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What is the Effect of Achievement Motivation Training in the Schools?

by David McClelland - 1972

Author reviews studies to date and concludes achievement motivation training courses improve school learning by improving classroom and life management skills rather than by changing achievement levels directly. (Source: ERIC)

David C. McClelland is a professor in the department of social relations at Harvard University. The research described in this article was conducted under Office of Education Project No. 7-1231, Grant No. OE-0-8-071231-1747.

A number of attempts have been made to develop achievement motivation in school children and to observe the effect of such training on their behavior in and out of school. What conclusions can be drawn from these studies? Previous work with adults has demonstrated that brief intensive training courses in achievement motivation for businessmen increase their entrepreneurial activity for some years after the training.1 If achievement motivation can be developed in adults, why not try to develop it in children? The question seemed eminently worth trying to answer, if only because teachers so often complain that many children are "unmotivated." If psychologists have invented a technique for increasing motivation, it might well be applied to school children in such a way as to make them want to work harder and learn more.

Though such an argument seems simple and straightforward, it glosses over a theoretical difficulty. The achievement motivation measure (n Achievement Score) used in previous studies—based on content analysis of fantasy—has never been shown to be consistently related to academic performance—to grades in school, or to scores on tests of academic talent. Why, then, should increasing achievement motivation improve school performance? Despite this obvious problem, the studies were undertaken because achievement motivation training might work and because it ought certainly to help children to think more seriously about their work habits and career planning, even if it does not directly affect their grades. Furthermore, it might well improve grades a little for those most likely to drop out of school by helping them to see the importance of at least minimal school success for attaining longer range vocational goals. Finally, direct attempts to increase motivation in school children have been so few and far between that it seemed likely much might be learned just from making the attempt.

By now dozens of achievement motivation courses have been given for hundreds of pupils in Boston, St. Louis, and California. A full description of how they were carried out has been published by Alschuler, Mclntyre, and Tabor.2 In general, they involved teaching children directly how to think, talk, and act like a person with high n achievement and then examining carefully the extent to which they wanted to plan their lives in the immediate future according to this model. Extensive materials have been published for teaching achievement motivation (by Educational Ventures, Inc., Middletown, Conn.). Many teachers have been instructed in how to use the material. Pupils who have been trained have been followed up one and two years later to see whether their in-school or out-of-school performance has changed in any way as compared to control groups of students who have not been trained in achievement motivation.

Most of these studies have been conducted under the aegis of two independent though allied groups of researchers. Beginning in 1965 the Office of Education granted funds to Harvard University, to be used under the general direction of David McClelland, to explore the effects of achievement motivation in the schools. In the first year of this project, Richard deCharms visited Harvard University and participated fully in the early planning of the research. When he re turned to Washington University in St. Louis, he started his own project, eventually receiving separate funding for it, and he is reporting his work separately. How ever, his findings are very much a part of the total enterprise, and many of the most important ones will therefore be summarized here. The projects at Harvard University and Washington University started out with quite similar training ideologies, and then pursued different but complementary research strategies. Manohar S. Nadkarni, who had conducted achievement motivation training courses for businessmen in India, trained those who later gave motivation courses both at Harvard and in St. Louis. The Harvard group then decided to continue the tradition of giving short intensive courses for school children to be offered by a trained project staff. They followed this strategy because in the early days the main thrust of the project was in the direction of trying to find out how best to introduce achievement motivation into schools so as to maximize its impact. Thus it was desirable to try out many different types of short courses. Furthermore, the Harvard group focused especially on the effects of motivation training outside school, since it was considered likely on theoretical grounds that increasing achievement motivation would have slight effects on academic performance.

The St. Louis group under deCharms, on the other hand, concentrated primarily on studying the effects of achievement motivation training on school work.3 Partly for this reason, they trained the teachers themselves to introduce achievement motivation training into the classrooms in whatever way they found most convenient. Thus, so far as most of the pupils in the St. Louis experiments were concerned, they experienced achievement motivation training inputs throughout an entire school year more or less as a part of other things that they were studying. In contrast, in the Harvard studies, the pupils were exposed to brief intensive courses given by outsiders which were separate and distinct from the rest of what was going on in class and usually concentrated into something like twenty to forty hours of work spread out over three to ten days, or at most three to four weeks. These contrasting strategies have tended to increase the variety of information obtained about the effects of motivation training on junior high and high school pupils.


No very convincing evidence is provided by the Harvard studies to show that achievement motivation training improves grades or test scores. In the first study of potential drop-outs from Arlington High School, the boys who completed the residential training in a rural setting did show a slight improvement in grades (from D+ to C- on the average), but it was not large and selection was confounded with treatment. Per haps those who stuck the program out were made of sterner stuff and did better for that reason rather than because of the training. In later studies at Arlington High School, grades did improve more in the tenth grade for the boys who received the complete motivation training course, as contrasted with the control group, but the girls did not show an improvement, and even for the boys the gain had disappeared by the eleventh grade. In short, the findings from these studies as far as academic performance is concerned are inconsistent, small, and not impressive.4

On the other hand, the St. Louis group has reported quite dramatically different results. Consider the findings reported by Ryals, for example, as summarized briefly in Table 1.5

He had arranged for achievement motivation courses to be given for eighth graders on four different weekends, either on the school grounds ("campus") or in a camp up in the mountains. He corrected test scores and grades for differences be fore the testing and found that while there were no effects of training on grade point average or social studies test scores, training did seem to improve science and math performance quite significantly in the year after the training. Further more, the gains on the average were larger for pupils coming from a high school containing a high proportion of minority groups (blacks, Chicanos) than for students coming from a middle-class white high school. The chief difference between these brief training courses and those sponsored by the Harvard group was that the students were taught by their own teachers who had received achievement motivation training from Mr. Nadkarni.

Training by teachers from the schools concerned is even more effective when it is spread out over the entire year, as illustrated by the findings summarized in Figure 1.6 These charts present average scores on parts of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills which is standardized by grade level so that any average class should score, for example, 7.0 at the end of the seventh grade. The children involved here are all from ghetto schools in a largely black area of the city of St. Louis. Those who did not receive achievement motivation training from their teachers in general fall more and more behind expected grade levels on various test scores as they get older. However, if they received motivation training throughout the sixth and seventh grades, they ended up with scores which are at or a little above grade norms for the test, as Figure 1 makes clear. Results such as these which have been reported by the deCharms project leave little doubt that achievement motivation training can have fairly dramatic effects on school performance if it is properly understood by teachers and integrated throughout the year with their regular classroom work.



 As noted earlier, the Harvard group, under the leadership of Alfred Alschuler, focused primarily on trying to discover whether intensive achievement motivation courses changed the way teenagers spent their time, worked, planned, and thought about the future. Here the findings are quite consistent across different courses. Nearly all groups receiving full achievement motivation training reported eight to eighteen months later in a telephone interview that they were spending their time in more achievement related ways. For example, when the trained potential drop- outs from Arlington High School were asked, "What are the most important things you do or think about?," 100 percent of them mentioned doing well in school or in their work as it related to a future career. In contrast, only four out of fifteen, or 27 percent of the controls, mentioned school or work as "most important." They spoke about the fun they were having with their girls or in various recreational activities.


Or to cite another instance, some eleven-year-old boys who were trained in the summer were queried extensively about what they had been doing, in a telephone interview a year later.7 Their answers were classified under eleven different types of activities, ranging from working (versus not working), the extent of travel they had undertaken to explore their surroundings, the types of games they played, to TV shows they watched (achievement oriented or not), etc. Each boy was given a +1 if he was above the median for the group in the extent to which he displayed an achievement orientation in each of these activities. These scores were summed to get a total achievement activity index. Seventy-seven percent of those who received achievement training were above the median on this index as contrasted with only 11 percent of those who had a comparable motivation course dealing with establishing more friendly relationships with others. At the high school level for sixteen-year-olds, the result was similar. Significantly, more of the better trained boys in Arlington High School reported that they were more involved, in achievement related ways, in twenty different types of activities outside of school. However, the same result was not obtained for girls. No matter how much training they had received, or of what type, they reported about the same amount of participation in achievement related activities. It may well be that achievement motivation training is more relevant to boys. They are normally required to be more work and career oriented and to take initiative toward solving such problems. Girls, on the other hand, may adopt a more reactive style, holding off on career planning until they have settled the question of marriage. Or the usual achievement motivation training course may simply be less effective for girls.

It is potentially very important to find that achievement motivation training helps boys at least adopt a more proactive approach to setting work and career goals. However, is it possible that they have just learned to talk a better game? After all, the motivation courses have taught them a certain language, a way of talking about achievement and career goals, that they might be more likely to use in answering questions in a telephone interview, particularly from someone associated with the courses. Control boys not exposed to the training or the trainers might be less apt to give such answers. The coding system devised by Alschuler and his associates to obtain the achievement activities index does depend to some extent on the reasons why students say they are doing various things.8 That is, they get a higher score if they say they work in the summer to save up money for buying a car (a long-term goal) rather than to spend money for dates and clothes (affiliation goals).

On the other hand, it is not reasonable to dismiss the results as being entirely due to a desire on the part of the student to talk in ways that will please the investigator. The interview was very specific in the sense of asking what they did last summer, how often they did it, how much they earned, what they were doing right now, etc. Obviously if a person had been doing nothing special, it was not possible for him to get a score for achievement related activity. Furthermore, if he was able to state further plans connected with the activity, he obviously must have thought about them in advance of being asked, which means that the plans undoubtedly had some influence in directing his activities. Finally, and most convincingly, in different experiments there were important differences in whether the boys or the girls showed significant increases in achievement related activities ten to twenty months after the training. By and large in studies at Arlington High School, the boys reported more achievement related activities later, whereas in experiments in Quincy, the girls reported more activities later. If the results are due to response bias in answering the interviewer, why should the boys in one set of experiments be biased favorably and the girls in another set? The conclusion seems inescapable that the achievement motivation training courses had demonstrable long-term effects on achievement related activities outside of school, although these effects varied considerably depending on the type of training experienced.


What factors influenced the effectiveness of achievement motivation training? The Harvard group concentrated on trying to find out what factor or combination of factors would maximize the impact of achievement motivation training on school children. Many variables were found to be important.

How early can n Ach training be introduced into the schools? The question received attention because n Ach training had started with adults and obviously it had to be revised considerably if it was going to be used with young children. Furthermore, many observers of the school system have noted that if motivation training is to do any good, it has to be introduced fairly early before children get set in a learning "track" which prevents them from switching to a track requiring a higher level of accomplishment. The Harvard group showed that effective achievement motivation training could be given to eleven-year-olds, although in general the "action" inputs (games, etc.) proved more useful than the "thought" exercises which required a level of abstraction that was too high for at least some of the children. The St. Louis group also showed that effective achievement motivation training could be integrated into the regular curriculum for sixth-graders. Some efforts have been made by Stivers and Kowatrakul9 to give some kind of achievement motivation training for kindergarten-age children using games for the most part, but the effects were not impressive and for the moment it seems safer to conclude that achievement motivation training, at least in its present form, is best suited to the junior high school years and above. Ryals found that the effective ness of training did not seem to be a function of moral maturity as measured by the Kohlberg instrument among eighth and tenth graders, although, in general, the program was more effective for the eighth graders.10

A number of the studies show important sex differences in the impact of various types of training. The traditional training, as designed for adult businessmen, was oriented almost entirely towards male preoccupations and life style. The first studies in the schools employed only male subjects. Later, when girls were included in the courses, it turned out that the effects of the usual type of training were greater on boys than on girls, at least so far as achievement activities outside the school were concerned. The deCharms group has not reported sex differences in improved academic achievement as a result of achievement motivation training. On the other hand, the courses given at the Broad Meadows Junior High School in Quincy generally were more effective in producing long-range changes in girls' achievement activities outside school.11 These courses differed from the earlier ones in that some of them stressed learning the motivation materials to mastery and also involved restructured math classes which required use of the strategies taught in the achievement motivation courses. The boys generally liked restructured classes and insistence on mastery less than the girls, and the boys did not later report that they were involved in as many achievement related activities as the girls. The results may be due to initial differences between the girls in the treatment conditions, but it is at least suggestive that structuring achievement motivation training may help girls to benefit more from it, whereas boys tend to benefit more if it is given in its traditional form in which they are freer to take it or leave it.

What evidence there is suggests that achievement motivation training improves performance more in those subject matters which require more concrete action. Kagan and Moss reported that the n Achievement score in boys is highly corre lated with "constructional activities" which require concrete, explicit actions that give immediate feedback as to whether they are done correctly or not.12 The data reported in Table 1 from the Ryals study confirm the fact that achievement mo tivation training improves performance in math and science more than in social studies.13 Mehta and Kanade have reported that trained high school boys in India score significantly higher two years after training than matched classmate controls on higher secondary examinations in physics, chemistry, and mathematics.14 These findings make good theoretical sense because many studies have shown that people with strong achievement motivation are interested in concrete feedback on how well they are doing and tend to set goals in concrete enough terms so they can measure more or less precisely whether they are moving closer to those goals or not. In fact, much n Ach training involves teaching participants to plan their progress in these concrete terms. Some subject matters like literature and social studies do not readily permit this degree of specificity in measuring progress.

Several of the Harvard studies contrasted the effectiveness of more or less complete courses with those which emphasized or left out one or another aspect of the training. A complete course involved teaching achievement motivation in thought and action, self-study, goal setting and planning, and some morale building or group solidarity inputs. In general, courses which involved all of these characteristics were more successful than those which involved less than the total package. However, age made a big difference here. With younger children, aged about eleven, teaching the achievement action strategies seemed more effective than just teaching achievement thinking. With older children, aged around sixteen, on the other hand, leaving the achievement action strategies out and stressing achievement thinking and planning seemed to subtract little from the effectiveness of the training.

The way the courses were taught was also systematically varied. Usually the participants went through the various exercises, performing very differently on particular ones, learning as much as possible from mistakes and from observing how others performed. The objective was to maintain the interest of the students as much as possible, and no attempt was made to make them go back over what they had experienced until they had learned it to some standard of perfection. These were called "satisfaction" courses. Other courses followed the programmed learning model in the sense that students were required to master the material to a criterion before being allowed to go on to another exercise. It seemed possible that requiring a higher level of mastery of the achievement motivation exercises might improve their effectiveness in the long run. This did not prove to be the case, at least for the boys, who generally disliked the mastery courses more and learned less from them. On the other hand, the reverse tended to be true for the girls: those who experienced the mastery courses reported significantly more achievement related activities one to two years later than the girls who had had the traditional "satisfaction" courses. These preliminary results suggest that there is a sex-by-treatment interaction, and that one style of teaching is better for boys in general and the other for girls. Such a finding, however, is of no particular use to the classroom teacher who must somehow find an approach which is appealing and effective for both sexes.


A persistent problem throughout the research was how the motivation training should be related to traditional classroom instruction. I have already noted that the St. Louis group under Professor deCharms put the regular teacher in charge of the motivation training who usually integrated it with other classroom work over a considerable period of time. This approach seems to be clearly more effective than "segregated" motivation instruction by outsiders so far as improving academic performance is concerned. However, since the deCharms group did not obtain any long-term follow-up measures outside the school, it is not possible to say whether it is equally effective in producing work- and career-related changes.

The Harvard group, having concentrated on training the children separately from the regular classroom, began to worry about whether teachers would do things that would discourage the new strategies of goal setting and learning taught in the motivation courses. So some math teachers were persuaded to restructure their regular course work in a way which would be consistent with the approach taught in the motivation courses. For instance, a contract system was introduced in which the pupils had to choose how many problems of a given difficulty they wanted to solve by a given date. They made the choice working from a table on which it was shown what grades would be awarded for doing various numbers of problems as a function of their difficulty, whether or not the person handed the exercise in on time, without mistakes, etc. Thus the pupils had a chance to set moderate goals for themselves as they had been taught to do in the achievement motivation course, whereas in the traditional math class the teacher assigns the same number of problems to be done by all students regardless of their ability to do them. As noted already, there was a sex difference in the reaction to the restructured classroom. All the students disliked it more than the traditional math, but the boys particularly disliked it, got less out of it, and showed fewer long-term effects from it than the girls.

The restructured classroom by itself had no effect on math performance or achievement motivation. This last finding was also confirmed by other studies undertaken for the project. It had seemed possible from the beginning that the right kind of classroom climate might encourage the development of achievement motivation without formally introducing instruction in motivational concepts at all. Thus it was with some hope that the staff of the Harvard project evaluated the motivational impact of educational innovations in the Duluth, Minnesota and New ton, Massachusetts school systems. In both cases, the instruction had been drastically shifted from the traditional classroom structure in the direction of giving children more autonomy in deciding what they wanted to do, when they did it, and how they went about getting the information necessary to complete their work. This emphasis on self-reliance and self-direction, we thought, might in crease achievement motivation, but in fact, it did not in either case.15 In the Duluth study it appears that the achievement motivation of the girls was actually lowered by the increased stress on self-reliance. Since none of these classroom restructurings seemed to be increasing achievement motivation indirectly, the inference is inescapable, for the present, that some kind of direct instruction in achievement motivation is essential if long-range effects in pupil behavior are to be obtained.


The research findings so far reported are of interest to the educator in demonstrating that achievement motivation training can have some very important effects both inside and outside the classroom and in showing how it can be made more or less effective for younger or older boys and girls in different kinds of settings. However, the goals of the re search were also to be useful to the average classroom teacher. So the project's staff tried hard to find ways to make the information that was being accumulated available in some generally usable form. Too often research information never gets converted into teaching practice. Several steps were taken to disseminate in formation about achievement motivation training in the schools. The most important was the publication of Teaching Achievement Motivation by Alschuler, McIntyre, and Tabor, a manual which explains in detail the techniques of motivation training used in the Harvard experiments and to a considerable extent the St. Louis experiments. It is designed to give the classroom teacher practical information on how to conduct the classroom exercises which develop achievement motivation.

Since several of these exercises require forms or workbooks to be filled out by the students, attractive booklets were designed for this purpose and published by Education Ventures, Inc. (EVI). They are: Ten Thoughts, a manual defining and describing different aspects of the achievement motivation thought sequence or coding system; Who Am I?, an exercise book designed to help the student figure out who he is and whether or not he is or wants to be achievement oriented; Aiming, a workbook in which the pupil learns to define goals and outline the means of attaining them; and The Ring-Toss Game, and The Origami Game, booklets which put pupils through games which teach them achievement oriented strategies in action. A multimedia slide-sound show is also available from EVI, en titled What is n Ach?, which is useful in orienting school officials and teachers to the nature of achievement motivation. It can also be used to orient pupils in the early stages of an achievement motivation training sequence. Finally, the staff of the Harvard project spent a considerable amount of time in the last year or two of its existence giving workshops for teachers on achievement motivation so that the materials could be tested, tried, and made as useful as possible for the classroom. A further purpose of the workshops was to encourage teachers to try achievement motivation training and to give them the knowledge necessary to do so.

As we trained the teachers and worked with them more directly, it became clear that many of them wanted to restructure their classrooms along lines which would be more consistent with what they had learned in the achievement motivation course. Some of them wondered if achievement motivation training in itself was really necessary if they reorganized what they usually did in ways that would en courage the students to develop their achievement motivation. As noted above, our experience with simply restructuring classrooms had not been altogether favorable. It was obviously important to influence how pupils perceived the attempts at restructuring. A teacher might decide to give more individual responsibilities to encourage achievement motivation, but if the students perceived this change as introducing great confusion about what they were supposed to do, the teacher would not have gained much (as in the Quincy restructuring experiment). So the project turned its attention to designing a classroom climate questionnaire which would give the teacher feedback from her pupils as to how her behavior was perceived.

The questionnaires were patterned after similar ones designed by Litwin and Stringer who had been studying the effects of organizational climate on motivation in simulated business settings.16 Staff and workers (all business school students) were recruited to work in an elaborate two-week long production game organized in three quite different ways. In one "company," British Radar, "the President placed emphasis on the maintenance of a formal structure. Members of the organization were assigned their roles, their spheres of operation were tightly de signed, and they were held responsible for the strict performance of their duties." The questionnaire given to everyone in this company at the end of the two-week period clearly showed that they perceived their organization as authoritarian and knew that they were expected to tow the line and be highly disciplined. They also scored higher in a fantasy measure of power motivation (n Power). It seemed obvious that some teachers run their classrooms in a very similar way. Therefore, Lit win and Stringer items applying to business procedure were rephrased to apply to classroom procedure to make up two questionnaire scales measuring emphasis on discipline and pressure for high performance. Presumably classroom climates scoring high on these dimensions would produce effects like those in the comparable business simulation.

In another of Litwin and Stringer's "companies," Balance Radar, "a loose in formal structure was endorsed by the president... he stressed friendly, cooperative behavior, group loyalty, team work. . . ." The climate questionnaire showed that the members of this organization perceived it as a warm, friendly group, and their affiliation motivation scores (n Affiliation) were elevated. Similar items were included in a classroom climate survey to get at the extent to which the pupils perceived the teacher and the other members of the class as warm and friendly.

Finally, in still another simulation, Blazer Radar, "high productivity was valued by the president. . . Each participant was encouraged to set his own goals and to take personal responsibility for results. . . . Competitive feedback was given frequently so that progress towards the goals could be easily evaluated. Re wards for excellent performance were given in the form of recognition and approval. . . ." Questionnaire results correctly reflected the fact that the participants in this simulation felt that they had been given more responsibility and more feed back on how well they were doing. Their achievement motivation scores were also higher, and in the end this business organization outproduced the other two. It was therefore reasoned that a teacher who could produce a climate that was perceived in this way by her pupils might be encouraging achievement motivation and better performance. So Litwin and Stringer items were rephrased for the class room climate survey which measured the dimensions of responsibility and feed back.


Factor analysis of the class room climate survey showed that psychometrically it needed further development. The scales designed to measure the different dimensions of climate did not come out as clearly as one could wish, and some of the scales were ill denned, with relatively few items consistently measuring them. Furthermore, no evidence has yet been gathered showing that the same results were obtained in the classroom as had been obtained in the simulated business situation—showing, for instance, that teachers who are perceived as stressing responsibility and feedback produce higher achievement motivation and better performance in their pupils.

The chief value of the classroom climate survey so far has been its use as a teaching device. To dramatize the three types of classroom climates, multimedia shows were produced in collaboration with Education Ventures, Inc. and Intermedia Systems Corporation. One each illustrated power-, affiliation-, and achievement-oriented classrooms. The slides, films, and tapes were taken in actual classrooms, and teachers observing the shows found it easy to believe what they saw and to identify with the various problems the teacher was facing. As they tried to think through the ways in which they wanted to create different climates in their classrooms, they found the behavior of the teachers observed of great importance in guiding them as to what to do.

Further, climate surveys had been filled out by the pupils in each of the three classrooms, and this gave the teachers in the workshops an opportunity to com pare their own perceptions of the teachers' styles with how they were perceived by the pupils in those classrooms. Finally, the teachers left the workshops with copies of the climate survey so that they had a device for not only assessing how they were currently perceived, but how they might be perceived at some future date after having made structural changes. With this additional assessment device, it would be unlikely that any of them would find himself in the situation we uncovered in the restructured math class in Quincy, Mass. As noted earlier, the teacher had restructured the classroom to give more responsibility to the students and to give them feedback tied closely to their performance, but it had been done in such a way as to make the students feel that the class was disorganized and they were getting little help. So the restructuring did not improve performance because it had changed the classroom climate in undesirable ways.

The St. Louis group under Professor deCharms had also concerned itself with classroom climate, but developed a different questionnaire for pupils to fill out which focused exclusively on the extent to which the teacher had fostered an "origin" climate. By an origin climate deCharms meant one in which pupils felt that they were in control of what they did in the classroom: that they could set their own goals, find their own means of obtaining them, feel rewarded for doing things on their own, and develop self-confidence. In other words, they felt like originators in the classroom rather than pawns. In comparison with the Harvard Climate Survey, the St. Louis instrument stresses the achievement-oriented dimension as contrasted with the power dimension and leaves out the affiliation dimension. DeCharms and associates also developed an origin score for TAT stories, the components of which were very similar to those just described for the origin questionnaire. The results of their studies are summarized in Figure 2.17 As previously noted (Figure 1), they found that n Ach training for teachers converted into n Ach training for pupils leads to gains in school learning from one grade to the next. But they also found that teachers who had been trained in achievement motivation tended to operate classrooms which were perceived by the pupils as encouraging more origin behavior. That is, the pupils felt more like originators in class rooms operated by n Ach trained teachers. Furthermore, the deCharms group found that classrooms with high origin climate scores tended to contain pupils who gained more in school learning, whether or not the teachers in those class rooms had been trained in n Ach. In other words, some teachers naturally create origin climates without special training and without introducing achievement motivation training for their pupils.

These teachers also produce greater gains in school learning. Thus it can be argued that what n Ach training does is help teachers to create the kind of climate (which some teachers create spontaneously) which fosters school learning. The presumed mechanism by which this takes place is that origin climates foster origin thinking, as reflected by higher origin TAT scores of pupils in these classes. Origin TAT scores are in turn associated with better school performance, with IQ partialed out, although the St. Louis group has not yet shown that origin TAT scores predict gains in school learning.

Figure 2 raises the interesting question of just how n Ach training for teachers produces origin climates and gains in school learning. A recent research report by Kounin suggests what classroom management techniques may be involved (bro ken lines in Figure 2).18 In carefully studying videotapes of classrooms in which students were really involved or not involved in their work, he was able to identify characteristic behaviors on the teacher's part which were highly correlated with whether her students were involved in their work and free from deviant behavior in the classroom. For the sake of analytic clarity, these characteristic teacher behaviors can be grouped under three main headings:

1. Getting attention. Here he found that such teacher behaviors as challenge arousal, zest, and variety in learning situations were very important for getting work involvement.

2. Insuring participation. The central variable here seemed to be whether the teacher was able to keep all of the children on their toes most of the time by such techniques as group alerting (so that they could not know who was going to be called on next), variety in learning, requiring child responsibility for recitation, and the like.

3. Making individuals feel accountable. Here Kounin's most important teacher variable, which he called "withitness" or the ability of the teacher to communicate "that she knows what is going on regarding the children's behavior." She can attend to "two issues simultaneously when two different issues are present." What this means from the child's point of view is that he knows that he is going to be correctly identified with whatever he does, and held account able, either positively or negatively, for it. Kounin discovered that a lot of teachers misidentify who does what in a classroom. They are clearly not "with it," and students are apparently discouraged from participating responsibly in the classroom if they feel that the teacher does not know what is going on.



These three dimensions of teacher behavior are, of course, well-designed to foster learning. If a child is to learn, he must first pay attention, then make a response (participate himself), and get correct feedback as to whether he has done it right or not. Now let us turn back and take a look at achievement motivation training in the light of this analysis. What it involves both for the teachers and for the pupils is an improved technique for insuring that these three processes are heightened in the average classroom. The motivation training materials and methods are novel and varied, so that they insure attention. They are tailored to individuals and require participation by everyone in the classroom in playing a game or filling out a form, and they give very precise feedback on an individual basis as to whether the person has done the exercise well or not (e.g., learned the scoring system for n Ach, or obtained a high score on the Origami Game). In using the materials, the teacher is automatically applying many of the techniques which Kounin found to be associated with better work involvement in the classroom. She is also doing things which ought to make pupils feel more like originators in the sense that they are making decisions in connection with the various exercises as to what they want to do next. One could predict with some confidence that videotapes of teachers trained in n Ach would show them scoring higher on Kounin's variables than those not trained in n Ach. Hence the broken lines in Figure 1.

But notice that nothing so far has been said directly about increasing achievement motivation in pupils. If the analysis just given is correct, one should get improved learning in the classroom without it being necessary to assume that achievement motivation has been increased. This seems paradoxical because the initial purpose of the research was to try to increase achievement motivation in school children so that they would perform better. Is it possible that achievement motivation training improves school performance without increasing achievement motivation? Even deCharms in his analysis (see Figure 2) talks about increasing origin feelings, not increasing achievement motivation. It seems entirely possible that achievement motivation training is effective in the classroom without much affecting the level of achievement motivation in the students. What it does for" the teachers is to improve their classroom management techniques, and these in turn improve school learning by getting more attention, participation, and accountability from the students. The effect of the achievement motivation training on the pupils may be somewhat similar. It teaches them to manage their lives better, just as it taught the teachers how to manage their classrooms better. That is, the pupils learn to pay attention more to the goals they are setting in life, to participate more often in acts achieving those goals, and to collect feedback (through planning manuals, etc.) on whether or not they are moving toward those goals. Thus motivation training techniques are simply encouraging them to plan their lives better, and the long-term effects picked up by the Harvard group of researchers may simply reflect that, rather than an increase in achievement motivation itself.

Such an interpretation has the added virtue of resolving a theoretical problem that plagued the research from the beginning. How could achievement motivation training improve school performance if level of n Ach is so clearly not related to school performance? The resolution of this paradox is now clear. Achievement motivation training may work, not by increasing n Ach, but by improving class room and life management techniques. Are we then deceiving children in telling them we are giving them courses to increase their achievement motivation, when we are unsure as to whether in fact that is what we are doing? Not really. The contradiction is largely semantic in nature. “n Achievement," as a term used technically by psychologists, may not be increased by the courses, but certainly achievement thinking, achievement planning, and achievement consciousness are all raised by the courses, and so far as the layman is concerned, these concepts are synonymous with being more motivated to achieve.

A final word of caution is in order. While we have constructed an explanation of the impact of achievement motivation training which does not require an in crease in n Achievement levels, we cannot be certain that such an increase does not occur. The problem is difficult to solve directly because the main measure of achievement motivation from the TAT cannot be used to measure n Achievement levels after the individuals have been instructed in how to write TATs with high n Achievement content. Other measures, such as increases in achievement related activities out of school, could, of course, change as a result of other changes in the individuals, such as a better style of life management. So it is hard to know, technically speaking, whether n Achievement levels have actually been changed by the courses. We cannot rule out the possibility, but at this stage of the game, we think it is more parsimonious and more theoretically sound to conclude that achievement motivation training courses improve school learning by improving class room and life management skills rather than by changing n Achievement levels directly.


1 D. C. McClelland and D. G. Winter. Motivating Economic Achievement. New York: The Free Press, 1969.

2 A. S. Alschuler, D. Tabor, and J. Mclntyre. Teaching Achievement Motivation. Middletown, Conn.: Education Ventures, Inc., 1970.

3 Later this developed into a form which deCharms has labelled "origin training" to distinguish it from what is described in Alschuler, Tabor, and Mclntyre, Ibid.

4 A. S. Alschuler, "Four Experiments in Maximizing the Yields of Achievement Motivation Training for Adolescents." Chapter 7 in Achievement Motivation Development Project, Final Report, Office of Education, Bureau of Research, 1971.

5 K. R. Ryals, "An Experimental Study of Achievement Motivation Training as a Function of the Moral Maturity of Trainees." Doctoral Dissertation, Washington University, St. Louis, Mo., 1969.

6 R. deCharms et al. Can Motives of Low Income Black Children be Changed? St. Louis, Mo.: Washington University, 1969.

7 See, Alschuler, op. cit.

8 Alschuler, Tabor, and Mclntyre, op. cit., p. 173.

9 S. Kowatrakul and E. H, Stivers. Increasing Children's Achievement Behavior and Measured In telligence Through "Need Achievement" Training. Philadelphia, Pa.: Temple University, Dept. of Educational Psychology, 1969.

10 Ryals, op. cit.

11 Alschuler, op. cit.

12 J. Kagan and H. Moss. Birth to Maturity. New York: John Wiley, 1962.

13 Ryals, op. cit.

14 P. Mehta and H.M. Kanade, "Motivation Development for Educational Growth," Indian Journal of Psychology, Vol. 46, 1969, pp. 1-20.

15 A. S. Alschuler and M. Ham, "The Motivational Impact of Individualized Instruction." Chap ter 6 in Achievement Motivation Development Project, Final Report, Office of Education, Bureau of Research, 1971; A. S. Alschuler and D. Zelnicker, "The Motivational Impact of a Contract System of Instruction." Chapter 5, Ibid.

16 G. H. Litwin and R. A. Stringer. Motivation and Organizational Climate. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Graduate School of Business Administration, Division of Research, 1968.

17 R. deCharms. Motivation in the Schools. To be published, 1972.

18 J. S. Kounin. Discipline and Group Management in Classrooms. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 74 Number 2, 1972, p. 129-146
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 1537, Date Accessed: 1/22/2022 8:55:09 PM

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