Monday, October 18, 2010

Cultural Diversity, Motivation, and Differentiation

Ginsberg, M. (2005). Cultural Diversity, Motivation, and Differentiation. Theory Into Practice, 44(3), 218-225.

The article begins by exploring certain definitions of motivation in the context of educational research. Ginsberg chooses to describe motivation through measures of interest, effort, perserverance, and completion (219). She refers to her own work in calling for a comprehensive understanding of motivation that is culturally responsive and therefore more intrinsically motivating to all students. Ginsberg goes on to address some of the challenges inherent in creating this kind of curriculum for all students, in that an individual student’s response to a learning environment is a complex web involving the ethnic/cultural background, language, values, perceptions, and ethnic/racial history. She asserts that even incorporating student voice in classroom structures is problematic, since some students might view these activities as too personal or inappropriate (220).

Ginsberg then reviews extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation and makes a point about how students who do not respond to extrinsic motivational factors (grades, prizes, college) are often described as lacking ambition or self-direction. She connects this with the idea of learned helplessness and states that for many students, rewards and sanctions are not compelling methods for increasing motivation. She reminds educators that relying on threats and bribes for control, while talking about a lifelong approach to learning, is a contradictory approach. Ginsberg, quoting two other researches, then claims that “what is culturally and emotionally significant to a person evokes intrinsic motivation.” This claim is not substantiated.

Ginsberg then goes on to state that most lesson plans do not adequately address “ethnic and cultural diversity.” (221) She asserts that since there are no systematic approaches to a culturally responsive and motivating curriculum, the efforts of individual teachers are limited and essentially a matter of guesswork.

Ginsberg then goes on to present her motivational framework, which has four conditions: “establishing inclusion, developing a positive attitude, enhancing meaning, and engendering competence.” She provides further descriptors of these conditions and a helpful graphic. Ginsberg reframes the conditions as essential questions.

She then presents an example of the motivational framework in action in an individual teacher’s classroom. Ginsberg asserts that since “the response a student has to a learning activity may not coincide with that of the teacher,” practitioners need to combine data with student voice, in the form of interviews and home visits with a small cohort of four students. She claims that this will help teachers “know students, families, and communities well.” Finally, she lays out two case examples of teachers who have used these practices. No information on the efficacy of these practices is presented.

Discussion of Quality/Relevance:
Ginsberg makes some intriguing points. She suggests that activities in which educators intend to increase student voice may actually make some students uncomfortable, because of their different cultural backgrounds. This is a point I wouldn’t have considered, and it is one worth exploring in more detail.

She also makes a short but interesting claim that students who don’t respond to the extrinsically-motivating efforts of their teachers (rewards, sanctions, etc) are often viewed as lacking motivation, when in fact they haven’t been offered the right kind of classroom structures that support genuine motivation. This is a point worth noting.

Other than that, this article has some troublesome qualities. Ginsberg states, at the outset, that it will discuss “motivation as it relates to student learning within culturally diverse classrooms” (218) and states on the first page that “awareness of and respect for cultural diversity influences motivation.” (218). While these are intriguing ideas, Ginsberg does not fully explore and explain the connections between cultural diversity and motivation. Instead, she relies on somewhat thinly supported quotations from other researchers about the connections between the response students have to learning and their cultural backgrounds. Again, the idea of this connection is interesting, and perhaps it’s obvious, but the lack of explanation and support is disappointing.

The crux of this piece is Ginsberg’s assertion (again, quoting others rather than explaining herself) that “what is culturally and emotionally significant to a person evokes intrinsic motivation (Wlodkowski & Ginsberg, 1995),” (221) since the entire focus of this piece is about connecting cultural relevance with intrinsic motivation. That she doesn’t substantiate that claim and the ones she makes beforehand made it hard for me to take the piece seriously. To be fair, this is a short piece and obviously there is much more research that went into the piece, but taken on its own, the thinness of the quotations/explanation is a real stumbling block. While I can understand the basic idea that students who can’t relate to the tasks at hand won’t be intrinsically motivated, but I’m not sure fixing that problem requires a four-step framework. Developing lessons that students can relate to seems like a fundamental quality of good teaching. This does not seem like a revolutionary idea.

Finally, Ginsberg’s presentation of the research in a practical context is not entirely helpful. It’s not validated by a larger study; she presents two schools where her framework for motivation has been applied on small scales. Granted, it is hard to get research into actual classrooms. But I’m not exactly sure what the takeaways are supposed to be from the case examples she presents.

Reflection on Relevance to My Practice:
I SO wanted this article to work for me. After reading the abstract, I was excited, since it combines another research interest of mine (motivation/flow) and the work we are doing around equity/diversity. I knew the two topics were intimately connected before I began this particular round of research, and I expected that this article would provide food for thought and potentially introduce some new ideas for research.

Unfortunately, it didn’t pan out that way. This piece seems thinly sourced, and the crux of the piece doesn’t come across as entirely solid. I found the fundamental assertions to be not especially interesting, and since the work isn’t supported by substantive research, it’s hard to take it seriously.

If I were to take anything away from this, it would be that I’ve learned that my action research needs to be deeply connected to authentic problems and issues, be thoroughly supported by existing research, and be as thoroughly tested and research as possible. It also makes me clear that I should focus on the crux of my conclusions and make sure it is substantial, thoughtful, and truly authentic.

“This article discusses motivation as it relates to student learning within culturally diverse classrooms.” (218)

“This article proposes that awareness of and respect for cultural diversity influences motivation...Across cultural groups, all students are motivated, even when they are not motivated to learn what a teacher has to offer. Determination to find ways to encourage motivation is fundamental to equity in teaching and learning, and is a core virtue of educators who successfully differentiate instruction.” (218)

“To a large extent, the response that a person has to a learning activity reflects his or her ethnic or cultural background (Kitayama & Markus, 1994). In fact, social scientists today regard the cognitive processes as inherently cultural (Rogoff & Chavajay, 1995). For all people, language, ethnic and racial history, experience with political and economic oppression, sense of opportunity, values, and perceptions converge in the response to teaching and learning.” (220)

“Nonetheless, teachers inevitably face the reality that the very notion of student voice may vary across cultural groups...An ongoing challenge for educators is to respect diverse values and orientations while working with students to create learning experiences in which all students can comfortably engage.” (220)

“When students do not respond to these incentives or sanctions, a sociopathological view of underachievement tends to prevail, that is, the notion that something is wrong with the student. Students are likely to be described as lacking ambition, initiative, or self-direction.” (220)

“Speaking the language of life-long and substantive learning, but relying on an extrinsic approach to teaching and learning, are contradicting purposes.” (220)

“What is culturally and emotionally significant to a person evokes intrinsic motivation (Wlodkowski & Ginsberg, 1995).” (221)

“But to a large extent, the response that a person has to a learning activity reflects his or her cultural background, talents that have been nurtured, peer group relations, and so forth; the response a student has to a learning activity may not coincide with that of the teacher.” (223)

“In fact, due to motivation’s emotional base and natural instability, it is judicious to painstakingly plan the milieu and learning activities to enhance student motivation. For projects, self-directed learning, and situational learning, as in the case of problem posing, teachers may not be so bound to a formal plan.” (224)

“The learning environment provides a meaningful context for addressing and redressing the ways bias occurs. The task of understanding, talking about, and working against racism and its consequences may seem formidable.” (224)

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