Effort Attributions in Indonesian Efl Classrooms

As factors explicating why students decide to do an activity, how hard they are going to achieve it and how long they are willing to sustain it (Dornyei, 2001), motivation has been widely acknowledged as an essential determinant of students’ language learning achievement (McDonough, 1983; Ellis, 1994; Kimura, Nakata, & Okumura, 2000; Gass & Selinker, 2001; Alsayed, 2003; Lifrieri, 2005; Khamkhien, 2010).

With the importance of motivation in mind, it is necessary, therefore, to find out ideas into what motivates students particularly in their English as Foreign Language (EFL) learning, a situation in which people learn English in a formal classroom with limited opportunities to use the language outside their classroom (Richards & Schmidt, 2010). Studies exploring motivational factors to students’ EFL learning have been pervasively done in different settings. Earlier studies regard instrumental reasons, such as obtaining a job and achieving a successful career (Kimura, et al., 2000; Rahman, 2005) as possible factors contributing to students’ learning motivation have been conducted. Another factor can be ascribed to a classroom teacher who promotes motivational attributions (Dornyei, 2001), provides feedback that helps students to monitor their learning progress (Tran, 2007), enhances students’ self-confi dence (Alsayed, 2003; Cheng & Dörnyei, 2007), cares for them, and teaches them enthusiastically (Mali, 2015).

Religiosity (Sutantoputri & Watt, 2012; 2013) and a relaxing classroom atmosphere (Astuti, 2013) are other possible factors enhancing students’ motivation. Among the motivational factors mentioned above, the current study reinforces that a teacher can motivate his/her students to learn (Mali, 2015a) and endorses an underlying assumption that s/he uses strategies to motivate them (Astuti, 2013). In contrast to the previous studies that generally explore sets of motivational teaching strategies (Dornyei & Csizer, 1998; Alsayed, 2003; Cheng & Dörnyei, 2007; Al-Mahrooqi, Abrar-ul-Hassan, & Asante, 2012; Astuti, 2013), this study specifically focuses on promoting motivational attributions to students’ learning as a strategy to enhance their motivation (Dornyei, 2001). In educational contexts, as reasons that students attribute to their success or failure in a learning process of a target language (Gonzales, 2011), attribution has been acknowledged as a key factor that influences learning motivation and academic achievement. The attribution process roles as an important determinant of learning and performance in a classroom (Weiner, 1972) and can affect students’ motivation (Ellis, 2008).

Moreover, attribution made toward the success or failure in studying will affect motivation that individuals have for their learning academic achievement (Lei, 2009) and can significantly have an impact on their future performance of academic tasks (Banks & Woolfson, 2008). In the field of psychology, attribution is defined as explanation people have on why they succeeded or failed in the past (Dornyei, 2001), which are related to four types of causal explanations: (a) ability, (b) effort, (c) luck, (d) task difficulty (Weiner, 1976 as cited in Farid & Iqbal, 2012; Weiner, 1985; 1986 as mentioned in Rasekh, Zabihi, & Rezazadeh, 2012). Further, Weiner (1979) mentions that in the theory of motivation, attributions can be described as a causal structure covering three main dimensions: (e) locus,(f) stability, and (g) control (as cited in Mori, et al, 2010), “along which particular attributions can be measured” (Banks &Woolfson, 2008, p.1).

Concerning Weiner’s attribution theories (Weiner, 1979 in Mori, et al, 2010; Weiner, 1986 in Banks & Woolfson, 2008; Weiner, 1980), the locus of causality explains whether people perceive a particular cause as being internal (such as abilities) or external (not having enough preparation for a test) to them. The stability dimension shows whether a particular cause is something fixed and stable, or variable and unstable over time. Meanwhile, controllability concerns how much control a person haover a particular cause. Mori, et al. notes that these three main dimensions (e-g) can form a basis for taxonomies to classify specific causes of any success or failure. Vispoel and Austin (1995) in their classification scheme for causal attributions (see Table 1) successfully integrated the main dimensions (e-g) with Weiner’s causal attributions (a-d). This comprehensive scheme appears to be adapted pervasively by a bulk of international attribution studies (see among others: Mori, et al, 2010, Thang, Gobel, Mohd. Nor, & Suppiah, 2011; Farid & Iqbal, 2012; Gobel, Thang, Sidhu, Oon, Chan, 2013, Phothongsunan, 2014).

Dimensions Attributions Locus Stability Controllability Ability Internal Stable Uncontrollable Effort Internal Unstable ntrollableStrategy Internal Unstable Controllable Interest Internal Unstable Controllable Task difficulty External Stable Uncontrollable Luck External Unstable Uncontrollable Family influence External Stable Uncontrollable Teacher influence External Stable Uncontrollable To enhance students’ learning motivation, Dornyei (2001), in his motivational teaching framework, suggests teachers to encourage their students to explain any failure to facts they did not make any sufficient effort and employ appropriate strategies. These changeable and controllable causes can help the students to build a logical conclusion that they will work harder and facilitate their future achievement.

On the other hand, attributing the failures due to a stable and uncontrollable cause, “students’ ability,” (thinking that I do not have a talent for learning English) is dangerous. This attribution appears to reduce self-confidence in their potential (termed as learned helplessness), make the students not try to be successful anymore, and not believe that they can do better. Dornyei (2001), therefore, calls for an attribution training to prevent students from making any deliberating attributions and to change negative attributional styles. In essence, attribution training is “a process that involves improving a person’s beliefs about the causes of his or her failures and successes to promote future motivation for achievement” (Robertson, 2000, p.111). It is also designed to enhance motivation and encourage students’ achievement by altering how they perceive their academic successes and failures so that their beliefs facilitate, rather than discourage, their future chances of academic success (Kallenbach & Zafft, 2016). Weiner (1992 as cited in Williams, Burden, Poulet, & Maun, 2004) also sees the importance of attribution retraining alter negative feelings that can lead to a sense of learned helplessness into positive feelings that students can control.

Among types of attribution training, this paper focuses on “promoting students’ effort attributions,” henceforth called ESEA, as the attribution training based on Dornyei’s (2001) motivational teaching framework. Dornyei states that “if we can make students believe that higher level of effort, in general, offers a possibility of success, they will persist in spite of the inevitable failures that accompany learning” (p.120). Exploring the attribution training essentially will make the current study be different from previous attributional studies that mainly focus on investigating students ‘causal attributions (Williams, et al., 2004; Yilmaz, 2012, Mali, 2015b;c) and conducting attribution training for students with learning disability or mental retardation (Okalo, 1992; Turner, et al., 1994; Yasutake, et al., 1996; Miranda, et al., 1997 as cited in Robertson, 2000). One of the practical ways to promote the effort attributions is by asking students to explain their effort to be successful in their class (Dornyei, 2001), considered as a direct approach to promoting the attributions (Robertson, 2000). According to Ushioda (1996), “the motivational belief in the value of individual effort will have a much surer foundation if it is expressed by students themselves in their words” (as cited in Dornyei, 2001, p.122).

Therefore, in ESEA, students must provide some details on [1] challenges about their language tasks, [2] strategies to deal with the challenges, and [3] things they can learn from the experience (Dornyei, 2001). In this training, the term strategies refer to particular actions or techniques that students utilize to enhance their learning (Oxford & Ehrman, 1998, p.8 as cited in Brown, 2007) and as behavior and techniques that students adopt in their effort when they learn a second language (Troike, 2006). With the above theoretical starting points in mind, this study attempts to find out whether ESEA (1-3) can help Indonesian students in EFL speaking and writing classes to possess their effort attribution in their learning, particularly by exploring the students’ attributions before and after they completed ESEA. The study also investigates efforts the students made in their classes as a part of the training. Besides its novel exploration to ESEA, the study on attribution training in Indonesian contexts is, to the best of my knowledge, still scarce. Therefore, consid ering the scarcity, this study hopes to make fruitful contributions to wider discussions of attributional studies. I understand beliefs that the attribution training is time-consuming, perhaps not the most effectual way to motivate students to learn (Pearl, 1985), and not easily translated to the classroom (Robertson, 2000). Some even criticized the training when it was given for failure and success trials (Kennelly et al., 1985 as cited in Robertson). I also consider attributions of causality may be varied due to individual, tasks, culture, and social group differences (Graham, 1991).

However, I still firmly believe that the attribution training deals with applicable practices that can always be modified, so the teachers can make the practices workable in a particular situation that they are dealing with. The discussions of the study will be an interest of EFL teachers in Indonesia looking for practical ways in increasing learning motivation and academic achievements of their students. I now describe the method of my study.

Name :Yustinus Calvin Gai Mali

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