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Motivating Writers: The Power of Choice


Galon A. Melendy

Mahidol University International College, Thailand




Motivation for achieving competence is an endearing characteristic of human nature; however, it is not always intrinsic or self-directed. Teachers are continually challenged to motivate their students to learn and to develop self-efficacy. Furthermore, teaching practitioners who strive for continuous measurable improvement (CMI) are often challenged to find effective strategies to help boost motivation.


It is difficult to find a standardized definition for motivation. However, the word’s Latin root “movere,” which means “to move,” suggests that motivation can be defined as a process that starts with a need that activates behavior which in turn moves someone towards achieving a goal. Luthans (1995) suggests the process of motivation consists of progressive relationships between needs, internal drives, and the achievement of goals.


In educational contexts, goals or objectives are of paramount importance as they drive curriculum design; in addition, they are also a rationale for motivation. An excellent example of the importance of objectives is goal-driven or backward curriculum design as proposed by Wiggins and McTighe (2000). With this approach, curriculum designers start with objectives and then develop tasks that meet course objectives.


In this research study, the effectiveness of providing opportunities for personal choice of academic goals will be examined as a motivational strategy. This approach is based on motivational goal-setting theory. A research survey of experts in psychology and organizational theory at Northwestern University showed that goal-setting theory ranked first for validity and second for usefulness when compared to other motivational strategies (Lee & Early, 1988). In addition, management and organizational behavior theory advise that goal setting is a valuable strategy for increasing motivation (Dailey, 2000).  


The power of choice for selecting proximal goals has the potential to be a very effective motivational strategy for pedagogy and andragogy. A salient example is the highly successful approach to curriculum design introduced by Nunley (2002) known as Layered Curriculum ™. This approach has been successfully applied to multiple subjects including language learning, and has been used throughout the world. In this approach, students can select their own learning goals based on three levels of curriculum objectives that focus on higher levels of understanding (Nunley, 2002).

An example of incorporating the power of choice for an ESL/EFL writing course is providing learners the opportunity to select more challenging compositions that directly correspond to higher-grade bands. In short, more effort reflected by attempting more challenging tasks is acknowledged and potentially rewarded by higher grades. This facile approach can be used to encourage students to attempt tasks that are more challenging without the requirement for multiple curriculum objectives as with the Layered Curriculum ™ method. In addition, if students attempt more challenging tasks, it can be inferred that they generally realize more benefits as learners. As stated by the US Secretary of Education, “Give yourself an even greater challenge than the one you are trying to master, and you will develop the powers necessary to overcome the original difficulty” (Bennet, 1996).


In this research study, a hybrid motivational strategy was examined: the power of choice coupled with the power of proximal goal setting. The general purpose of this study was to investigate the effectiveness of implementing a basic goal-setting choice model in an undergraduate composition and rhetoric course within an EFL/ESL context. The overall objective was to test a strategy for motivating students to do tasks that are more challenging and put more effort into their skill development. The specific objectives of the study were threefold: 1. to determine if students are willing to perform more difficult tasks if given the choice; 2. to determine if students who choose to pursue more difficult tasks realize measurable benefits; and 3. to evaluate the potential of using goal-setting theory for task and/or curriculum design.


Analyze the above introduction by using the following guide questions. Can you pinpoint which part of the excerpt where each question is answered or presented?


Use the following criteria in assessing the sample introduction above.

1.          Was the field established?

n      claiming centrality (why this field of study is important) and/or

n      moving from general to specific and/or

n      reviewing relevant items of previous research

2.          Was the research problem clearly defined?

n      indicating a gap or

n      raising a question or

n      continuing a previously developed line of inquiry or

n      counter-claiming (disagreeing with an existing/accepted approach)


n      What is the context of this problem? In what situation or environment can this problem be observed? (Background)

n      Why is this research important? Who will benefit? Why do we need to know this? Why does this situation, method, model or piece of equipment need to be improved? (Rationale)

n      What is it we don’t know? What is the gap in our knowledge this research will fill? What needs to be improved? (Problem Statement)

n      What steps will the researcher take to try and fill this gap or improve the situation? (Objectives)


n      Is there any aspect of the problem the researcher will not discuss? Is the study limited to a specific geographical area or to only certain aspects of the situation? (Scope)

n      Is there any factorcondition or circumstance that prevents the researcher from achieving all his/her objectives? (Limitations)

n      In considering his/her method, model, formulation or approach, does the researcher take certain conditions, states, requirements for granted? Are there certain fundamental conditions or states the researcher takes to be true? (Assumptions)

3.          Was there any proposed solution/s?

n      outlining purpose/setting objectives and/or

n      announcing present research (methodology) and

n      announcing principal findings (results) and

n      indicating the structure of the research




Melendy, G. 2008. Motivating Writers: The Power of Choice. Volume 10. Issue 3 Article 9. Retrieved on November 20, 2008 from,http://www.asian-efl-journal.com/September_08_gm.php


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