Does Your Teaching Motivate Your Students?

Motivation is an issue that plagues us all at one time or another. Starting out in education I had the na�¯ve and not so accurate point of view that because I knew I would love teaching, all of my students would enjoy learning, and of course be subsequently motivated to want to do so. After taking my graduate degree courses in Education at Michigan StateUniversity and interacting with many students who are already teachers, it is plain to see that my assessment was erroneously incorrect.

I realize now that motivation is a tricky matter in the classroom, and no matter how willing and enthusiastic I am to teach that there will be barriers that will challenge my ability to effectively do so for every student. In my future I hope to have a classroom of students in any grade from K-5, or maybe even grades 6 or 7. I have taught Sunday School for quite some time with a variety of ages engaged in the studies and have found it a very rewarding and challenging position. I do, however, realize that a traditional classroom setting is going to be much different from that experience (in terms of motivation, curriculum, administration, etc.) and like the majority of teachers, I want to be the very best I can be at what I am doing in both teaching and motivating students to want to learn. I have a firm belief that if you can inspire motivation in your classroom and a love for learning that it is a skill your students will carry with them as they move on in not only their future educational endeavors, but in their personal life experiences as well.

This is very important to me, not only for my wish to be a successful teacher, but also for my wish to have successful learners in my classroom; As such I chose the following for my research question:

What methods of teaching can I use to inspire my students, most especially those who are not typically inspired, to want to learn. Subtopics: I’d like to see how integral home participation (the family having high expectations and involvement in student success) is to actual motivating students to want to learn in their classroom. I would also like to research, along the same lines, how important it is to make a topic personal to a student in order to gain their interest in wanting to learn. I’d like to research and see if once they are interested in a topic, once it really grabs a hold of them, if they continue to use those skills in other projects as the class progresses (and even as they progress in life and classes outside of our own, in their futures) or if they drop those skills once interest in a topic wanes or is non-existent.

Students will have topics that do not interest them and come across teachers/life situations where they do not feel particularly motivated to learn with/in. I would like to research ways to make wanting to learn, whether or not you have an initial interest in it at all, something students want to do almost as instinct. I want to find out what makes children want to embrace learning in all that they do. I hope that in learning to motivate them to do so in the classroom; it will give them lifelong learning skills that they can carry with them in their futures to want to continue to do so.

Research Design.

I really like, after doing my reading and exploration on finding information about motivation, the idea that research is becoming the norm in teaching mentality. I think research is important for us, as teachers, to stay on top of our game, so to speak. I think if we are researching our topics within the classroom, that not only do we find better ways to present the material/teaching methods to the students, but that we also are able, in this way, to provide written proof to back up any thoughts we may have to take to the higher level (principal, board, etc.).

That being said, my research design was as follows: The first thing I had to ask myself in designing my plan was, “Where can I get the most effective hands-on type of research, since I do not have a classroom of my own yet?” Well, I do have a great ally in my sister-in-law who has just gone through her student teaching and now has a classroom of her own for the very first time. She is full of fervor and motivation to want to motivate and is embracing the challenge wholeheartedly. I decided, with her approval, to continually interview and survey her progress in her new 5th grade classroom. I also researched past motivation techniques and their documented failures and successes within scholarly journals, magazines, newspapers, and textbooks. My first thought was to turn to Jere Brophy, one of my favorite authors, and one of MSU’s own, for hope in finding ideas for my research question and support for my discoveries in his writings. In addition to this, I also decided that diligently reviewing the failures of past researchers was as important as researching the successes because in my opinion, the failures motivate us to think harder, to see the methods that haven’t worked, rule them out and know why we are doing so and build off of them in conjunction with documented successes to further enhance tools that will accurately assist us in what we are trying to do; in my case effectively motivate my students to want to learn.

Ideally I believe interest, participation, and high expectations for success from families inspires their children to want to succeed in class, and I researched quite extensively to find many testimonials to confirm that, have documented proof on it, and have learned of many ideas and proven successes for ways that teachers can motivate students to want to learn who do not have that outside luxury, or who do and still shun the learning process. When my material was collected, and believe me it was getting pretty extensive in size because motivation is such a broad topic, I categorized and centralized it to keep only that information which was geared directly towards my research question and subtopics, so that I would not stray off of the topic. So many new avenues of thought are presented when researching such a topic, and I knew it was important to remain focused so my final result had some actual clarity and realizations.

Admittedly, there is such an abundance of information available that it is hard to keep it core, so this area of my research design took quite a significant amount of time and thought. Once that was complete, I did an initial draft write up of my findings and documented the abundant support listed for them and any ideas I may have gained from them. I did not intend to find monumental conclusions upon my researching at first, but did hope to find many leads and ideas and informational proof that would help set me on the right path of my teaching career: I was not disappointed. In order to help keep my writing streamlined, I found myself imagining that I was creating a PowerPoint Presentation. This may seem trivial to some, but it worked very well for me because it really helped me to have the visual in my head that I needed to focus on just a few key points and keep my research thoughts where they needed to be (pertinent to my question and research questions).

It also helped me remember I was creating something for someone else to read, and that as such my findings needed to follow a definite and recognizable pattern that stayed true to the topics at hand. As simple as it may seem, this process really helped me to keep my thoughts in order and on the right track for creating my research paper. I did my research via the written word, either by Internet, library resources, scholarly journals, newspaper, and texts and I did physical research by sitting in on my sister-in-law’s classroom, with whom I was working with on my findings, and we watched and learned from implementing the new ideas we were learning via my findings. A synopsis of the journal for my observations can be found later in the paper, under the topic of Data Analysis. What Others have Found.

In doing my research, I found the topic of rewards as motivators constantly coming up in my reading and the following summarizes as completely as I can what I have found: On studying the value of intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivators for students I found that from the time a child is born, they are naturally propelled towards their curiosity and wanting to learn (Student). So I asked myself, “What then can be done to ensure this curiosity remains in them as they grew older and that they continue to progress with it through their educational endeavors?” Quite a few previous researchers advocated the extrinsic reward system for inspiring motivation in students, but even more of them touted intrinsic rewards as a partial solution to what educators are looking to for their answers on how to effectively motivate their students.

As for a definition of them both: On the former, extrinsic rewards include among other things, seeking recognition, excelling at competition, receiving tangible rewards when putting forth effort to learn, or avoiding punishment (Student). On the latter, intrinsic rewards include, among other things, wanting to succeed for self-determination, competence, curiosity, or enjoyment (Amabile). Ideally, a combination of both extrinsic and intrinsic rewards would create the perfect setting for motivation (Brophy, 251) but in individual studies, the rewards of the latter have proven over and over again, through the majority of research I found, to be far more successful in motivating students in the classroom. This last statement is both true for students being educated in and outside of the (Wang).

Furthermore, it has been researched and noted that intrinsic rewards alone may not only prove inadequate to extrinsic ones as motivators, but also that they might hinder authentic learning in that they detract from the true meaning or lesson of what one is learning by altering the perception of what is being learned (B�©nabou). It has also been researched and revealed that intrinsic motivators not only inspire students to learn in the educational realm, but that once the habit of wanting to learn is created, this mentality will follow students in their personal and future work lives (Intrinsic) as well (Why). This is why it is imperative for educators to set the precedent for motivating by finding a healthy combination of the two with a decided focus on the eudemonic state that intrinsic rewards create being a top priority (Ilies). It is our role as leaders to inspire and motivate our students in the best manner possible, while allowing them to be true to their own identity and uniqueness (Winston).

By being careful to learn about our students and find out what truly interests and inspires them, we are better able as teachers to learn how to find the right combination of extrinsic and intrinsic motivators that will better able us to assist them in their true motivation to learn. Learning how to do this may prove a challenge to teachers who may be somewhat grounded in preconceived notions of teaching, or who have a pattern they find hard to stray from in their teaching style due to longevity or comfort level (Danetta) but in doing so, will undoubtedly benefit their students to want to learn, not only within their own classrooms, but by benefiting them to want to learn outside of it as well. This is true regardless of whether or not parents were involved or not involved with the help of motivating students to want to learn (Goslin, 45). The habits they learned in the classroom were habits that they kept with them as they furthered their education and even as they moved on in their lives outside of the classroom (Goslin, 79), this is why it is so very important that we as educators do all that we can to find effective ways to motivate students to want to learn and offer them healthy habits and the tools for being able to do so. It is more than an issue with immediate benefits to help students embrace wanting to learning; it is a lifetime one.

The second biggest finding I came across for reasons why students have a lack of motivation is no to minimal support from parents at home encouraging students to want to be authentic learners. While there is a large outcry for motivation in the classroom by parents, when it comes to actual participation or encouragement from the parents’ end to actually become involved, the priority of that outcry becomes minimal at best. Because the American education system cannot serve all students in the same way, outside participation on the part of the parents becomes integral for the success of most students, but especially those students who may need extra encouragement (Goslin, 4).

On the other end of this topic, sometimes the parents who do want to get involved may be made to feel as if they are interfering or not welcome in the process by the school, the teacher, or even the students themselves (Marshall, xvi). This, of course, creates a situation where the parent might turn away from their role of helping as a motivator, thus increasing the challenges their student(s) may face. Parents can also help students to want to be motivated by showing how much of a priority it is in their eyes for their students to succeed in school and have the proper environment/tools in their homes to help them do so. This may include providing an adequate place for the child to be able to study or do homework at home, adequate lighting in their work space, peace and quiet so they can concentrate, encouragement by the parents and other family members in the home, high expectations, providing adequate nutrition to the child and ensuring the child gets enough sleep so that motivation is not hindered by outside factors (Marshall, 35).

Data Analysis The following is a chart that highlights the important aspects and thoughts I had while sitting in on my sister-in-law’s fifth grade class. When I first started my research, after brainstorming with my s/i/l we decided to try some of the new concepts I’d been reading about to encourage motivation on the class as a whole, but from day one the situation changed as one particular student, I’ll call him Glen, came into our lives and this research project.
Week No.
Pros and Cons of Motivational Study
My sister and law and I went into the classroom fully armored with an array of thoughts and ideas on how to increase class participation and individual motivation. We chose to just observe and get to know the students this week.

The project took on a new life of its own as one particular student showed a great need for increased motivation. Glen became the focus of our study the day the administrator called Sheri (my sister-in law) into the office and asked her how Glen was behaving. The direct quote from the administrator that really got to us was, ‘this year we are going to break him.’ Neither Sheri nor I found this attitude at all appealing and instantly knew Glen was the one for our studies. This administrator, who had only observed Glen from his disciplinary actions with him during prior years, was clearly, in our eyes, judging him by his previous record and seemingly discounting his ability to learn to succeed on his own. I took it on as my own personal mission to learn what Glen liked and disliked and to find out things that held a personal interest to Glen. This week Glen was somewhat hesitant to talk to us or participate in class, giving one line answers or simply saying, “I don’t know” in either situation. He was never rude, but simply seemed unmotivated to want to be a part of the class-wide or individual discussions.

Over the weekend, prior to the start of this school week, Sheri and I went over different projects she could distribute class-wide that we thought might be beneficial to the students as a whole, but that we felt might specifically ‘hook’ Glen into wanting to participate. We now had, from diligent yet subtle research a plethora of ideas for what we thought my interest Glen. We made sure to praise him for his efforts during this time in a private manner, so as not to embarrass him or hinder our work and almost immediately positive results began to show as Glen’s answers became more than one-liners. Items worth noting: Glen often put his head down in his arms still, fiddled with his pencil during discussion, and did not make eye contact, but there was a slight hint that he was becoming interested in the class and we could not let that pass.

This week was a really great week for Glen. His posture improved, he was listening intently to what was going on in the classroom and he even volunteered an idea for a class discussion, asking if he or others in the class might be able to create a comic book based on his favorite Dragon Ball Z characters, that would be relevant to the class discussion, for the extra credit project that Sheri introduced (an idea we had brought up to him briefly and skipped over quickly so that he could make the choice if he so decided. This was one of many of the suggestions we offered subtly in the same manner). We both feigned ignorance as to what DBZ was and that spawned a truly authentic discussion among the children, all of the children, including Glen, to try and explain the show, characters, and their roles for good and evil, to us. Glen was almost animated during this week and never once a discipline problem. It was truly a joy to see.

This week I was only able to sit in on the class for two hours due to an outside commitment, but progess with Glen and with the class, as far as motivation goes, was still on a steady incline.

This week Glen took extra time to show me his work and explain the thought process behind it to me when I inquired about it. He had a great artistic ability and an even greater imagination. The way he linked the book to the discussions on planets and elaborated on them in his own comic book world of fiction was such a pleasure to see. Glen also became a regular and active participant in other class discussions and was seen socializing with other students (something that before had not happened, although we read in his file that years past his interactions with others, including teacher and fellow students, were usually hostile). We totally put aside any negative thoughts we read in his file and were amazed at what we were seeing from this child who had not so much as said, ‘boo’ so to speak during the first couple of weeks of class. In such a relatively short amount of time, Glen had become and active member and quality contributor to the class. His homework was coming in on time, for the most partâÂ?¦although his book bag and desk were constantly a mess and we never did find a way to get through to him in this regardâÂ?¦even though we assured him organization would make work that much easier. Although we would have liked to see him working more on his organizational skills, knowing it would help him tremendously, we were still just absolutely delighted with the progress he had made thus far. There were several attempts to contact his parents but none of them produced positive results. I am not sure if this had anything to do with his previous lack of motivation or not, so as such I will simply mark it down as an observation.

Glen missed three days of school this week, which was a shame because we made a lot of holiday decorations for Halloween and I thought very much that he would have enjoyed being a part of that. When he did come back, we had put aside materials for him to create his own project, but he was not as gung-ho to do it as we thought he might be. I cannot help but wonder if the time off from school was part of the reason for that. It had me wondering if consistency was a fundamental part of motivation learning and I am convinced that in his case it really is. I am hoping as he continues along in this class with Sheri that it will just become second nature to him to want to learn and participate. I am hoping the teachers following this year will look at his positive comments, see his progress, and not inadvertently thwart his work in any way or cause him to regress by following his file instead of giving him a chance. I have become very attached to this child, to many of them in fact, but most certainly to this child who has a great deal of ability within him, but I know that he still is at the point where he is going to have to have positive affirmation and constant encouragement (even though subtle) to keep from going back into his shell. I still wonder if there is a way to involve his parents, but attempts to contact them still remain unreciprocated. Again this leaves me wondering how much encouragement Glen receives at home, but as mentioned before, I have nothing to go on but theory so will just once again, simply note the observation.

Glen came in this week with great tales to tell from his Holiday adventures. He even used arm motions and addressed the class as a whole with his stories. His participation was ready and he even completed the project from the previous week in his spare time that we had hoped he would before the holiday�on his own and without encouragement. We were very pleased and surprised and told him how wonderful his work was, and how wonderful we thought his participation was. We were continuing to give genuine praise to him to let him know his efforts were appreciated and that just him being him was a delight to us, if that makes any sense. Sheri also took a chance this week and praised him out loud in the classroom, as she does many of her students who deserve it. We had discussed what to do if the possibility came up because we did not want to embarrass him or take a chance that another student might say something out loud and hinder his progress, but Sheri just did what she felt was right at the time and it went over without a hitch. It was as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened at all, and perhaps that is the best reaction we could have possibly ever hoped to obtain.

This is my last week sitting in with the class. The students gave me a really nice going away party and Glen, among others gave me a hug. I am going to very much miss these students, and have great hopes for Glen and all of the students in the future. This project really made me realize how important it is as our role as educators to take an interest in our students, and how just the most minimal of changes or attention can make a very huge difference. I wish the study would have gone on longer so I could have tested parental involvement theories, but time was short for me on this project, and even though I could not try all that I wanted to from my reading and research, I came out very pleased with the results. I hope the children smiled when they received my thank you cards, and I hope that in some small way I made a significant difference on their journey for an education, because truthfully, that is one of the greatest attributes of teaching�being able to make that difference. I had a really, really great time with this project.

Data Analysis What I have noticed so far, and this was a conclusion drawn not only from my observation of Glen in the classroom, but also from hearing other teachers speaking in the lunchroom, in the halls, etc., is that files are, in my opinion, given far too much importance as to the roles and attitudes teachers take regarding their incoming students. Educators seem willing to accept the previous thoughts and comments of their fellow teachers at face value and may not be willing to give as much effort or attention to the student(s) in question as they might without having read the file. I think the files can prejudice teachers, both in a good and bad way (depending on what was written) and I am not so sure that is a good thing. In Glen’s case, I know that it was a negative thing.

Teachers forward material on to subsequent teachers that are very biased and a student can easily get a ‘bad rap’ or be tagged as a trouble maker, when indeed it is motivation that they need. I do not mean to be harsh here, this is truly what I am seeing in the classroom my sister-in-law is letting me observe in (she is the teacher). This was VERY surprising to me as I just expected that teachers would have more of an open mind when it came to things like this. I do realize the importance of teacher-to-teacher communication, but also think the overall tone from a file, or direct communication from one teacher to another can jade the opinion of a teacher regarding a student, and this frustrates me because the students are more than just what you see on paper. I realize this is a Catch 22 situation in many regards.

I am trying to find out just how often this happens, but there is not a lot of research on this particular aspect of my project, as not many people are going to broach this topic openly. I believe that this can be changed if the issue is brought out into daylight, so to speak, if the subject is addressed by those in charge that these files, while they do have their places in education (I am very much in favor of documentation) they should not be considered the end all to end all for how we view a particular student. I think if seminars are given, proper training to show the way a file should be viewed and perceived, and if those in proper authority continue to stress this to the teachers, and to stress that each child is an individual worthy of equal attention, or even of additional attention is some cases, such as Glen’s, that they can reiterate how simple it may really be to sometimes get through to students who may have a negative label attached to them. I also think the teachers who learn to reassess their way of thinking regarding these files can serve to set a positive example to those teachers who are stuck in the rut of accepting these words at complete face value.

I think another way to alleviate negative reputations from following a student is for teachers to not dwell on the negatives on a particular student when they are talking with a fellow educator. Negativity seems to be very contagious and if people would just take the effort to seek out and foster the positives, and to talk about those as well as negatives (if it is necessary to discuss the negatives, and I realize that it sometimes is) that maybe positive attitudes can become contagious as well. If this becomes the case, I think it will only help to behoove the student, the educator, and the school as a whole.

I have happily noticed during this research that when the extra time is taken that is needed to help to motivate a student who otherwise is less inclined to be so, the student will absolutely prosper! This is a wonderful surprise as well because in truth I was not sure how this implementation of research was going to work out. It could have gone many ways, but I am happy to report that with this particular project, being able to take the time out to really focus on a student very thoroughly, and show compassion and understanding, and relate work to his interests did make a very big difference in the outcome of his work production and participation, as well as helps him to improve his grades, his attitude, and the way he perceives and is perceived by others.

Research, however, also shows that many outside factors can hinder even the best of motivators in a classroom. It also shows that teachers, with ever-increasing classroom sizes, simply do not have the time to be able to put in the efforts for motivating that they may need to, especially if there is more than one student in a class (and even when it’s only one) who needs the individualized attention.

Research shows that ways to help teachers be able to focus on challenging students are being considered regularly, such as placing student aids in each classroom, but that in reality, having just one extra set of hands/thoughts, etc. from him/her, while it does help, is truly not enough. The student/teacher ratio is simply too large for one extra helper to make a big enough difference. This is not to impugn the help received, as research also shows it does help. I just see from having been in the classroom myself that teachers have so many students with so many needs and every extra set of consistently there-for-you hands is an absolute positive. The solution to this though, is no easy matter. After thinking about it and reading on the topic, it seems that budget issues have been a huge problem for a very long time, and that they most likely will be for quite some time to come. So where does that leave the students and the teachers? Teachers can get a small measure, if not consistent, of relief from parents who choose to volunteer, but in reality, a great number of parents work in the day time hours their children are in school, or are otherwise committed or not able to for various reasons, so even this is not a truly viable possibility for a solution.

As far as being able to provide individualized attention to students, focusing on curriculum and standardized testing also prove to be huge timekeepers of teachers’ attention, as these are agendas that must be met, and this further takes away from a teachers’ ability to be able to focus on a child as might need be to get them motivated, or back on track within the classrooms. This is another huge issue I found in my data research that has no present viable solution. There are just simply not enough hours in the day to teach the standardized testing skills, the required curriculum, and take time out to offer that extra boost of attention/interest that teachers may need to in order to motivate. The standardized testing is such an important measure to the schools as the results help to provide the rating the school will get in a statewide measure, which in many cases also indicates the amount of funding the schooling will receive from the local government, not to mention the reputation the school gets publicly from the grade earned in respect to these tests. This makes it an even harder challenge for teachers to have because incorporation of and time spent on teaching students how to adequately pass the test are without a doubt a necessity for so many reasons. I have mixed feelings on standardized testing, but will only mention what I have thus far in that this is the way they relate directly to motivation.

All in all what the data reveals to me on a personal level is that teachers do care about their students, they just simply are overloaded to the point that they are not able to show it as best they could w/o the outside restrictions (curriculum, testing, standardized testing, too many students, lack of parental involvement, etc.). Much is being thought of to try and alleviate such issues, but not a lot is being implemented for effective change to be able to truly take place. Who is to take responsibility for this is not able to be given to any one person of authority, but rather it is a collective problem which makes it even harder to solve.

Conclusion There are a lot of rewards in education and being an educator, but there are also, undeniably, a lot of challenges involved that make it very hard to meet all of the needs that must be met in order to increase student motivation. What it all means, is that yes, there are some very large challenges that face teachers, parents, administrators and other educators in their quest for providing authentic pedagogy, but motivation is one instrumental way to ensure that students are doing their part as well. If a student is motivated to learn it just makes the job of all of those aforementioned that much easier. It also creates an exponential amount of opportunities for the students as well. That is why it is fundamental for teachers to always observe their students and find ways to motivate them as much as they absolutely can. Continuous research, implementation of and improvement upon motivational techniques must be kept on the highest of priorities for all of those involved in the educating of our youth, for without it teaching becomes harder, almost mundane in the eyes of the student, even with a teachers’ best effort, but with it, a team is created between student and teacher, and even class-wide that makes teaching have the ability to reach the highest potential; the ultimate goal of all educators. References Amabile, Teresa M.; Hill, Karl G.; Hennessey, Beth A.; Tighe, Elizabeth M.

“The Work Preference Inventory: Assessing intrinsic and extrinsic motivational orientations,” from Journal of Personality & Social Psychology. 1994 May Vol 66(5) 950-967 Online. Available at 19 September 05. BÃ?©nabou, Roland and Tirole, Jean. “Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation,” from Review of Economic Studies. July 2003. Volume 70 Issue 3 Page 489 -doi:10.1111/1467-937X.00253. Online. Available at 21 September 05 Brophy, Jere. Motivating Students to Learn. Second Ed. New Jersey. 2004 p. 252-253 Danetta, Vincent. “What Factors Influence a Teacher’s Commitment to Student Learning?” from Routledge, part of the Taylor & Francis Group June 2002. Issue: Volume 1, Number 2 . Pages: 144 – 171 Available online at 22 September 05 Goslin, David. Motivation and Learning in American Schools. Maryland. 2003 Ilies, Remus, Morgeson, Frederick P., and Narhgang, Jennifer D. “Authentic Leadership and Eudaemonic Well-Being,” from Leadership Quarterly. Online. Available at 19 September 05 “Intrinsic motivation vs. Extrinsic Motivation.” The Occupational Adventure. Sept. 04. Online. Available at 22 September 05 Marshall, James. The Devil in the Classroom. New York. 1985. “Student Motivation to Learn.” Kid Source. Online. Available at 20 Sept. 05 Wang, Judy Huei-yu; Guthrie, John T. “Modeling the Effects of Intrinsic Motivation, Extrinsic Motivation, Amount of Reading, and Past Reading Achievement on Text Comprehension Between and Chinese Students,” from Reading Research Quarterly. 2004. Apr-Jun v39 n2 p162-186 Online. Available at 20 September 05. “Why is Behavior So Hard to Understand?” Psychological Self Help. Online. Available at 23 September 05. Winston, Bruce and Patterson, Kathleen. “An Integrated Definition of Leadership,” from School of Leadership Studies: RegentUniversity. Online. Available at 21 September 05.

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