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Nowadays, one of the main issues in learning and teaching is to identify the causes of success and failure that learners attribute to their learning. How individuals perceive their success or failures has a very strong impact on their future performance; awareness of one’s attribution pattern plays a significant role in the process of teaching and learning. A myriad of factors has some bearings on individual learner differences in learning (Eliss, 2005, Brown, 2005). Among them, attribution propriety arouses much more interest due to its significant impact on individuals’ future performance; recently considerable attention has been paid to it. Attribution theory is regarded as a fruitful area to capture a better understanding of individuals in the process of language teaching and learning (Yılmaz, 2016).
Attribution pattern falls under the category of motivation in the taxonomy of individual differences developed by Dörnyei (2005). Applied in the teaching and learning domain, attribution theory could yield a better understanding of individuals and their perceptions about their learning habits. Albeit in educational psychology much attention has been allocated to the learners’ attributions for their successes and failures, still, there is little research on attribution properties of gifted learners. The investigation of how gifted learners make attributions may add new insight to both language learning factors and attribution theory. Hence, to narrow this gap, this study sought to explore first, the attribution pattern of gifted learners based on the theoretical framework developed by Weiner (1973) and second, to examine the relationship between attribution and language achievement. Given that different learners are taught in different environments, with different instructors with varying methods and resources, it sounds logical that learners may have different attributions, different beliefs about themselves about the language they are learning. Investigating in this area might inform educators of the attribution pattern of the learners. The present study would contribute to previous works on the attribution pattern, particularly that of the gifted. The following section provides the background of the study.
One of the predominant conceptions in the area of motivation, social psychology, and educational psychology is attribution theory introduced by Fritz Heider (1958 ) and advanced by other scholars including Davis (2003), and Weiner(1986). The term attribution refers to “constructions imposed by perceivers to account for the relation between an action and an outcome” (Weiner, 1986, p. 22). Four main sources that individuals attribute to their failure or success are identified as ability, effort, task difficulty, and luck (Heider,1958; Weiner,1985). Task difficulty and luck are regarded as external and uncontrollable elements; whereas ability and effort are thought of as internal and controllable (Heider,1958). Weiner ‘s (1973) theory of attribution addressing mainly two causal factors effort and ability states that “highly motivated individuals with high achievement assume personal responsibility for success and attribute failure to a lack of effort whereas persons with low achievement attribute failure to a lack of ability (p. 11). Later, Weiner modified his theory by adding dimensions of locus causality, stability, and control to casual attribution. Causality has to do with the location of a cause, distinguishing whether a cause is internal or external to an individual. Stability denotes the duration of a cause, temporality, and stability of cause; the extent to which a cause is subject to an individual’s volitional control is associated to controllability. Attributions are not global but rather situation-specific that is, individuals are different in their attributions and dimensions with respect to specific event and activity (Azarhossieni, Pishghadam, & Asghari, 2012). Attributing failure to a stable cause rather than applying to an unstable cause rouses more feeling of helplessness. Whereas increment or decrement of expectation of future success is the result of ascribing to stable causes. Social emotions (e.g., shame, guilt, pity, and anger) could be predicted by controllability. For example, an actor ascribing failure to a controllable cause would likely experience guilt, and feelings of shame, and embarrassment would be generated by ascribing to an uncontrollable cause. Feeling of anger and blaming behavior may be provoked by controllable attribution; whereas sympathy and helping behavior from others may be raised by uncontrollable attribution (Lu, Woodcock, & Jiang, 2014). According to Weiner’s (1979) theory, external attribution for success reduces positive effects such as pleasure, satisfaction, and happiness. Likewise, internal and stable attribution for failure augments the negative effect such as being upset, displeased, and worried. Students with such patterns will probably experience lower self-esteem, self-image, and self-efficacy (Lu, Woodcock, & Jiang, 2014). Ability, effort, task difficulty, and luck are defined as the major causes for success and failure in academic setting with ability and effort as the most dominant causes (Tollefson, 2000; Weiner, 1986).
A glance at review of literature shows that successful learners usually attribute successful outcomes to internal and unstable causes (e.g., effort, attention, revision) more than internal and stable (e.g., ability, interest), and external causes (e.g., teacher input, classroom environment). Their attribution for failure outcomes is effort-oriented (Chastain, 1988; Weiner, 1986). According to studies (Zhang, 2011), successful learners are characterized by positive attribution patterns with ascribing their failure to internal factors, such as lack of effort and stable causes (e.g., low ability, low interest); In contrast, unsuccessful learners ascribe their success to external factors such as task difficulty, teacher input. Compared with attributing to external factors, attributing success and failure to internal causes, makes students experience a greater level of academic success and show higher levels of goal-attaining behavior. Similarly, attributing failure to lack of effort, or bad luck makes students protect self-esteem and maintain the motivation and expectation for future success. With low effort ascribed, students may exert more effort in future tasks. Such an attributional pattern is positive for academic learning (Zhang, 2011). Some studies have also reported abnormal attribution patterns in students with learning difficulties or disabilities (Tabassam & Grainger, 2002; Woodcock & Vialle, 2011). These students attribute success to external causes and failure to internal and stable causes.
A study by Gobel and Mori (2007) with two hundred and thirty-three EFL students in Japan revealed a significant relationship between ability, task difficulty, and exam scores in oral communication and reading classes. Similarly, the effect of students’ attributions of success and failure on their math grades was explored by Boruchovitch (2004). The results of interviews reported the internal locus of causality as the most important factor responsible for the difference between success and failure. Likewise, Pishghadam and Motakef (2011) investigated the attributions of high school students with different majors for their success and failure in learning English as a foreign language. They found that students with different majors have varied explanations for their language achievements. In mixed-method research, Lu, Woodcock, and Jiang (2014) identified the attribution patterns of Chinese university students who learned through autonomous learning (student-centered approaches) compared with students who learned through teacher-centered approaches. The findings of the study showed that there are no significant difference in attributional patterns between these two groups. Despite the aforementioned studies, work on attribution patterns of gifted students has insufficiently been documented. The present research was conducted to investigate this gap.