Achievement values are "the incentives or purposes that individuals
have for succeeding on a given task" (Wigfield, 1994, p. 102). According
to expectancy-value theory, the value that a person places on either
the task or the outcome and his perceived probability of success
determine the amount of effort that he will exert attempting to
successfully complete the task. The motivating potential of anticipating
outcomes is largely determined by the subjective value that the
person places on the attainment (Bandura, 1997). Two people may
hold the same belief that their behavior will result in a particular
outcome, but they may evaluate the attractiveness of that outcome
quite differently (Bandura, 1997). The person who values the outcome
or finds the outcome more attractive will be more motivated to attain
the outcome. Value may compensate for low probabilities of success.
People may put forth effort when they value the outcome, even when
they believe that their probability of success is quite low. For
example, people who enter sweepstakes or buy lottery tickets are
motivated to engage in an activity with an extremely low probability
of success due to the extremely high value attached to the outcome.
As the jackpot becomes larger, more people engage in lottery ticket
buying behavior, even though the probability of winning the lottery
remains extremely low. This example demonstrates the power of value
in determining people's behavior.
Children's achievement values affect their self-regulation and
motivation (Wigfield, 1994) because goals influence how children
approach, engage in, and respond to academic tasks (Hidi & Harackiewicz,
2000). "When students value a task, they will be more likely to
engage in it, expend more effort on it, and do better on it" (Wigfield,
1994, p. 102). Research indicates that children's subjective task
values are strong predictors of children's intentions and decisions
to continue taking coursework in both Math and English (Wigfield,
1994; Wigfield & Eccles, 2000). Eccles and Wigfield, two leading
researchers in the field of motivation, expanded Atkinson's expectancy
value model to include a variety of achievement related influences
that impact individuals' expectancies and values (Wigfield, 1994).
In particular, they hypothesized that students' motivation to complete
tasks stems from the attainment value, utility value, and intrinsic
value associated with the task (Wigfield, 1994), as well as with
the costs associated with engaging in the task.
Intrinsic value often results from the enjoyment an activity produces
for the participant (Wigfield, 1994). When students enjoy scholastic
tasks, they are intrinsically motivated to do well. Both interests
and personal relevance produce intrinsic value for a student. Generally,
students are intrinsically motivated to pursue activities that are
moderately novel, interesting, enjoyable, exciting, and optimally
challenging. When schoolwork is too easy, students become bored.
When tasks are too difficult, students become frustrated and anxious
(Deci & Ryan, 1985). Teachers should try to create classroom
environments that foster intrinsic motivation by providing students
with opportunities to engage in interesting, personally relevant,
Students bring a variety of experiences and interests to the classroom,
and learning becomes personally meaningful when students' prior
knowledge and diverse experiences are connected with their present
learning experiences. Educators can do this by creating an enriching
environment and providing opportunities for students to explore
their interests. In a recent study, researchers used self-selected
enrichment projects based on students' interests as a systematic
intervention for underachieving gifted students. This approach specifically
targeted student strengths and interests and helped reverse academic
underachievement in over half of the sample (Baum, Renzulli, &
Hebert, 1995). Emerick (1992) also found underachievers responded
well to "interventions incorporating educational modifications which
focus on individual strengths and interests" (p. 140).
Attainment value is the importance students attach to the task as
it relates to their conception of their identity and ideals or their
competence in a given domain (Wigfield, 1994). For example, students
who identify themselves as athletes set goals related to their sport.
Students who pride themselves on being good students seek affirmation
in the form of grades or test scores. These students are motivated
to attain the goals because they are associated with the students'
perceptions of who they are. Providing students with models who
value academic achievement may be one way to increase attainment
value. Rimm (1995) suggested that same sex models who resemble the
student in some way are the most effective models. In addition,
educators can personalize the school experience by helping students
to integrate academic goals into their ideals. Educators can help
students to become more personally invested in their educational
experience by making it meaningful for them.
Utility value is how the task relates to future goals. While students
may not enjoy an activity, they may value a later reward or outcome
it produces (Wigfield, 1994). The activity must be integral to their
vision of their future, or it must be instrumental to their pursuit
of other goals. Because goals can play a key role in attaining later
outcomes, educators and parents should help students see beyond
the immediate activity to the long-term benefits it produces. Teachers
need to be able to answer the common query, "Why do we have to study
this stuff?" Research on gifted underachievers has demonstrated
the importance of valuing academic and career goals on students'
eventual reversal of their underachievement. Peterson (2000) followed
achieving and underachieving gifted high school students into college.
She found gifted achievers developed early career direction and
focus, suggesting that having aspirations and future goals may encourage
academic achievement. Emerick (1992) reported that former underachievers
were able to reverse their underachievement through the development
of attainable goals that were both personally motivating and directly
related to academic success.
One way to increase the value of the task is to positively reinforce
students for completing the task. Extrinsic motivation is the motive
to complete an activity to receive an external reward or positive
reinforcement that is external to the activity itself. Extrinsic
motivators include rewards such as stickers, praise, grades, special
privileges, prizes, money, material rewards, adult attention, or
peer admiration. Teachers should use extrinsic motivators carefully,
as Lepper's overjustification hypothesis suggests that providing
extrinsic rewards for an intrinsically motivating activity can decrease
a person's subsequent intrinsic motivation for that activity (Pintrich
& Schunk, 1996).
Finally, Eccles and Wigfield stress the importance of "cost" in
an individual's decision to engage in an activity. "Cost refers
to how the decision to engage in one activity (e.g., doing schoolwork)
limits access to other activities (e.g., calling friends), assessments
of how much effort will be taken to accomplish the activity, and
its emotional cost" (Wigfield & Eccles, 2000). When the cost
of an activity is too high, individuals may choose not to engage
in that activity, even if they enjoy the activity or value the outcome
of the activity. Therefore, we must assess the hidden costs of academic
achievement when working with underachievers. Conversely, the high
cost of failure can also impel someone toward achievement.
We have explored four different components of students' value
- intrinsic value (interest)
- attainment value
(personal importance and meaningfulness)
- utility value (usefulness)
Each of these four components contributes in an additive fashion
to students' overall incentive to engage in a particular achievement.
For example, students who find a task both interesting and useful
should display greater motivation than students who find the activity
either useful but not interesting or interesting but not useful.
Students who experience high utility value, high interest value,
high attainment value, and low cost for a given task should be highly
motivated to complete the task. While strengthening value in one
area (i.e.- interest) can compensate for low task value in another
area (i.e.- utility), ideally we want to try to maximize all three
components of task value and minimize the cost of engaging in the
In the remainder of this handbook, we will provide strategies and
interventions designed to increase the task value associated with
scholastic tasks. You can implement the suggested classroom strategies
with the entire class. They should have a positive impact on any
student's motivation. The individual conferences are designed specifically
for use with academic underachievers.
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