Kristi Kafka

Nationally Certified School Psychologist

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General Information

Teachers often feel frustrated by unmotivated learners and helpless regarding how to change the situation.  There might not be a magic wand, but guess what?  We don't need one because motivation is a state of mind, which is influenced by a combination of internal and external variables.  Just relax and focus on Text Box: Setting the occasion for success  - examine classroom climate, smile, role model motivation
Encouraging students  - be prepared, creative, and enthusiastic about learning
Providing feedback  - praise any desirable behaviors, correct work in a timely manner and comment on student strengths
the external variables you can influence.  Below is a range of basic to more advanced information on motivation.  It never hurts to review the basics!  Take what is useful to you and set a goal to focus on at least one change you are willing to implement.











Variables Teachers Control

Often the following conditions are assumed.  Do not underestimate their power to motivate your learners!

    Classroom climate

"Make sure your classroom is a caring, supportive place where there is a sense of belonging and everyone is valued and respected.  If these conditions exist, students will tend to participate more fully in the process of learning."

√    Task dimensions

"Ideally, tasks should be challenging but achievable."

√    Task definition

"Defining tasks in terms of specific, short-term goals can assist students to associate effort with success (Stipek)."



Other Variables - influence attention, energy, and motivation

Remember the acronym MCRU.

Meaningful - If what they are learning is meaningful, students will be more apt to pay attention and be interested

Connected - If you connect the subject to what they know, students have a point of reference

Relevant - If the subject is relevant to their life, experiences, interests, etc., students will be more in-tune and invested in learning

Useful - If students know why information is important and how they can used it you are more likely to capture their attention.







Cloud Callout: Side note:  Imagine you are at a teacher's meeting and none of the MCRU criteria are met.  How motivated would you be to listen, follow along, participate, or remember what was said?  Most of us are polite enough to pretend or motivated by performance evaluations to force our attention.  However, struggling learners and students with low motivation need the environment to provide some incentives.  These learners need a buy in.  The conditions you create might be the best opportunity to hook them on learning.  You are your best asset for increasing student motivation.





More Variables that influence motivation

Student expectation for success - is it low or high?

Student value for the task - does the student value the task?


Student Responses Based on Expectation and Value

  Low success expectation High success expectation
Doesn't value task REJECTS: Refuses to participate EVADES:  Does minimum
Values task DEFENSIVE:  Concerned with image (might ENGAGES:  Seeks to learn

Although many factors contribute to the behaviors listed in the grid, it is one way of looking at student behavior and trying to determine where motivation may be breaking down.  Certainly, we cannot force a child to value a behavior or have an expectation for success, but we can set the occasion by creating a positive classroom environment and modeling enthusiasm for learning.  Lastly, we can praise effort to instill the idea that effort pays off and teach students to use mistakes as tools for learning.

Source:  Notes from Dr. Marcy Reisetter's Advanced Educational Psychology course, University of South Dakota


Motivation Methods

Intrinsic motivation is when people engage in activities out of personal choice.  Since we know some children would never chose some activities (eating peas, cleaning their room), adults may need to employ extrinsic motivation, which is any external pressure (encouragement or punishment) used to get someone to perform a task.

Examples of extrinsic motivators:

 Specific verbal praise (I like how hard you worked today!  You know a great deal about the solar system!)

 Physical praise (high 5, pat on the back, special hand shake, hug)

 Tangible rewards (stickers, stars, prizes, books, money, healthy snacks, computer time, extra one-on-one time with special adult, etc...)

Which is Better?

This is a hotly debated issue, but my belief is that both intrinsic & extrinsic motivation serve a purpose.  Obviously intrinsic motivation is ideal; however, extrinsic motivation might be necessary to motivate some learners.  (Research on this topic is extensive and divided between opposing philosophic camps.  Do some research and decide for yourself!)