Developing participation in learning: A sociocultural view of motivation and engagement

Year: 2012

Author: MacCallum, Judith

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This paper takes a sociocultural approach to the examination of motivation and engagement, and explores these notions in relation to developing participation in learning activities.

Sociocultural perspectives view the learner as constituted by cultural and historical processes. Our current understandings of the constructs of motivation and engagement are also constituted culturally and historically. It is therefore useful to examine how the relationship has been understood as well as current considerations and researcher interactions.

Looking back a few decades, theories of motivation were used to predict certain kinds of behaviour, such as task choice, engagement and persistence (Weiner, 1990). This suggests 'motivation' is distinct from and prior to 'engagement'. Goal theory was a relatively new approach highlighting qualitatively different motivations.  A mastery orientation was conceptualized as focusing on interest in learning and improving, and related to a culturally appropriate way of 'engaging' in learning for its own sake.  A performance orientation focused more on normative performance and demonstrating ability. My engagement with motivation research began at this time, and my research suggested motivation was not a property of the individual, and the field needed a way to conceptualise motivation in context, specifically the contexts of change (MacCallum, 2001).

Sociocultural theory provided a means to understand motivation differently and collaborative classroom research with teacher, Veronica Morcom, an opportunity to examine motivational development.  Sociocultural perspectives also view the learner as embedded within cultural activities in communities, which provide the tools for making sense of the world.  These are appropriated in social interactions, providing the means to maintain and transform those communities.  These processes are dynamic and contested. Research taking a sociocultural perspective is thus usually longitudinal and focuses on cultural tools, activities and social processes, rather than on the cognitions and contexts of individuals per se.

The present paper uses two case studies generated from multiple data sources in a year-long ethnographic study in a year 3 classroom to explore the relationship between motivation and engagement. Taking a view consistent with Rogoff's (1995) concept of participatory appropriation, our research argues that student's motivation develops through participation in class activities. Motivational development is conceptualised as the "transformation of participation towards more mature participation" (Morcom & MacCallum, 2009, p. 24). Different patterns of participation (or engagement) of  students Mary and Gemma are elaborated as markers of motivational development. The analyses present an argument for engagement in activity as a means of personal change in motivation.