Classroom learning and motivation are inherently embedded in a social context. Classrooms are composed of a teacher and individual students who are likely to be diverse in many ways (e.g., ethnicity, gender, ability, SES, skills of self-regulation, goals, interests, and special needs). Instructional groups are of varying sizes: whole group, small groups ranging from informal to well-planned cooperative learning groups, partners on the computer, and teams on the playground. Additionally, informal interactions such as students talking to each other, teasing, name calling, and comparing work are ongoing. In all cases, teachers are continually interacting both with individuals and groups of students. What is the relationship between social context and optimal student motivation and engagement? The social interactions influence motivation in a number of ways, both positive and negative. Social context has been found to influence classroom engagement, academic effort, and subsequent school success and failure at all levels of schooling.
If optimum motivation is to happen, a major priority is to build a classroom climate where students support each other for learning and not only want to achieve, but also care about their classmates’ achievement. This paper explained the nature and importance of psychological membership or belonging for cognitive engagement, identify factors that build or hinder membership, and present environmental variables that can be altered by teachers to build a positive social context.
is described by Weinstein (2002) as the extent to which students feel personally accepted, respected, included, and supported by others in school environment. A sense of school membership is based on the satisfaction of three basic human needs: autonomy, competence, and belonging or relatedness. When students experience a sense of belongingness in a school context, they are more likely to adopt goals valued by the school. In contrast, a context that does not allow for satisfaction of these three needs will diminish motivation and lead to alienation and poor performance. To the extent that students feel disconnected to school, they are likely to reject school goals.
Students, adolescents in particular, define themselves by the groups with which they affiliate (Weinstein 2002). This is the essence of social identity, an identity based on group membership. Students may experience a sense of membership or belonging at several levels: school, individual classroom, and subgroups (e.g., peer group, cultural or ethnic, athletic teams, religious affiliation). How does social identity affect a sense of belonging and engagement in school? Weinstein (2002) contended that the extent to which a group identifies with goals and values of school, and/or devalues academic effort and achievement, affects engagement for learning. In view of the culturally diverse population in schools, it is important to understand the role and influence of social identity on motivation and achievement. When social interactions are negative, school can be a stressor or a source of vulnerability for students. By the same token, social identity and support networks (including interracial friendships) can serve as protective mechanisms that contribute to student adjustment.