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Motivation Through Task Design

Author: XuZuo
Tutor: DaiZuoDong
School: Shanghai International Studies University
Course: English Language and Literature
Keywords: SLA Task Characteristics Model Core Task Dimensions Critical Psychological States Individual Growth Need Strength Internal Task Motivation
CLC: H09
Type: PhD thesis
Year: 2009
Downloads: 1380
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Abstract


The present study investigates how task design can lead to enhanced internal task motivation in L2 classroom setting and proposes a theoretical framework of Task Characteristics Model (TCM). The model focuses on four classes of variables: (a) the critical psychological states of L2 learners that must be present for internally motivated task behavior to develop, (b) the characteristics of tasks that can create these psychological states, and (c) the attributes of individuals that determine how positively a person will respond to a complex and challenging task, and (d) the positive task outcome --- the internal task motivation.The ultimate focus of this study is the L2 learning motivation. In the field of SLA, the existing literature on motivation falls neatly into two approaches. One is the traditional Socio-educational approach, and the other is what I call non-SL approach. Gardner’s Socio-educational Model (Gardner, 1988) has been the most important milestone in the history of L2 motivation research. However, this macro perspective is inadequate for providing a fine-tuned analysis of instructed SLA, which mainly takes place in the classroom. Furthermore, Gardner (1988) claims in the causality hypothesis that integrative motivation is a cause, while second language achievement is the effect. Therefore, the model and its inspired researches treat motivation as more of a means to enhance L2 learners’language achievement. They mainly deal with the questions“What is motivation”and“Why is it important in language acquisition?”.The non-SL approach has attempted to reopen the research agenda of motivation research by suggesting modifications to Gardner and his associates’psychological constructs of language learning motivation, and introducing new concepts rooted in other areas of psychology (see Crookes and Schmidt, 1991; Dornyei, 1994b; Oxford and Shearin, 1994). Different from the traditional Socio-educational model, this approach focuses more on question“How L2 learners can be motivated to Learn the language, especially in the classroom context?”. However, problems still exist. On the one hand, these new directions under the non-SL approach should be regarded more of a first-step in theory-building, and are in the absence of pertinent empirical researches. And on the other hand, the non-SL approach provides a number of approaches but is lacking in well-defined constructs and a framework which can be used to incorporate and investigate these constructs.Another focus of this study is“task”. The existing literature and researches on task and TBLT is largely confined to investigating the relationship between the design and implementation of tasks and language-related outcomes. The non-linguistic outcomes such as the motivational outcome of the task have always been neglected. However, the way of cutting down the long and complex process of second language acquisition into the basic unit of task can contribute a lot to the investigation of motivation.Both the pros and cons of the existing literature and researches on motivation and task in SLA have inspired the present study. Compared with the existing literature and studies on L2 learning motivation and tasks, this study has the following innovations:Firstly, it adopts a new approach to investigate L2 learning motivation which combines motivation and task together, and SLA and broad psychology together, reflecting the cross-disciplinary perspective.Secondly, it treats motivation as one of the task outcomes instead of a means to enhance L2 learners’performance, and moreover, it focuses exclusively on the internal motivation which is thought to be of more significance to L2 acquisition.Thirdly, it uses task as the basic research unit for L2 learning motivation, and puts it in the classroom context, which makes the internal task motivation construct more manageable and operational.Finally, different from the existing researches on tasks and TBLT which mainly focus on linguistic outcome, this study attaches more importance to non-linguistic outcome --- internal task motivation.Specifically, the following questions will be addressed in this study.1. What makes L2 learners get“turned on”to the tasks they participate in?2. What specific task characteristics make it happen?3. Does the proposed framework and theory work for everyone?In addition to the proposed framework of Task Characteristics Model, the study also develops an instrument called Task Diagnostic Survey (TDS), which can be used to test the proposed model and theory. The model is tested for 108 L2 learners who participate in four different types of tasks by using the TDS. The TCM is sufficiently complex that it cannot be tested in a single analytic step. Therefore, three separate groups of analyses are conducted, each of which bears on a different aspect of the model, and a number of analytic methods are used, such as zero-order correlation, partial correlation and multiple regression.The major findings of this study are summarized as follows:1. Relationships of the task dimensions and the psychological states with the outcome. As the experiment has shown, both of the task dimensions and the psychological states correlate positively with the outcome measure --- the internal task motivation. And in general, the psychological states correlate higher with the outcome measure– the internal task motivation. However, the summary motivating potential score (MPS) does not relate more strongly to the outcome measure than do any of its components, inconsistent with the expectation of the model.Although certain difficulty exists with the MPS, the findings provide general support for the relationships of the core task dimensions and the critical psychological states with the outcome.2. The mediating function of the psychological states.1) Derived from the experiment, all three psychological states are necessary to maximize the prediction of the outcome measure --- the internal task motivation. However, this must be interpreted with caution, because measures of the three psychological states are themselves highly inter-correlated (median = .66), and because some increment in prediction is to be expected on purely statistical ground when predictors are added to a regression.2) The experiment provides general support for the proposition that the psychological states mediate the relationship between the task dimensions and the outcome measure --- the internal task motivation. The relationship between model-specified task dimensions (skill variety, task identity, and task significance) and the outcome measure is dependent on the model specified psychological state (the experienced meaningfulness). However, when it comes to the autonomy --- task outcome relationship and feedback --- task outcome relationship, results are less supportive.3) Though support is a little weak for task identity, the experiment provides general support for the proposition that experienced meaningfulness is predicted from skill variety, task identity, and task significance. However, when it comes to the experienced responsibility and the knowledge of results, results are less supportive.Therefore, with regard to the function of the three critical psychological states, we can only draw the conclusion that they partially mediate the relationship between core task dimensions and the task outcome.3. The Moderating effect of GNSThe experiment shows substantial support for the proposition that individual growth need strength (GNS) can moderate L2 learners’reactions to their tasks at two possible points in the motivational sequence presented in Figure 3-1. In particular, it is confirmed that (1) the relationship between the three psychological states and the outcome variables will be stronger for individuals with high growth need strength than for individuals with low need for growth; and (2) the relationship between the core task characteristics and their corresponding psychological states will be stronger for high than for low GNS individuals.On the basis of the proposed theoretical framework of TCM, its testing instrument TDS, and the major findings derived from the experiment, this study has important theoretical, methodological, and pedagogical implications.1. Based on the existing literature and abundant studies on motivation and task in SLA, and enlightened by Hackman and Oldham’s study on job enrichment, this study adopts a new approach to investigate L2 learning motivation, tasks, and their relationships.2. A theoretical framework of Task Characteristics Model that specifies when L2 learners will get personally“turned on”to their task has been constructed. It incorporates variables that are otherwise studied individually in a systematic way to be studied together.3. It develops a measuring instrument to validate the proposed framework, namely the Task Diagnostic Survey, the validity and reliability of which is also tested in this study.4. The proposed framework of Task Characteristic Model has been tested in this study and has shown general satisfactory psychometric characteristics, and it adds empirical evidence to L2 learning motivation studies using a non-SL approach and TBLT approach.5. The TCM and TDS can be used to (a) design a motivating task, (b) diagnose the task in use to decide the necessity of carrying out a redesign activity, and suggest possible ways to improve the task, (3) predict the motivating potential of the task to be used in classroom, and (4) compare different types of tasks and decide which one to choose in classroom. In addition, the study also proposes a set of action steps for examining the existing tasks based on the TCM, which prescribes in concrete terms what to do to make tasks more motivating for L2 learners who participate in them.6. This study offers theoretical basis for the task-based approach to language teaching and learning. It is confirmed that students’internal task motivation can be enhanced via manipulating certain task properties like skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and feedback. The study generates a number of specific motivational practices in classroom setting.However, the present study still has much room for improvement. If further L2 learner and classroom variables are incorporated into the proposed framework and the interrelationships between these variables are tested over an extended period of time, this study will generate a more theoretically sound framework which will contribute more to the further researches on L2 learning motivation.

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