There are few things that are as perplexing and complex in the study of psychology as motivation. In the educational setting the factors that influence student learning behaviors are interwoven and dynamic, changing from classroom to classroom, hour to hour. A good question for the teacher, parent, administrator, or ed psych student may be ???How can teachers possibly make a difference???? The first step to identifying an answer for that question is to look into the role schools play on affecting student motivation. Fortunately, as complex as motivation is, it is also well-studied. Learning environments play a significant role in the students??? ability to sustain efforts in the classroom. However, this role is too often negative. This is not likely to be intentional, therefore making understanding motivation even more important.
Students??? need to belong, defined by Maslow, generates a strong pull for students to become engaged intensely within a community of learners. The concept of legitimate peripheral participation suggests that even novices are motivated to participate in order to acquire and maintain their membership and identity. In this sense, online communities can effectively motivate learners to become involved in ways they may not be able to in face-to-face settings. Consider communities such as Classroom 2.0, or the MACULSpace, two Ning networks where teachers are encouraged to join to learn more about the role technologies play in learning. By creating an environment where learning is important, teachers can take great strides toward increasing students motivation. Additionally, self determination theory asserts that motivation is high among students who feel a sense of relatedness to teachers, peers, and parents.
Within the realm of learning, students??? personal needs are greatly overlooked, underestimated, and ignored. Often, parents and students alike tend to prefer teachers and classrooms that are controlling. These classrooms have the appearance of order and focus, but may instead be decreasing students??? need for autonomy. Rules, deadlines, schedules, orders, and limits are all external controls that students struggle against. Increasing the pressures beyond these elements may allow teachers and classrooms to increase students??? self determination.
Goals are a very common source of motivation. Regardless of size or scope, they can provide the necessary impetus to achieve. There are many aspects of the school setting that alter the kinds of goals students make. Although performance and competition are often very motivating forces, these kinds of activities can lead students to become ego-involved learners, setting goals that focuses on the performance rather than the learning. Additionally, teacher feedback can assist students to relate positively to goal achievement. By providing feedback appropriately and timely, student achievement toward that goal, and therefore their motivation in the task, can be greatly improved.
School has a significant influence in the self-efficacy of students. Every time a student receives feedback on work, tests and quizzes, comments, and other interactions, this feedback likely alters the student???s beliefs about his or her abilities. Taken together, these can create students who are empowered to achieve and students who believe that their abilities are fixed and uncontrollable. The differences between these are vast and generate the complex environment in which we teach.
Schools, therefore, are both the cause and the promise for creating and sustaining motivated learners. The solution is in the increased understanding of the impacts that teachers have on motivation and learning.
Be sure to read the post that came before this one: “Understanding Motivation“