‘Motivation in the Classroom: Dealing with Disruptive Behaviour’

Research studies have shown the importance of motivation in supporting learning in education (Lai, 2011) and in raising educational attainment among pupils. A collective theme within the review is that a pupil’s behaviour is closely linked to the theory of motivation (Ikeogu, 2011). The transition into secondary school life has been shown to affect student’s self-competency, reduces their motivation and engagement in the learning process (Klem & Connell, 2004; Jacobs et al., 2002; Wigfield & Eccles, 2000). Ultimately understanding what motivates pupils is essential in order to influence and encourage constructive learning behaviour. It has been proposed that motivating pupils to learn will result in positive behaviour and higher academic achievement and reduce disruptive behaviour (Kane et al., 2004). This literature will investigate how motivational theories elucidate pupil’s behaviour in a classroom environment which will help teachers develop strategies to deal with such behaviour and create a constructive learning environment. The following study will firstly explore the theory of motivation in a pedagogical context, the factors that motivate learners and the relationship between motivation and disruptive behaviour. Several techniques are reviewed to understand and control disruptive behaviour as well as different theoretical motivational theories such as Maslow, Deci and Ryan which have been shown to determine behavioural hierarchy of confident behaviour.

1.1 Theory of Motivation
Korb (2012, p.6) describes motivation as the cognitive state, intramural need, or ‘external goal’ that drives individuals. Romando (2007) agrees, describing motivation as one’s determination and drive that triggers behaviour towards the desired goal. Ball (1977) describes motivation as a series of performances brought upon by stimulating, guiding and sustaining student’s behaviour. McLean (2003, p.7) defines motivation as the need to learn, and the ability to manage any challenges or hurdles in order to realise their goal (Martin, 2008). The resulting behaviour depends upon the pupil’s level of motivation (Guay et al., 2010). Motivation plays an influential role in affecting student’s level of enjoyment in learning at school and can trigger either disruptive or constructive behaviour among pupils (Guay et al., 2010, p. 712).

1.2 Factors that motivate learners
To understand pupil’s behaviour, the study needs to consider several factors that effects motivation. These are:
‘ the education they receive by teachers (Teven & McCroskey, 1997),
‘ student-teacher relationships (Kelly & Hansen, 1987; Johnson, 2008),
‘ pressures and expectations from parents (Dandy & Nettelbeck, 2000) and ‘peers’ (Wigfield & Tonks, 2002, p.2383),
‘ classroom environment (Qin et al., 1995), and
‘ school culture and system (Anderman & Maehr, 1994).

Wright’s (2012) study argues that pupils who have low levels of motivation misbehave out of frustration due to failure of the school system to meet the needs of the individual i.e. activities are too challenging, and lesson instructions are too vague or monotonous (Skinner et al., 2005; Linnenbrink & Pintrich, 2002). Power et al. (1967) states that family and social background are the key influencers on pupil’s motivational level or lack of and ultimately their behaviour outcome in class. Galloway (1995) disagrees, stating that teachers are the main influencer and that home background employ little influence on pupil’s behaviour. He claims that absence of a positive interaction between teacher and pupils negatively impacts on student’s behaviour.

2. Links between Motivation and Classroom Disruptive Behaviour
According to Brophy (1999), the theory of motivation has shifted from a quantifiable measurement to a behaviourist perspective in which the use of a stimulus can be used to reinforce the desired behaviour. Schools use this mechanism to encourage and reward positive behaviour and sanction negative disruptive behaviour with an aversive stimulus i.e. punishment exercise (Ikeogu, 2011, p.12). According to Seifert (2004, p.147) pupil’s motivational level is understood by their display of behaviour. Hudley et al. (2007, p.4) agrees with this assertion that that there is a link between behaviour and motivation and that schools need to diminish the desire to disrupt and increase the incentive to succeed. Disruptive behaviour can be classified as challenging, unacceptable and interruptive behaviour according to Galloway et al. (1982). Nour (2004) perceives distractedness as the most frequent disruptive behaviour in schools in China (Ding et al., 2008; Shen et al., 2009). According to other studies, disruptive behaviour in England (Arbuckle & Little, 2004) and Australian schools (Ross et al., 2008) is perceived as consistent talking throughout the lesson. Browne (2012) defines disruptive behaviour as being disobedient and aggressive. Aly and Gracey (2013) state that using technology during class, reading unrelated material etc. is disruptive. Disruptive behaviour can interrupt positive social interaction, engagement, contribution and overall impede a proactive classroom environment (Doyle, 1986). Pupils’ motivational level are forecasters of performance in the classroom (Pintrich & DeGroot, 1990) which helps explain pupils’ cognitive engagement and classroom behaviour (Miller et al., 1996). According to Skinner et al. (2008) using a motivational framework of ‘engagement vs. disaffection’ helps explain pupils’ behavioural and emotional input in classroom activities (Pierson & Connell, 1992; Ryan, 2000; Wentzel, 1993) (see Fig.1). Educators can use this framework to measure student’s engagement level at school in order to prevent truancy by recognising early signs of disconnection (Appleton et al., 2008).

Figure 1: A motivational theory of engagement and disaffection in the classroom
According to Seifert (2004) student’s behaviour or motivation is determined by their emotional response to a task (Boekarts, 1993; Seifert & O’Keefe, 2001). In order for students to develop positive classroom behaviour, students must set goals, become more competent and involved, and gain social belonging (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2004).

Ikeogu (2011) states that pupil’s lack of motivation and disruptive behaviour in the classroom is attributable to the teacher’s pedagogy and teaching style (Galloway et al., 1998). In order to achieve an effective learning environment, a supportive and nurtured teacher-student relationship needs to develop (Steer, 2005). Adopting effective motivational techniques can help teachers improve pupil’s engagement in class and ultimately raise classroom attainment.

To motivate students to climb the hierarchy, teachers need to understand disruptive classroom behaviour in order to achieve appropriate behaviour (Korb, 2012). Abraham Maslow designed a pyramid (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, see Figure 2) to identify individual’s basic human needs. When pupils satisfy the most basic deficiency needs (physical and safety), they then climb the hierarchy towards the developed levels. Children with a stable, supportive home (high level of safety and security) tend to climb the hierarchy to achieve self-actualisation, as they do not have the same needs to seek attention. Those who are stagnant at the basic needs level are more susceptible to disruptive behaviour in the classroom as they are more prone to act-up. According to Korb (2012, p.6), pupils may seek attention in the classroom, either positive or negative if they don’t receive this at home. They may display signs of low self-esteem by being destructive and lack powers of concentration.

Figure 2: Basic Human Needs. Source: Adapted from Maslow (1943).
McClelland’s theory (Acquired Needs Theory) states that individuals are motivated according to three basic needs; achievement; power; and relationship (Miner, 2006). Maslow distinguished the discrete stages of needs and the transition amid these needs, while McClelland states that individuals are at different stages of elevated needs than others and their experiences eventually change pupil’s needs (Kirstein, 2010). Motivational theories proposed by Maslow (1970), McClelland (1985), and Deci (1980) associate the growth of self to psychological needs and emotional processes which classifies pupil’s behaviour according to their needs. According to Maslow, to satisfy pupil’s deficiency needs, teachers need to create an emotionally and physically protected and secure classroom, and take interest in pupil’s lives to appeal to their sense of belonging etc. (Biehler and Snowman, 1997).

To understand and address disruptive classroom behaviour, Kaplan and Maehr (1999) used the Achievement Goal Theory which established a linkage between disruptive behaviour and performance-approach goals, performance avoidance goals, and positive behaviour was associated with mastery goals. Self-Determination Theory was also critically analysed in relation to disruptive behaviour.

3. Achievement Goal Theory
Achievement Goal Theory refers to individual’s motives to engage in attainment-based behaviours (Pintrich, 2000, p. 93). This theory can influence how students tackle goals in an achievement scenario (Agbuga et al., 2010, p.279). Undertaking goals results in cognitive and behavioural outcomes, which helps understand pupil’s behaviour (Elliot & Dweck, 1988, p.11). Jagacinski and Nicholls (1987) states that failure in a task can cause negative behavioural outcomes. Nicholls (1984) proposed the dichotomous model consisting of two major goals; mastery (learning goals), and performance (ego goals). Mastery goal focuses on development of pupil’s academic capability and competence while individuals pursuing performance goals are more engrossed with the quality of their performance in relation to others and people’s perception of their performance (Seifert, 2004). Roeser et al. (1996) agrees that pursuing mastery goal is centred on gaining knowledge, while performance is focused on demonstrating knowledge. Pupil’s behaviour is determined by which goal they pursue. Example, according to Veiga et al. (2014), pupils who are mastery orientated achieve their goals (Linnenbrink & Pintrich, 2002), are intrinsically motivated (personal enjoyment of the lesson) (Elliot and Harackiewicz, 1996, p.462) and therefore display positive behaviour (Ryan & Patrick, 2001), and higher level of engagement in class (Ryan & Pintrich, 1997). Encouraging pupils to take control of their learning and boosting self-confidence discourages disruptive behaviour and promotes a more positive behaviour (Pintrich, 2000). While in a performance goal orientated classroom, those pursuing to surpass their peers have a tendency to exhibit disruptive behaviour (Agbuga et al., 2010) and reduced level of engagement (Hughes et al., 2010). Pupils pursue performance goals as a defence mechanism to protect themselves from negative opinions of their competence, or receive positive acknowledgement of their competence (Dweck & Legget, 1988; Seifert & O’Keefe, 2001), and to come across superior to others (Nicholls et al., 1990). According to Roeser et al. (1996) performance goals are uncomplimentary to learning, as they lower pupil’s confidence in their competence to successfully complete tasks in class (Dickinson, 1995) by comparing and evaluating pupils against their peers and reducing ‘self-efficacy’, which negatively effects motivation and confidence levels (Schunk & Mullen, 2012). Dweck (1986) states that pupils with low confidence can exhibit maladaptive behaviour. Kaplan and Maehr (1999) found that pupils seeking performance goals displayed signs of disruptive behaviour i.e. talking out of turn, teasing etc., which can lead to cheating and school absenteeism (Anderman & Midgley, 2002; Roeser & Eccles, 1998). Whereas mastery goals are learning orientated which results in more focus on successfully completing tasks and greater task-focused performance (Kaplan et al., 2002).

3.1 Mastery Goal orientated classroom
A mastery orientated classroom should be fostered to motivate students effectively and promote positive behaviour and engagement in class. To drive students, teachers should promote self-sufficient learning, recognise and reward achievement, evaluate student’s effort and progress, encourage teamwork, designate a realistic time to complete tasks (Veiga, et al., 2014), communicate clear and concise lesson tasks, use alternative teaching and learning strategies, manage classroom behaviour and encourage pupil to give their opinion (Zyngier, 2007).

Multiple perspectives were proposed in studies to analyse pupil’s behaviour. Dweck (1999) differentiated between performances and learning goals, and Nicholls (1989) proposed performance and mastery goals. Elliot and Harackiewicz (1996) further extended and challenged these two goals and included the performance-avoidance goal, forming a ‘trichotomous’ goal framework (mastery, performance, and performance avoidance goals) as an extension of the dichotomous model (Elliot and Church, 1997; McGregor & Elliot, 2002; Ames, 1992).

3.2 Performance-Avoidance Theory
According to Middleton and Midgley (1997) anxiety is a common emotion related with performance avoidance goals (Bong, 2009; Duchesne & Ratelle, 2010). Avoidance or difficulties completing tasks can cause anxiety which may trigger pupils to play up to alleviate any negative emotions. Pupils may engage in disruptive behaviour as a defence mechanism to avert carrying out the activity to avoid humiliation and safeguard their sense of value (Seifert, 2004, p.144). Covington (1984) concurs that students would rather feel guilty about not doing the work rather than feel shamed due to low ability.

4. Self-Determination Theory
Deci and Ryan (1985, 2000) cultivated the Self-Determination Theory (SDT) to understand and develop pupil’s motivation and the anticipated behavioural outcome which follows. SDT explicates how pupil’s interaction with their classroom conditions can either encourage or impede pupil’s positive contribution, drive, and engagement (Reeve, 2012). SDT presumes that students no matter their background, age etc. are self-motivated and integrally motivated to participate academically in class (Deci & Ryan, 1985, 2000; Vansteenkiste et al., 2010). SDT addresses the features of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic stimulus is the preferred motivational method to facilitate effective learning (Ryan & Deci, 2009), as it involves one’s own decision to participate in the lesson out of enjoyment and interest. Intrinsically motivated pupils engage in a more profound learning, better quality of work, and exhibit positive behaviour compared to extrinsic motivation. According to SDT, to become intrinsically motivated schools need to facilitate ‘three basic psychological needs’; autonomy, competence, and relatedness (Kusurkar et al., 2011). Structuring lessons based on the needs of the pupils, helps to facilitate self-determined motivation. Promoting autonomous motivation contributes to better task-related behaviour which reflects real interest in the subject (Kusurkar et al., 2011). According to Kusurkar et al. (2011) appealing to their intramural needs to effectively stimulate proactive behaviour is more effective that using incentives to reinforce desired behaviour.

Effective motivational techniques help promote positive behaviour and reduce disruptive behaviour. Positive Behavioural Support (PBS) strategies has proven favourable in studies to transform disruptive and challenging behaviour and promote positive behaviour which aid effective learning in class (Ausdemore et al., 2005; Feinstein, 2003; McCurdy et al., 2007). This proactive approach explores the source of the behaviour, identifying undisruptive responses to manage challenging behaviour, reward desired behaviour and reduce rewarding disruptive actions, and decreasing the course components that initiate difficult behaviour. PBS strategies involves creating a positive, organised and consistent classroom, increasing autonomy, amending and differentiating the curriculum to meet individuals needs and abilities, acknowledging and rewarding positive behaviour, and teaching coping skills and behaviours to express pupil’s emotions and needs (Ruef et al., 1998). Carr et al. (1994) agrees that PBS does not involve eradicating negative behaviour but rather to understand why pupils behave in that manner and to substitute disruptive behaviour with positive proactive behaviour’.

5.1 Motivating students with Positive Reinforcement (rewards and praise)
Rewards and praise are used as a tool to reinforce and develop the desired classroom behaviour, to attain skills or sanction maladaptive behaviour. They are a tool used to inspire pupils to attain skills (Ruef et al., 1998) and should appeal to the pupil’s needs in order to motivate them. According to Ruef et al. (1998) and Walker et al. (1995) sanctioning bad behaviour is counterproductive and such action results in hostility, destruction, tardiness, absenteeism, and quitting school. Positive reinforcement (PR) is more effective (Frisoli, 2008). Wheatley et al. (2009) agrees that positively reinforcing desired behaviour decreases undesired behaviour. PR encourages pupils to engage in activities and behaviour out of personal pleasure e.g. reading (Lepper et al., 2005), inevitably enhancing pupil’s intrinsic motivation in and outside of school settings (Willingham, 2005). According to Willie (2002), introducing ‘mystery motivators’ positively reinforces good behaviour which involves providing an unknown reward. Similar studies by Moore and Waguespack (1994) and Kehle et al. (1998) agrees that the ‘mystery motivator’ approach shows favourable results in improving disruptive classroom behaviour (DeMartini-Scully et al., 2000; Kehle et al., 2000).

5.2 Curriculum Adaptions
Ferro et al. (1996) showed an association between the curricular content and the pupil’s resulting classroom behaviour. The content of the curriculum needs to be modified to adapt to the pupil’s additional needs and abilities in order to enhance their contribution and engagement in class and reduce the chances of disruptive behaviour. Curricular content that is not age and ability appropriate, lacks creativity, does not emulate the interest of pupils and cannot be applied to other contexts can foster challenging behaviour (Ferro et al., 1996).

5.3 Positive Competition
Using competitive techniques will help motivate pupils to perform academically in class, raising situational interest (Jones et al., 2009). This method has shown favourable results amongst teachers (Ediger, 2001) and enjoyment amid pupils (Bergin & Cook, 2000). However Kohn (1992) has criticised the use of competition to motivate pupils. Kohn (1993, p.1) argues that setting pupils against each other is destructive and counterproductive, negatively comparing ‘competition is to self-esteem as sugar is to teeth’. He states that disruptive behaviour is triggered by competition, as it fosters hostility and mistrust towards others. Meece et al. (2006) study concurs that competition is demotivating as students are outshone by their peers and the focus is on surpassing your peers rather than the learning process. Gottfried et al. (2001) study agrees, stating that competition has shown a decrease in level of engagement in class and an increase in disruptive behaviour. However, Good and Brophy’s (2008) study disagrees, stating that competitive methods can be used to assist in behaviour management, to promote positive behaviour and reduce disruption within the class. Their study found that competitive methods creates a more stimulating and attractive lesson for pupils. Tingstrom et al. (2006, p.245) study shows positive results for effective use of positive rivalry e.g. the ‘Good Behaviour Game’ which motivates pupils and reduces disruptive behaviour. He suggests that competitive activities are usually accompanied with rewards for the desired learning intention and the fewest behavioural transgressions (Good & Brophy, 2008). This leads to adopting competitive strategies to manage behaviour and results in improved academic performance i.e. meeting deadlines.

5.4 Student Autonomy
Encouraging autonomy increases motivation among students in the classroom (Guthrie et al., 2000; Reeve, 2009; Stefanou et al., 2004). Hidi and Harackiewicz (2000) and Turner (1995) claims that increased self-sufficiency among pupils in their learning process can enhance academic interest in their work improving behaviour in class and educational performance. Stefanou et al. (2004) references 3 types of support that teachers can offer to students:
1. Organisational autonomy (allowing students some decision in the classroom organisation)
2. Procedural autonomy (choice of alternative media to portray ideas) and
3. Cognitive autonomy (providing pupils the opportunity to self-evaluate their own work).
According to Bieg et al. (2011) teachers need to support autonomous behaviour which involves listening to pupil’s contribution and creating more individual based tasks for pupils to work on by themselves, promoting improved learning behaviour.
5.5 Student-Teacher Relationship
Ikeogu (2011, p.74) study found that positive relations with pupils resulted in reduced levels of disruptive behaviour, and those who experienced disruptive behaviour felt this was due to unstable relationships among peers. Creating a connection with pupils allows teachers to understand their frustrations which helps to resolve any undesired behaviour (Kuhlenschmidt and Layne, 1999). Gest et al. (2005) proposes that a close, supportive relationship between pupils and teachers will result in a more positive atmosphere, quality academic performance and good behaviour in class.

This present study aimed to review an assortment of literature on the connection between motivation in the classroom and disruptive behaviour. Many factors are relevant in influencing disruptive behaviour but paramount is the motivational level which are dependent on the school ethos. The interaction between pupils and social quality of the classroom, educators, and pupils can add to this. Following analysis of a selection of motivational theories, (using multiple academic approaches to understand student’s behaviour and how to motivate them) no single model addresses all the factors influencing motivation and how to control destructive behaviour in the classroom. A lack of evidence on external conditions influencing student’s behaviour requires further research in order to effectively motivate pupils and reduce possible undesired behaviour in the classroom. The findings of this study is that encouraging a mastery orientated classroom displays more positive behaviour than achieving performance goals. Future research needs to focus on adapting the curriculum to address both classroom behaviour and academic motivation.
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