Universiteit Leiden

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More input in class motivates pre-vocational pupils

A pupil-oriented learning environment motivates pre-vocational pupils more than a traditional teacher-oriented class. Research by educational specialist Karin Smit shows that pupils experience greater freedom and a better connection with the teacher. This increases their enjoyment of the class, helps them feel more competent and adds to their feeling of connection with the teacher, all of which benefits their pleasure, interest, commitment and determination. And male pupils are absent less often. PhD defence 31 October.

The motivation of pupils in pre-vocational schools is giving cause for concern. The level of motivation in these schools is low and the drop-out level from the schools is higher than in other forms of secondary education. 'It's important that researchers focus attention on the motivation of these pupils,' Smit says. 'Around 60% of elementary school pupils go on to pre-vocational schools. Education is compulsory for these young people and they later represent a large proportion of our working population.'   

How can you improve the motivation of pre-vocational pupils? Is is possible to motivate them via the learning environment? Can pupils regulate their motivation themselves? These are questions that Smit answers in her PhD research. 

Self-regulation of motivation

Smit's research shows that a pupil-oriented learning environment is more motivating than a teacher-oriented environment. She also examined the self-regulation of motivation. Her research shows that pupils pursue different goals. For most pre-vocational pupils, learning objectives, social aims and wellbeing are important. Smit identified only a few aims that are related to motivation for learning. 

Karin Smit
Karin Smit

Applying motivation strategies

The use of motivation strategies helps pupils to apply themselves to schoolwork and to persevere with their work. Tidying your desk, going and sitting somewhere where it is quiet, and promising yourself a reward are good examples of such strategies. Smit's research shows that the more value pupils ascribe to school work, the more often they use these kinds of strategies and the more motivated they are. The use of strategies is thus an important mediator between the value that pupils attach to their school work and their motivation to learn. If they believe schoolwork has value, pupils are more likely to use motivation strategies: the need for these strategies is then clearer. 

Smit: ‘As a school, we can exercise influence via the learning environment and the value of school.work. Pupils themselves can exercise influence by using particular strategies. It is tempting to assume that a pupil-oriented learning environment is suitable for this, given that pupils have the opportunity to make their own contribution. Follow-up research is needed to demonstrate whether it is possible to train pupils in the use of motivation strategies and what this means for how the learning environment is organised. And with that - paradoxically enough - we are back at the importance of the learning environment, including in relation to self-regulation.'  

Read the Dutch-language summary of the dissertation ‘Exploring perspectives for improving students' motivation in pre- vocational secondary education’

Pupil-oriented versus teacher-oriented

In a pupil-oriented learning environment there is a lot of opportunity for pupils to have a say in how they do things, such as the choice of subject and working method, and how they build knowledge. The teaching acts more as a subject expert and guide. This is quite different from a teacher-oriented environment that is more traditional: the teacher does most of the talking, he or she largely determines the subject and also conveys knowledge. 

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