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Attribution Theory

What is Attribution Theory?

Attribution theory argues that humans interpret events as caused by the actions of an agent (e.g. themselves, others) and external and internal circumstances.

External (Situational) Attribution refers to failures and successes caused by external circumstances.

Internal (Dispositional) Attribution refers to successes and failures are caused by own input.

(Coleman et al. 2007)

For example, if Ayako writes a grammar test and does not do well, she may attribute her poor results to external circumstances such as lack of sleep, a bad teacher or a distracting noise in the classroom. On the other hand, she may attribute her grade to lack of preparation on her own part or perhaps to the lack of motivation to learn English (internal attribution).

In the SL classroom context, it is important that students have ample support during a lesson so that they can be more confident in their efforts. A student who does not see his or her own progress as a result of hard work may believe that they are “incapable” or “not smart enough”.

This information is important to teachers for several reasons. First, in order for the teacher to best facilitate the learning for each student s/he should understand the source of a student’s feeling of success or failure. This can be done by talking with individual students and observing their behaviours/interactions. The more the teacher knows about the student, the better s/he can help the student learn better and produce better results. Likewise, a student who is not exerting effort needs to recognize that increased success will come with increased effort. For example, by reviewing content regularly, doing homework or asking questions. Group work is helpful as students can practice speaking the language with each other in a non-threatening environment. Support from the teacher is also important - by providing genuine words of encouragement and positive, constructive criticisms.

Sample Survey for Students

Below is as Sample Survey for students (please adapt to meet the needs of your students in your context). You can also download a PDF of the survey here.

Internal Factors

How interested are you in studying SL?

1 2 3 4 5

How easy is it for you to understand SL?

1 2 3 4 5

How confident are you in your ability to learn SL?

1 2 3 4 5

How much does your mood affect language learning for you?

1 2 3 4 5

How motivated are you to learn SL?

1 2 3 4 5

External Factors?

How many hours do you spend studying the SL in a day?

0 1 2 3 4 5+

How much does your teacher help you do better in SL?

1 2 3 4 5

How much do your peers help you do better in SL?

1 2 3 4 5

How often do you use strategies to help you do better in SL?

1 2 3 4 5

How interested are you in the tasks you must do in SL?

1 2 3 4 5

How often do you misbehave in the classroom?

1 2 3 4 5

How much support do you need to do tasks in SL?

1 2 3 4 5

How much do you prepare before a test in SL?

1 2 3 4 5





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Copyright © Olenka Bilash May 2009 ~ Last Modified January 2011