Metaphors: an alternative and viable tool for assessing student motivation and engagement in mathematics

Year: 2013

Author: Bobis, Janette, Taing, Marley, Way, Jenni, Anderson, Judy

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Teachers must have access to data concerning student knowledge and their dispositions; including how motivated and engaged they are to learn.  Such knowledge not only influences the teaching strategies teachers adopt, but their responses to students and the efforts they make in their teaching.
While validated quantitative instruments provide results comparable to established standards, they are often not practical for regular classroom use – usually requiring a specific skill set to analyse and interpret and considerable lag-time for collated results to be returned, thus making them of little use for immediate instructional needs. In the absence of suitable alternative data gathering instruments, teachers rely on intuitive assessments of student motivation and engagement. Such assessments have been proven unreliable; students are easily able to mask their true motivations.
This study examined the use of metaphors as a viable alternative tool for teachers to accurately assess middle year students’ motivation and engagement in mathematics. In particular, it addressed: (1) What do metaphors reveal about students’ motivation and engagement in mathematics?; and (2) How do these results compare to the findings from a validated research instrument?
After outlining our conceptualisation of motivation and engagement, we present data from 20 Year 6 students drawn from a comprehensive Catholic primary school situated in the Sydney area. Data were gathered via a student metaphor task, a Motivation and Engagement Survey and a focus group discussion with 5 purposively selected students. Students’ metaphors were analysed from both an inductive and deductive approach to identify common themes and provide a holistic view of each student’s motivation and engagement. Information from the focus group discussion was used to validate the qualitative interpretations of metaphors. Finally, student survey results were analysed and compared to the analysis of student metaphors.
The analysis of metaphors accurately predicted results of the validated survey instrument. Of particular note, was the accuracy with which persistency, self-belief and uncertain control aspects of motivation and engagement in student metaphors were confirmed by the individual student mean scores on the relevant survey subscales.
The significance of examining the validity of viable alternative methods of data collection is the need to provide teachers with more practical methods to better understand student motivation and engagement. We discuss the implications of the findings for teacher professional development and the necessity of improving teacher data literacy skills.