We are now mid-way through Term 3! It can be around this time in the term that students might start to get tired, distracted, or lack some drive to ...
We are now mid-way through Term 3! It can be around this time in the term that students might start to get tired, distracted, or lack some drive to focus on their learning. We, therefore, thought it pertinent to reflect on the research around motivation.
Motivation is influenced by students’ backgrounds, interests and goals, their beliefs about “successful” learning, and their understanding of how learning occurs. Understanding how motivation works and the importance of struggle in learning can aid in motivation.
Two most notable researchers of motivation are Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, who developed the Self-Determination theory. Ryan and Deci (2000b) imagined motivation on a spectrum with extrinsic and intrinsic categories. While the former involves being motivated by outside influences such as awards or grades, the latter inspires us to behave in certain ways due to our values, interests, and own sense of morality. Intrinsic motivation tends to provide greater drive, though this is also dependent on the individual.
Self-determination theory also suggests we have three basic needs: competence (a desire to master), autonomy (a sense of free will to act out of our own values, though not necessarily independently) and relatedness (a need to interact with and care for others) (Deci and Ryan, 2000a). This echoes the research of Pink, who found that the promotion of mastery, autonomy and purpose will foster strong, self-driven and consistent motivation (Pink, 2009). For example, take mastery. Observing struggles and consequential improvements in others builds self-efficacy and intrinsic interest in viewers because they attribute success to learning and strategy rather than natural capability (Larson and Rusk, 2011). Put simply, people are more motivated when they experience success as a result of working through the mental exercise of engaging with the challenges of an activity. Conversely, situations in which these needs are not supported can have a detrimental impact on motivation.
Therefore, as educators, we work to engage in autonomy-supporting teaching and to build a sense of mastery and relatedness in our classrooms. This can involve building positive classroom relationships and a sense of belonging, taking on the students’ perspectives, providing students with choice, nurturing inner drive, providing explanatory rationales so students understand the relevance of learning, and supporting progress over time.
Even from a young age, Lin Siegler, Dweck and Cohen (2016) argue, an authentic understanding of incremental intelligence (growth mindset thinking) can lead to improved motivation and performance. As we wrote in our newsletter on March 18, “understanding neuroplasticity – the idea that our brain continues to grow and change throughout our lives with new paths forming and old paths fading – empowers us as it shows that with effort, we can learn anything, change our behaviour, and reshape our brains.” Embracing this idea of incremental intelligence helps students know and understand how and why growth is possible, so they tend to get stuck less and reframe “can’t” to “can’t yet”. This also helps to establish failure and difficulty as normal and expected steps in the learning journey, and as providing meaningful learning opportunities.
Families can support these theories in several ways, for example:
- Supporting the intrinsic motivation children already show for activities they value
- Encouraging active student choice in the elective and subject selection process
- Conversing about classroom learning regularly
- Fostering reflection on learning to ensure struggles are seen as opportunities to improve
- Framing growth as a key learning goal
- Discussing the ability of the brain to continuously re-wire itself
The four most important methods for improving student motivation are therefore building mastery, fostering autonomy, constructing relationships, and engendering meaningful purpose and mindsets in students. We encourage all students and families to reflect on this as we enter the second half of this term and in the lead-up to the examination period later in the year.
Sarah Shepherd and Natalie Stewart
Co-Directors of Teaching and Learning
Larson, R. W and Rusk, N. (2011). Intrinsic Motivation and Positive Development. In R. M. Lerner, J. V. Lerner and J. B. Benson, (Eds.), Advances in Child Development and Behavior, Vol. 41 (pp. 89-130) Academic Press.
Lin-Siegler, X., Dweck, C. S., & Cohen, G. L. (2016). Instructional interventions that motivate classroom learning.Journal of Educational Psychology, 108(3), 295–299. https://doi.org/10.1037/edu0000124
Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive. Riverhead Books.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000a). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68–78. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.68
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000b). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25(1), 54-67. https://doi.org/10.1006/ceps.1999.1020