Theories of Failure
Failure is a part of the human condition. Various theories related to motivation have attempted to explain the reasons why students fail in school activities. Students can fail to meet the expectations of the teacher or themselves.
Students who measure success based on external factors, such as a class performance, fail due to a lack of intrinsic motivation. Perceived failure, too, can be a powerful entity that controls the student and results in decreased motivation, lack of confidence, and unrealistic expectations.
Learned Helplessness Theory
Learned helplessness is the belief that behavior does not influence academic success. The student believes his behavior has no bearing on his success and that he lacks control of outcomes or results. He is bound to fail.
Repeated failures resulting from a learning disability, lack of confidence or effort can cause a learned helplessness. In this case, the student gives up easily on school tasks and studying, and does not believe that it is in his power to get out of a cycle of failure.
Perception can be powerful even if it does not always depict reality. Students who lack confidence possess an underlying belief that they are not good at a particular subject. Rather than blame such external factors as poor teaching or an illness, they blame their lack of ability.
Their perception is internally based and considered stable over time because it is perceived as an innate deficit. Inevitably, the student does not attempt to change what she perceives as an innate deficiency.
For example, the student who does not perform well in math expects to fail if she believes she was born not good in math.
Goal Orientation Theory
Students with a performance goal orientation focus on external appearances and measure themselves against others. They have a need to feel superior and protect their ego even if it means failing.
The emphasis is on competition. They are not as likely to seek help because this may make it appear that they need help. They do not want to admit to lacking ability. These students are less apt to try challenging tasks for fear of appearing incompetent.
For example, if they fail a science exam, they judge their success on the class average rather than seeking out ways to improve their score the next time. A lack of problem-solving skills and attention to setting goals and improving scores results in failure on subsequent exams in school.
Self-determination is associated with intrinsic motivation. Loss of choice and autonomy results in a student who lacks intrinsic motivation. Without this internal drive, the student is less apt to put forth the effort needed to pass.
Students who are given too many external motivators and not enough opportunity to feel purposeful or engage in an activity that is meaningful, lack motivation and are more likely to fall behind and eventually fail academically.