Elementary school is as much about developing attitudes as competence. With this fact in mind, the Japanese national government established a plan to enhance elementary school students’ motivation for learning English. The success of this program has, however, not been empirically tested. This study aimed to assess the longitudinal, discrete development of Japanese elementary school students’ motivation for learning English as a foreign language. A cohort of 513 Japanese elementary students participated in the study across 2 years of school. Students responded to surveys regarding the quality of their motivation at three time points, and their engagement at two time points. Latent profile analysis followed by latent profile transition analysis was used to assess the sample for latent subgroups. With subgroups established at three time points, a Mover–Stayer model was tested to estimate the movement of students among the subgroups across three time points and 2 years of elementary school education. Three theoretically consistent latent subgroups were observed at each of the time points. Based on theory and past empirical research, the subgroups (presented from least to most adaptive) were labeled: Poor Quality, High Quantity, and Good Quality. Across the three measurements, an overall shift of students to higher quantity and quality motivational subgroups was observed. This study provides evidence that the low-stakes, high-interest approach currently undertaken may have the desired effect of improving students’ motivation to learn across 2 years of schooling. Implications for both practice and national policy are discussed.
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