By E. Lee Rakes
There are many theories comprising the concept of motivation, each providing insight into the begging question that many educators have: “How can I get students to remain interested, take ownership, forgo procrastination, and ultimately become a self-regulated learner?” In this short blog we will briefly examine the concept of motivation and assess how we as educators can foster a climate conducive to motivated learners who actually enjoy classroom instruction, are empowered education recipients, and don’t require nagging to complete assignments.
Motivation can be viewed as an internal state of arousal that drives us to take action, pursue a particular direction, and help keep us engaged in certain activities. It can be the deciding factor in what we learn, the extent to which we learn it, and aid in our continuing to partake in activities that involve previous learning. Generally speaking it can affect:
· Energy and activity level
· Actualization of goals
· Initiation and persistence in certain activities
· Time on task
· Active thinking or cognitive engagement
Facilitating motivation involves a multitude of processes, seven of which will be examined here.
Challenge: Simply put people enjoy challenge, and indeed need challenge to enter into desirable states of affect, such as Flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). If there is no challenge, students will be bored, like they are when teachers lecture and nothing else. If the perceived challenge outweighs their perceived ability, then students will be anxious. It is the responsibility of educators to find the right balance, and engage students in classroom instruction that gradually builds their efficacy or ability to meet increasingly challenging tasks (Shernoff, Csikszentmihaly, Schneider, 2003).
Choice: Choice is empowering; it provides a sense of ownership. We are more likely to work harder at things we choose to do, which in turn will increase the amount of effort we put into doing it, which increases our persistence, which improves our achievement and ultimately our self-efficacy (the belief we have about our ability in a certain domain). The opposite spiral is also a potential issue, so educators must be cognizant of where students are in actualizing goals.
Control: If we believe we can make improvements and that chance and luck are not the sole contributors to our ability to perform, then we are likely to attribute success to actual causes such as hard work, dedication, etc. If students believe they are in control of their academic success they are indeed likely to see greater academic success and higher grades, put forth more effort, and spend more time on task. Intrinsic motivation increases when students believe they have control, which can be enhanced when teachers offer the ability to make choices, selections, and actions that will produce desired results. Doing so provides a much needed sense of autonomy. (See Weiner’s work on Attribution Theory- 1979; 1985; 1986; 1992 for more).
Caring: If you don’t care, then chances are your students won’t either. Additionally, ask yourself, “Does this material provide relevance?” “Is the information I’m providing interesting?” “Have I provided opportunities for recognition?” If you have and you do, student motivation is likely to be high. If not, then you need to put more thoughtful effort into your planning and presentation of information.
Curiosity: Humans are a naturally curious bunch, and so are drawn to phenomena that happen to pique their curiosity. By presenting information in a manner that bolsters curiosity, perhaps through deliberate and thoughtful questioning, educators can foster and develop a sense of inquisitive curiosity in their students.
Competence: Success at challenging tasks provides a sense of competence, which builds self-confidence. See above information on self-efficacy and the upward cycle under Choice.
Connectedness: When are you more engaged, when listening to a lecture or solving problems with peers? Chances are you are more enthralled when working with colleagues or peers, and so it goes with students. We need to feel connected to not only others around us, but to the information being presented as well, which can be accomplished as easily as facilitating meet and greets in the early sessions, 3 minute standing conversations, or group projects and discussion. As an educator find a way to let your students interact with one another, the results my surprise you.
Teachers can foster motivation in a variety ways that are not examined above, including the issuance of contracts, incentives, recognition, social support, feedback that is specific and immediate, and importantly instruction in proper goal setting. In the end, educators must determine if the material they present, the activities they provide, and the climate they set in their classrooms and lecture halls is of the nature that addresses the 7 C’s of motivation. If not, chances are that absenteeism will be high, concentration and learning diminished, and Outstanding Teacher Awards will remain chronically elusive.
I would especially like to thank Dr. Peter Doolittle, Associate Professor at Virginia Tech and Director of the Center for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, for providing discourse and resources on the topic of motivation, and particularly the notion of the 7 C’s.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper
McKenzie, J.F., Neiger, B.L., Thackery, R. (2009). Planning, implementing, and evaluating
health promotion programs: A primer (5th ed). San Francisco: Pearson Education Inc.
Ormrod, J. E. (2008). Human learning (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Inc.
Shernoff, D. J., Csikszentmihaly, M., Schneider, B. (2003). Student engagement in high
school classrooms from the perspective of flow theory. School Psychology Quarterly, 18(2), 158-176.