatté, A. (2002). The resilience factor. Broadway Books.
Cite this article using APA style as: Javeed, S. (2013, June). “How am I doing?”: Self-management and resiliency as keys to student motivation. Academic Advising Today, 36(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]