ACADEMIC MOTIVATION OF PUPILS IN REGULAR AND WALDORF
Marija Buterin Mičić
Department of pedagogy, University of Zadar (CROATIA)
The aim of this study was to examine and compare different aspects of academic motivation of pupils
attending regular and Waldorf schools. A total of 256 elementary school pupils from fifth to the eighth
grade participated in the research. The data were collected by the mean of questionnaire. The
analyses of the results indicate that pupils from regular schools achieve higher results on the scale of
controlled motivation and its sub-scales (external regulation and introjected regulation), while pupils
from Waldorf schools achieve higher results on the scale of autonomous motivation and its sub-scales
(identified regulation and intrinsic motivation). No significant differences are identified between male
and female pupils from regular and Waldorf schools regarding development of different aspects of
academic motivation. On the other hand, differences are identified between younger and older pupils
from regular and Waldorf schools. An increase of controlled motivation and decrease of autonomous
motivation were observed among older pupils from Waldorf schools, while the decrease of the two
motivation types in academic domain were observed among older pupils from regular schools.
Keywords: Self-determination, academic motivation, school, pupils, Waldorf school.
Motivation represents a topic of research interest in the field of education and training because
fostering motivation in students is one of the most important tasks of teachers and others who work in
education and training. This represents a special challenge insofar for the students who are not
displaying particular interest in those fields and contents which represent an important part of their
education. In this regard, self-determination theory is especially important for the education and
training processes since it offers guidelines for motivating students to internalise those activities for
which they should take responsibility, but are not intrinsically interesting to them .
The Self-determination theory, as a general motivation theory, starts with the presumption that
individuals have the freedom of choice in decision-making and is therefore oriented on the extent of
self-determination activities . Unlike some motivation theories, which are primarily focused on the
degree of individual’s motivation, Deci and Ryan  have noticed that individuals do not differ solely in
the degree of their motivation, but also in the type of motivation, i.e. they differ in the reasons that
stimulate them to act. The reasons extrinsically motivated individuals behave a certain way are
external, i.e. they perform a certain action for the purpose of achieving a certain external goal (e.g.
receiving a reward, praise, fear of punishment). On the other hand, intrinsically motivated individuals
perform a certain activity solely for the pleasure that comes out of such activity (e.g. interest or
pleasure). This refers to natural motivational tendency of spontaneous actions in accordance with
personal internal interests, and as such it represents a prototype of activities that are self-determined
. However, the majority of individual’s activities are not based on intrinsic motivation, since they are
faced with demands linked with certain social roles which include performing activities that are not
intrinsically motivating .
According to the self-determination theory, different types of extrinsic motivation can be distinguished
with regards to the extent of self-determination or autonomy of individual’s actions. Namely, individuals
consider some activities, which they perform due to extrinsic reasons, as controlling, while on the
other hand, they perceive some other activities as mostly self-determining and they have a sense of
choice. According to the above-mentioned theory, extrinsic motivation is located at the self-
determination continuum between amotivation (lack of motivation, i.e. absence of intent for action) and
intrinsic motivation, and considering the extent of self-determination, four different types of extrinsic
motivation regulation can be distinguished.
External regulation represents controlled regulation, i.e. the form of the least autonomous extrinsically
motivated behaviour which is directed toward satisfying external demands or tasks, receiving a certain
reward or avoiding punishment. Individuals perceive such behaviour as controlled (e.g. a student who
Proceedings of EDULEARN19 Conference
1st-3rd July 2019, Palma, Mallorca, Spain
learns in order to avoid sanctions). Introjected or adopted regulation represents a relatively controlling
form of motivation regulation, i.e. behaviour directed towards maintaining the sense of self-respect and
self-worth or avoiding the sense of shame and anxiety (e.g. students who learn because they would
be ashamed in front of the teacher in case they receive a bad grade). Identified regulation represents
a more autonomous, i.e. more self-determined type of extrinsic motivation. It occurs when individuals
have insight in personal importance of certain, externally prescribed, behaviours or opinions, but that
does not imply they accept them as their own. According to Ryan et al. (1989, as cited in Sviben ),
this motivation regulation style represents an indicator of school satisfaction, volitional acceptance of
school’s goals and students’ successful adjustment. Integrated regulation is the most autonomous, i.e.
most self-determined type of extrinsic motivation. With such motivation, person enters a certain
activity, not only due to identification with the importance of certain behaviours, but because of its
importance for a personal goal. Individuals accepts such externally prescribed behaviour or thinking as
their own. Although integrated regulation has something in common with intrinsic motivation, it
represents a type of extrinsic motivation, since it does not stem from its performance, i.e. because of
internal pleasure or interest, but it implies instrumental activities in order to achieve a certain goal. In
accordance with where the individual feels the control is coming from, the aforementioned four types
of external regulation can be placed on the ‘left’ and ‘right’ side of the continuum. On the left side, right
after amotivation is located controlled motivation consisting of the first two types of extrinsic
motivation: external and adopted regulation, since individuals have a sense that the control is external,
i.e. comes from outside of them. On the right side of the continuum, before intrinsic motivation, is
located autonomous motivation. It consists of identified and integrated regulation (the other two types
of extrinsic motivation) since individuals have a sense that they are managing, i.e. that they are in
control. The above mentioned relative autonomy continuum is not of developmental nature, since
individuals can adopt a certain rule at any of its levels, dependant on the situational factors and earlier
experiences (Deci and Ryan, 2001, as cited in Sviben ).
Ryan and Connell  conducted a research whose aim was to investigate external, introjected,
identified and intrinsic reasons for certain student activities in school environment. This research did
not include integrated regulation since research have shown that this type of motivation is rarely found
among the school children population (Ryan et al., 2000, as cited in Sviben ) but they investigated
intrinsic motivation, since pre-testing determined that children fulfil their school tasks for inner pleasure
or interest. The results of the research have shown that increase in external regulation correlates with
blaming others for personal failure, reduced interest and invested effort, while introjected regulation is
positively connected with poor coping strategies, greater anxiety and invested effort. On the other
hand, the connection between identified regulation and positive coping strategies and greater
satisfaction has been determined, while intrinsic motivation is connected with positive coping, greater
satisfaction, interest and a sense of competence.
Results of numerous studies speak in favour of the development of greater degree of autonomy with
intrinsic motivation. That is to say, it has been determined that it is connected to higher-quality learning
, working harder, investing effort and the sense of pleasure during task performance [21, 28, 30],
with less quitting from performing school tasks , with better success in school [9, 13], and with
better general and mental health [17, 20]. With all of the above, research have determined that
autonomous motivation represents a good predictor of academic success and mental health [2, 6].
Summarily observed, according to Black and Deci , the self-determination theory is focused on the
extent in which behaviour can be transformed through autonomy and control. Considering the
academic domain, its essence is in taking control over personal learning process . It includes
competence (self-worth), autonomy (perception of control over behaviour and success) and
relatedness (the sense of belonging and security in a social environment) which, among others,
increase intrinsic motivation .
The support of autonomy is examined with regards to control. Those forms of events that undermine
individual’s autonomy are perceived as controlling: imposed goals, competition, high-stakes testing,
threat of punishment, extrinsic rewards (Deci and Ryan, 2002, as cited in Koh and Frick ). In that
sense, the question is to which degree students perceive teachers’ behaviour as directly controlling,
e.g. do teachers allow expressing personal opinions and learning styles, do they give frequent
directives. According to Vansteenkiste, Lens and Deci , controlling events are perceived as
antagonistic for intrinsic motivation and they are correlated with the intrinsic motivation for activity.
According to Ryan and Deci , students can develop intrinsic motivation for performing school-work
through the internalisation of learning tasks that are not interesting to them or they do not enjoy them.
In that sense, the key issue is finding a way to encourage individuals to adopt such behaviour as their
own, without feeling any external pressure. The representatives of the self-determination theory
highlight the importance of the internalisation process. According to Ryan et al. (1985, as cited in
Sviben ), internalisation represents an active process in which an individual transforms social
demands or customs into personal values and self-regulations. Internalisation process is in
accordance with Waldorf’s educational concept, whose aim is to enable every child to develop their
own potentials , and it dedicates significant attention to synchronising teaching methods with the
development of children’s abilities, building a community as a support network for students, teachers
and parents , whereby learning is seen as “the active exploration of reality” [22: p. 70]. In other
words, lessons are dominated by learning through discovery.
Waldorf Education starts with the question “what is internal to a man and what can be further
developed within him?” [25: p. 15]. Starting with the child’s ability, teacher’s task is to help the child
become aware of those abilities and develop them through exercise . Furthermore, the lack of
division between theory and practice is characteristic for Waldorf Education, since that way they want
to achieve that the child gains a complete experience of the world and itself, through the mind, senses
and body, and not the acquisition of knowledge through individual school subjects . Learning
comes from teachers and primary sources, in the nature and vividly, with the head, heart and hands
and that way students achieve a deeper relationship toward the learning subject. Waldorf teachers
support student autonomy by nurturing an individual approach and freedom in learning. Summarily
observed, a stimulating environment, according to Waldorf pedagogy, implies an educator who
enables the self-discipline process with the goal of behaviour self-regulation [8, 11].
The quality of interpersonal relations in school plays an undoubtedly important role regarding the
development of academic motivation. Furrer and Skinner  emphasize that the sense of
connectedness and belonging plays a key role in motivation development in children and is connected
to the sense of self-efficiency, engagement in the academic work and school interest. The above
mentioned can also be connected to the results of the research of the experience of school as a caring
community , within which it was determined that Waldorf school students, in comparison to students
from regular schools, have more positive experiences with regard to the estimation of the quality of
interpersonal relations between students, teachers, parents and other school members (expressing
concern, respect, solidarity, inclusion, support, cooperation, sensitivity to the needs of others, friendly
and collegial relations). Also, the research has determined that Waldorf school students, unlike regular
school students, feel more motivated to learn and give a more positive estimate of the learning
experience in school .
The sense of ownership over learning, the balance between relevant and challenging activities and the
atmosphere of care and belonging, according to Urdan and Schoenfelder , stand out as important
motivation stimulation elements, which are in accordance with Waldorf educational concept. It is
precisely these activities that can stimulate students to become interested in learning new things when
they are ready for that and become interested in things that were not their natural choice, i.e. they
stimulate intrinsic motivation for learning. Teachers can, through the support of students’ autonomy,
help students internalise external motives for fulfilment of school obligations.
The research aim was to examine different aspects of academic motivation of pupils in regular and
Waldorf schools and compare their results, including gender and age differences. Research tasks
derived from the aim of the research are as follows:
1 Examine different aspects of academic motivation of regular school pupils
2 Examine different aspects of academic motivation of Waldorf school pupils
3 Compare the results regular and Waldorf school pupils achieved at the Self-regulation
Questionnaire - Academic Domain
4 Compare the results regular and Waldorf school pupils achieved at the Self-regulation
Questionnaire - Academic Domain with regard to gender and the grade the pupils are attending.
This research included 256 pupils who are attending 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th primary school grade. Of the
total number of participants, the research included 68 pupils from two existing Waldorf schools in
Croatia. Considering the total number of pupils enrolled in Waldorf schools and the number of
students in a particular classroom, the response of research participants can be seen as satisfactory.
The research was conducted through a questionnaire which consists of two parts. The first part of the
questionnaire contained, alongside a general instruction, questions through which data about
participants’ gender and grade were collected. The second part consisted of the Self-regulation
Questionnaire - Academic Domain  by which varied types of motivation regulation in the academic
domain were examined. The questionnaire consists of four questions which examined the reasons
pupils behave a certain way, i.e. why they perform their school obligations, with several offered
answers. There are 32 statements within the questionnaire and they represent different motivation
• external regulation (9 statements, e.g. "…because I will get in trouble if I do not fulfil my school
• introjected regulation (9 statements, e.g. "…because I will be ashamed if I don’t fulfil my school
• identified regulation (7 statements, e.g. "…because it is important to me to fulfil my school
• intrinsic motivation (7 statements, e.g. "…because I love fulfilling my school obligations")
For the purpose of this research, a translated version of the Questionnaire used by Sviben  in her
research, was used and adjusted to primary school population.
The pupils have displayed their agreement with each item at a scale from 1 to 5 (whereby 1 means "I
strongly disagree", and 5 "I strongly agree"). The results for all four scales were formed as an average
of points of statements that form a certain scale. With the aforementioned, the results were formed
separately for controlled motivation (which consists of the internal regulation subscale and introjected
regulation subscale) and for autonomous motivation (which consists of identified regulation subscale
and intrinsic motivation subscale). Cronbach alpha was conducted for each of the subscales in order
to determine the reliability of the used instrument, and the results are as follows: external regulation –
0.84, introjected regulation – 0.85, identified regulation – 0.86, intrinsic motivation – 0.87. The above
mentioned correlation coefficients indicate good reliability of the scales of the used questionnaire.
The research was conducted in the end of school year 2014/2015, after the research participants
accepted to participate in the study. The questionnaire was conducted during regular classes and the
average time for its completion was 20 minutes.
Data collected was analysed with the software package Statistica. Frequencies, arithmetic means and
corresponding standard deviations were calculated.
In order to fulfil the first research task, arithmetic mean and corresponding standard deviations for four
motivation subscales were calculated, and separately for autonomous and controlled motivation, for
both regular school and Waldorf school pupils, with the aim of comparing their results.
Table 1. Academic Motivation of Pupils in Waldrof Schools
As it is stated in Table 1, Waldorf school pupils achieved average results at the controlled motivation
scale, i.e. its external regulation subscale and introjected regulation subscale, while they achieved
higher results at the autonomous motivation scale, as well as its identified regulation subscale and
intrinsic motivation subscale.
Through the analysis of the results regular school pupils achieved at the scales of different types of
motivation regulation in the academic domain (Table 2), it was determined that they achieved above
average results at the controlled motivation scale, i.e. its subscales (external and introjected
regulation), and results slightly above the middle of the scale when it comes to autonomous
motivation, considering that they achieved average results at the intrinsic motivation subscale and
above average at the sub-identified regulation scale.
By comparing the results of both groups of participants, it can be seen that regular school pupils
achieve higher results at the controlled regulation scale and its subscales (external and introjected
regulation), while Waldorf school pupils achieve higher results at the autonomous regulation scale and
its subscales (identified regulation and intrinsic motivation).
Table 2. Academic Motivation of Pupils in Regular Schools
Regular and Waldorf school pupils’ answers at the scales of different aspects of academic motivation
with regard to their gender and the grade they are attending were analysed in order to fulfil the second
Table 3. Academic Motivation of Puils in Waldorf Schools Regarding Gender
As it can be seen in Table 3, male and female Waldorf school pupils achieved almost identical results
at all academic motivation scales: average at the controlled motivation scale and its subscales
(external and introjected regulation), and above average at the autonomous motivation scale and its
subscales (identified regulation and intrinsic motivation).
Table 4. Academic Motivation of Puils in Waldorf Schools Regarding Grade
5th and 6th grade
7th and 8th grade
However, through the analysis of pupils' results at the academic motivation regulation scales, with
regard to the grade they are in, it was determined that there was a difference between 5th and 6th
grade pupils on one side, and 6th and 7th grade students on the other. It was determined that, unlike
lower grade pupils, higher grade pupils, on one hand, achieve higher results at the controlled
regulation scales, but, on the other hand, they achieve lower results at the autonomous regulation
scales. By analysing the values of the arithmetic means younger and older pupils achieved in
particular academic motivation scales, it can be determined that younger students achieved average
results at the controlled motivation scale as well as its subscales (external and introjected regulation)
in comparison to older pupils, who achieved slightly higher results. Even though it was determined that
older pupils achieve lower results at the autonomous motivation scale and its subscales, with insight
into the values of the arithmetic means, it can be noticed that they are above average both in younger
and older pupils, with the exception of intrinsic motivation, where older pupils achieved average
Table 5. Academic Motivation of Puils in Regular Schools Regarding Gender
Through the analysis of the values of arithmetic means achieved by male and female pupils enrolled in
regular schools at the different types of academic motivation regulation scales, it can be seen that
their results are also not significantly different. Both male and female pupils have a relatively
developed controlled regulation, i.e. they achieve above average results at external and introjected
regulation scales. They achieved similar results at the autonomous regulation scale, but they achieved
significantly higher results at the identified regulation subscale than at the intrinsic motivation
subscale, where they displayed average results.
On the other hand, there is a difference with regard to the grade the pupils are attending. By
comparing the results pupils of lower and higher grades achieved at the controlled motivation scale, it
can be seen that 5th and 6th grade pupils are, to a greater extent, control motivated, in comparison to
older pupils. The same tendency can be seen through the analysis of arithmetic means at both
controlled motivation subscales: external regulation subscale and introjected regulation subscale.
However, with the insight into the arithmetic means’ values, it can be seen that the results are above
average in both groups.
Table 6. Academic Motivation of Puils in Regular Schools Regarding Grade
5th and 6th grade
7th and 8th grade
It was also determined that younger pupils achieve higher (above average) results at the autonomous
motivation regulation scale, in comparison to older pupils who achieve average results. The same
differences were determined at both subscales of this type of motivation, younger pupils achieve
higher, above average results at the identified motivation regulation subscale, in comparison to 7th and
8th grade pupils, who also achieved above average, but somewhat lower results. The situation is
similar when it comes to intrinsic motivation, where older pupils achieved somewhat lower average
results in comparison to younger pupils, whose intrinsic motivation is also average.
Starting with the self-determination theory, which differentiates four extrinsic motivation types which
are, together with intrinsic motivation, located in the self-determination continuum, a research had
been conducted on pupils enrolled in schools based on different pedagogical philosophies. This
research examined the differences in the degree of expression of different academic motivation
regulation styles between regular school pupils and Waldorf school pupils. Differences in the degree of
expression of different academic motivation regulation styles with regard to gender and grade the
pupils are attending had also been examined.
The result analysis has shown that Waldorf school pupils achieve higher results at the autonomous
regulation scale and its subscales, identified regulation and intrinsic motivation, in comparison to
regular school pupils who achieved higher results at the controlled motivation scale and its external
and introjected regulation subscales. The results can be observed starting with the fact that Waldorf
School is an alternative school which differs significantly from regular schools in the mode of operation
and educational philosophy it is based on. Waldorf School is based on the principles of the
anthroposophy of Rudolf Steiner, its founder, with the aim of holistic development of a person. Unlike
regular schools, a considerable part of lessons in Waldorf Schools is realised through epochs, through
which the pupils have the opportunity to familiarise themselves with extensive interdisciplinary units,
which enables them deeper dedication, and through that an opportunity to foster and develop
motivation in general. Besides that, Waldorf Schools give great importance to artistic education,
handwork and eurhythmy, thus enabling pupils a balance in dealing with various different educational
content, during which pupils with different abilities and inclinations can satisfy them and that way
strengthen development of autonomous forms of motivation. Another important Waldorf School
specificity should also be kept in mind, and that is the fact that the Main Lesson teacher stays with the
pupils throughout their elementary grade school education. That way, through multi-year period, and
the transition from childhood into early adolescence, they have the opportunity to truly get to know
each pupil, their abilities, affinities, interests and needs. Besides that, Main Lesson teachers work
closely together with pupils’ parents in different ways, which definitely leaves plenty of room for
adequate stimulation and development of motivation in the academic domain.
Through the analysis of different motivation regulation types with regard to pupils’ gender, it has been
determined that both male and female pupils of Waldorf School and regular school express similar
results. The results are in accordance with the results of the research Simons et al.  conducted,
where they determined similar patterns in responses between male and female participants.
Differences in the display of intrinsic motivation, in favour of girls, were determined in some other
studies, while there were no differences determined in other types of motivation regulation [1, 26].
By analysing different types of academic motivation regulation with regard to the grade of the pupils,
certain differences were determined. It was observed that in Waldorf School, with the increase of their
grade level, the pupils, on one hand express reduction in autonomous motivation (on both the
identified regulation scale and intrinsic motivation), and on the other hand, they express increase in
controlled motivation (on both the external and introjected motivation scale). Even though the overall
educational process in alternative schools is focused on the child’s needs, it should also be kept in
mind that this process must, to a certain degree, be in accordance with certain educational regulations
which apply to all schools at a national level. For example, Waldorf School advocates against
numerical evaluation of students, but the same is conducted in 7th and 8th grade, for purely pragmatic
reasons – scoring the pupils’ success as a postulation for secondary school admissions. In that sense,
implementation of the numerical grading system can, perhaps, be seen as a factor which affected
motivation regulation in pupils who were not numerically graded in their first 6 primary school grade
levels, but their progress was recorded in different, developmental and holistic ways.
It is precisely this lack of numerical grading that can be seen as an incentive for fostering intrinsic
motivation for learning. The fact that teachers in Waldorf Schools stay with a particular school class for
eight years and that way can give more attention to the pupils and get to know them well also
contributes to this. In the end, this all results in teachers writing a detailed evaluation, in which they
record everything a particular pupil has done, their progress, talents, weaknesses and a prognosis for
future work, where they avoid using comments which could have a discouraging effect . The
results can also be explained with the fact that there is no grade retention in Waldorf School, since it
starts with the presumption that every child is capable of achieving progress within a year, and
disadvantaged pupils are additionally supported with additional classes and therapeutic eurhythmy
A different tendency has been detected with regular school pupils. With the increase of their grade
level, there is a decline in the degree of not only controlled, but also autonomous motivation. It could
be said that a general decrease of pupils’ motivation occurs. The decrease of controlled motivation is
a positive aspect, since it is expected that older pupils have a greater degree of autonomy in
On the other hand, the use of uninteresting teaching methods, focus on facts and their memorising
(remembering a large number of facts), separate from the everyday life application, often results in
saturation and weaker motivation for learning or even in the strengthening of controlled types of
motivation, especially if studying primarily for good grades is supported.
Teacher behaviour such listening to pupils, giving less instructions, requesting feedback from pupils,
encouraging independent thinking. All of the above can stimulate pupils to become interested in
learning new things when they are ready for that and to become interested in things that were not their
natural choice. Such activities foster the intrinsic motivation for learning. Teachers can, by supporting
pupils’ autonomy, help them internalise externally set demands for performing school work.
Motivation for learning, regardless of the school subject, represents a significant factor in its
successful mastering. The importance of autonomous motivation regulation types is highlighted in this
aspect, as those that play an important role for successful mastering of lessons, which is in the
function of lifelong learning and progress, unlike the controlled types. In that sense, the importance of
teachers’ role is to motivate pupils in a suitable way, in order to affirm the pupils’ desire for learning,
not for the purpose of learning for school, i.e. because something was prescribed by the curriculum,
but because they want to learn it themselves.
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