Student motivation in physical education

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Published Date:03-07-2017
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Summary Student Motivation— Student Motivation— An Overlooked Piece of An Overlooked Piece of School Reform School Reform lmost everyone knows someone who overcame early hardships to achieve an impressive level of success in school and later life. Most of us also know young people with great Aearly promise who were lackadaisical students and floundered after leaving school. Often the crucial factor that accounts for cases like these is the students’ own motivation to learn. Motivation is a central part of a student’s educational experience from preschool onward, but it is has received scant attention amid an education reform Center on Education Policy agenda focused mainly on accountability, standards and Graduate School of Education tests, teacher quality, and school management. and Human Development Motivation is a central part Education reform could benefit from a robust conver- of a student’s educational The George Washington sation about the overlooked element of student moti- experience from preschool University vation. onward, but it is has 2140 Pennsylvania Avenue NW This summary report by the Center on Education received scant attention Washington, D.C. 20037 Policy (CEP) pulls together findings from a wide array amid an education reform Ph: 202-994-9050 of studies on student motivation by scholars in a range agenda focused mainly on Fax: 202-994-8859 of disciplines, as well as lessons from programs around accountability, standards E-mail: the country intended to increase motivation. This is and tests, teacher quality, Web: not meant to be a comprehensive review of the research and school management. or programs on this broad and complex topic. Rather, it is intended to start a conversation about the impor- tance of motivation and the policies and practices that might better engage students in learning. The information in this summary is distilled from a series of six background papers by CEP, available at The background papers focus on the following aspects of student motivation: 1. What is motivation and why does it matter? 2. Can money or other rewards motivate students? 3. Can goals motivate students? 4. What roles do parent involvement, family background, and culture play in student moti- vation? 5. What can schools do to motivate students? 6. What nontraditional approaches can motivate unenthusiastic students? Most of the findings in this summary are based on multiple sources, for which the specific cita- tions can be found in the appropriate CEP background paper for that topic. Where a particu- lar study, statistic, or quotation is referred to in this summary, the source is cited and included in the reference list at the end of this paper. Student Motivation—An Overlooked Piece of School Reform 1dimensions that are met, and the more strongly they are met, the What Is Motivation and Why Does It Matter? greater the motivation will be. Motivation can affect how stu- If students aren’t dents approach school in general, motivated, it is difficult, how they relate to teachers, how Four Dimensions of Motivation much time and effort they devote if not impossible, to to their studies, how much sup- improve their academic • Competence — The student believes he or she has the ability to port they seek when they’re strug- achievement, no matter complete the task. gling, how they perform on tests, how good the teacher, • Control/autonomy — The student feels in control by seeing a and many other aspects of educa- curriculum or school is. direct link between his or her actions and an outcome and retains tion. If students aren’t motivated, autonomy by having some choice about whether or how to it is difficult, if not impossible, to undertake the task. improve their academic achieve- ment, no matter how good the teacher, curriculum or school is. • Interest/value — The student has some interest in the task or Moreover, unmotivated students can disengage other students from sees the value of completing it. academics, which can affect the environment of an entire classroom or school. • Relatedness — Completing the task brings the student social rewards, such as a sense of belonging to a classroom or other Higher motivation to learn has desired social group or approval from a person of social importance Higher motivation to learn been linked not only to better to the student. academic performance, but to has been linked not only to greater conceptual understand- Sources: Bandura, 1996; Dweck, 2010; Murray, 2011; Pintrich, 2003; Ryan & better academic Deci, 2000; Seifert, 2004 ing, satisfaction with school, performance, but to greater self-esteem, social adjustment, conceptual understanding, and school completion rates. satisfaction with school, self- The interplay of these dimensions—along with other dynamics such Motivation often declines as esteem, social adjustment, as school climate and home environment—is quite complex and students progress from ele- varies not only among different students but also within the same and school completion rates. mentary through high school. student in different situations. Still, this basic framework can be help- Upwards of 40% of high ful in designing or analyzing the impact of various strategies to school students are disengaged increase students’ motivation. from learning, are inattentive, exert little effort on school work, and report being bored in school, according to a 2004 analysis by the National Research Council. The lack of motivation has serious con- Can Money or Other Rewards Motivate sequences. For example, in a 2006 survey exploring why students dropped out of school, 70% of high school dropouts said they were Students? unmotivated (Bridgeland, DiIulio & Morison, 2006). Some schools and districts have sought to motivate students to work Motivation is difficult to define and measure, but scholars generally harder by providing them with money or other rewards. Examples recognize two major types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. include programs that give cash to students for earning good grades, Intrinsic motivation is the desire to do or achieve something because reading books, attending one truly wants to and takes pleasure or sees value in doing so. after-school study sessions, Extrinsic motivation is the desire to do or achieve something not so demonstrating good atten- Proponents of using rewards much for the enjoyment of the activity itself, but because it will pro- dance and behavior, or to motivate students contend duce a certain result. The difference between the two is more like a attaining a passing score or that these programs can help spectrum than a divide; any action can be motivated by a combina- higher score on an important bring balance to an tion of intrinsic and extrinsic factors, and the same person may be exam. Examples of non-cash educational system that motivated differently in different contexts. rewards include giving cell- expects students to exert phones and phone minutes Students’ beliefs can affect their motivation. For example, students effort up front for the to students for good behav- who believe they have a limited capacity to learn or feel they are promise of rewards that are ior, test scores, attendance, unlikely to succeed often have problems with motivation. In a simi- or homework completion; delayed or difficult to grasp. lar vein, students who conceptualize intelligence as a fixed quantity giving pizza coupons to stu- that one either has or doesn’t have tend to be less motivated than stu- dents who make good dents who view knowledge as something that can change and grow. grades; or awarding students Researchers generally agree on four major dimensions that contribute who make the honor roll with certificates they can use for special to student motivation, shown in the box below. At least one of these privileges like an early release from school. This concept of providing dimensions must be satisfied for a student to be motivated. The more rewards as motivation is controversial, and the results of these pro- grams are mixed, or in some cases unevaluated. Student Motivation—An Overlooked Piece of School Reform Center on Education Policy 2Proponents of using rewards to motivate students contend that these The most successful reward systems, this study concluded, used near- programs can help bring balance to an educational system that expects continuous assessments of behavior, applied rules consistently, had students to exert effort up front for the promise of rewards that are strong alignment among school personnel, and rewarded behaviors delayed or difficult to grasp. Moreover, some proponents note, that were under students’ control. rewards have long been a part of education (think gold stars) and can Other studies have also found test score gains in reading for students help level the playing field for low-income students whose parents participating in reward programs. Some reward programs have also lack the means to offer them incentives for academic success. Some yielded improvements for some participants in scores on college advocates argue that pursuing a reward can change students’ behav- entrance exams or other standardized tests, although these gains were iors in positive ways for the duration of the reward program and per- mostly small, and there is little evidence that they were sustained in haps after the reward ends. Others point out that rewards may be the the long-term. Few studies have followed the effects on students for only way to motivate students to apply themselves to tasks that have years after a reward program ends. no value to them, such as taking standardized tests that have no con- sequences for students but are important for their school. On the whole, research shows that reward programs can have positive effects if they are implemented thoughtfully, carefully, and within a Many opponents, for their part, set of guidelines, and if they address the four dimensions of motiva- Rewarding specific actions contend that rewarding students tion mentioned above. For example, rewarding students for mastery for desirable behavior runs that students can control, of a discrete task, skill, or subject, such as reading a book or solving counter to the true goal of edu- such as completing a problem, works better than rewarding them for performance, such cation, which should be to homework, yields better as reaching a certain benchmark on a test. Rewarding specific actions develop students’ curiosity and results than rewarding that students can control, such as completing homework, yields bet- intrinsic love of learning. Some accomplishments that ter results than rewarding accomplishments that may seem beyond argue that when the reward pro- may seem beyond their their reach or out of their control, such as whether they earn an A gram ends, students no longer reach or out of their grade. Rewards that are too large can be counterproductive because have a reason to continue their students may feel pressured into taking part. control, such as whether behavior. Rewarding perform- they earn an A grade. ance is unfair, some opponents At the same time, poorly designed reward programs can actually say, because students who are decrease motivation if they are targeted at the wrong students, do not naturally talented will easily earn build on the four dimensions of motivation, or are implemented inef- rewards, while less talented students may try hard but still not qual- fectively. Mark Lepper and colleagues found that students who were ify for a reward. Some opponents also point to evidence suggesting rewarded for drawing drew more often, but when the reward was that extrinsic rewards can encourage a compliance mentality and removed, they drew less often than they originally had and were less decrease intrinsic motivation. likely to do so purely for pleasure later (Lepper, 1973). Other stud- ies have similarly found that rewarding students for activities they But do reward programs work? Answering this question is compli- inherently enjoy can decrease motivation. Finally, students who were cated by the fact that many such programs have been carried out in given a financial reward for solving a series of problems had a more just one district, school, or classroom, and even similar programs can difficult time when they had to solve problems that required a dif- be implemented differently in different settings. In addition, it’s ferent strategy, suggesting the reward had undermined their “cogni- important to analyze not only what happens to student motivation tive flexibility” (Rigby et al., 1992). while the program is in place, but also what happens after the rewards are removed. In general, studies of reward programs have shown mixed results. For Can Goals Motivate Students? example, a comprehensive study by Harvard economist Ronald Fryer (2011) of differently structured reward programs in four cities found Students who are not motivated by love of learning alone may do very different outcomes, depending on which behaviors were rewarded better in school if they can see learning as a gateway to something and how the programs were designed. Paying students to increase their else they value. Research suggests that goals can help motivate stu- test scores produced no improvements in test scores or grades, in part dents to work harder if cer- because students had little knowledge of how to control their test tain conditions are present. scores. Paying students for reading books and taking a corresponding The goal should be realistic, Mastery-based goals, which quiz produced the best results—a dramatic rise in standardized test achievable, and education- involve demonstrating scores which continued at about half the rate of gain in the year after dependent. The goal should increased understanding, the program ended. This latter program targeted the youngest stu- be suggested, or at least skills, and content dents and paid them for something entirely within their control. embraced, by the student, knowledge, are preferable to and the student must be able Another study (Raymond, 2008) looked at a diverse group of reward performance-based goals, to see a clear path for attain- programs in 186 charter schools; the specific rewards and program which involve reaching a pre- ing the goal. It also helps if designs varied, but most of the programs rewarded a combination of defined level of performance the goal is supported by peo- academic outcomes and behaviors. The only stable and consistent pos- or outperforming others. ple important to the student. itive effect across programs was an increase in reading achievement. Student Motivation—An Overlooked Piece of School Reform Center on Education Policy 3Mastery-based goals, which involve demonstrating increased under- tunities for students to demonstrate their knowledge with perform- standing, skills, and content knowledge, are preferable to perform- ance tasks or low-stakes tests before taking an assessment that counts. ance-based goals, which involve reaching a pre-defined level of Several programs have sought to improve the motivation of elemen- performance or outperforming others. Goals can actually undermine tary and secondary students by encouraging them to aspire to col- motivation, however, if they are too difficult, or if students feel that lege. For example, some philanthropists have promised to pay for a goal has been imposed on them or that failing to meet it would college for any student in a particular class who meets admission cri- have dire consequences. teria. Other programs have taken a more comprehensive approach Two common goals in education—passing assessments and getting by providing at-risk students with a range of supports to create a “col- into college—provide a useful lens for examining motivation. lege-bound climate” in elementary and secondary schools. These sup- ports vary but may include specialized college counseling, tutoring Most assessments appeal to and encouragement to complete the necessary coursework, visits to students’ extrinsic rather than college campuses, assistance with applications, and funds to cover While programs that simply intrinsic motivation. Some college entrance exams. encourage students to attend assessments provide direct college have had some extrinsic goals for students, Studies of these programs indicate that postsecondary education can such as passing a course or be a motivating goal if students receive supports that address the four limited success, the most gaining admission to a com- dimensions of motivation mentioned earlier. While programs that positive results have been petitive college. Other assess- simply encourage students to attend college have had some limited found in programs that ments, particularly those used success, the most positive results have been found in programs that helped students understand for school accountability, pro- helped students understand what they needed to do to get into col- what they needed to do to vide extrinsic goals for teach- lege and provided them with counseling, academic support, and other get into college and ers and administrators, who services to enable them to succeed at each step along the way. The goal provided them with may pass along the pressure of of postsecondary education is also more motivating if students can see counseling, academic these goals to students. There for themselves the value of attending college and if their peers and support, and other services are high-stakes and low-stakes respected adults support this goal. to enable them to succeed at assessments, as well as class- each step along the way. room and external assess- ments, that together comprise What Roles Do Parents, Family Background, a continuum of motivation. and Culture Play in Student Motivation? Assessments with high stakes for students—from a classroom test that Many studies have documented the strong relationship between fam- counts for a major portion of a course grade to an external state exit ily background factors, such as income and parents’ educational lev- exam that students must pass to graduate from high school—are gen- els, and student achievement, and the positive impact of parent erally considered more motivating than those with low stakes or no involvement on achievement. A much smaller body of research looks stakes, but this is not always clear-cut. While high-stakes assessments specifically at how various do spur some students to work harder, they can have a negative effect family background and cul- on the motivation of other students by evoking anxiety, frustration, tural factors, as well parents’ or fear of failure. And while some instructional practices used to pre- Reading to children, talking attitudes and actions, can pare students for high-stakes external assessments, such as providing with children about what affect children’s motivation to extra help for low-achieving students, would generally be considered they read, interacting with learn and succeed in school. positive, other types could decrease students’ interest and motivation. children about academics, Examples of the latter type include the elimination of interesting and and celebrating moments of Parents who are actively valuable content to make more time to teach material likely to be intellectual discovery are involved in their children’s tested or an excessive emphasis on drill-and-practice instruction. education and provide a stim- among the activities that ulating learning environment As currently implemented, most high-stakes assessments encourage a promote achievement and at home can help their chil- performance-based mindset rather than the more motivating mas- motivation. dren develop feelings of com- tery-based mindset. Of course, assessments serve other useful pur- petence, control, curiosity, poses, such as providing information about how well students are and positive attitudes about learning and which students need help. But if assessments are to be academics, according to various studies. Reading to children, talking used as a motivational tool, it’s important to consider which types of with children about what they read, interacting with children about assessments can provide useful information about students’ learning academics, and celebrating moments of intellectual discovery are and are aligned most closely with the key dimensions of motivation among the activities that promote achievement and motivation. discussed above. Motivational theory suggests that assessments that reward growth and effort encourage a mastery-based mindset and Parents’ beliefs and expectations also appear to strongly influence chil- therefore have a stronger motivational effect. More frequent assess- dren’s motivation. For example, parents who hold high expectations ments that start with easier goals and gradually increase in difficulty for their children’s learning, believe in their children’s competence, can build students’ competence and sense of control, as can oppor- expose them to new experiences, and encourage curiosity, persistence, Student Motivation—An Overlooked Piece of School Reform Center on Education Policy 4and problem-solving can help A variety of programs have been put in place to help low-SES and their children develop an Some parental actions, such minority parents create supportive home environments, share suc- intrinsic motivation to learn. cessful strategies, and encourage their children to see academic as praising children’s By contrast, parents who are achievement as a meaningful and realistic part of their group identity. intelligence rather than their controlling, use rewards and According to Ferguson (2007), some parenting intervention pro- mastery of knowledge and punishments for academic grams have produced moderately large achievement gains even in rig- skills, can send a message performance, or display nega- orous trials. But actions to address children’s beliefs about learning that intelligence is a fixed tivity or anger about academ- and foster supportive parenting must begin early and cannot be attribute—a belief that can ics can discourage children accomplished by schools alone. The solution, some experts suggest, lead children to avoid from developing intrinsic is not to blame parents for gaps in skill development but instead to challenges or fear failure. motivation. Some parental provide disadvantaged families with the broad range of resources nec- actions, such as praising chil- essary to prevent these gaps from forming in the first place. dren’s intelligence rather than Another line of research has their mastery of knowledge and skills, can send a message that intelli- explored racial, ethnic, and cul- gence is a fixed attribute—a belief that can lead children to avoid chal- Actions to address tural differences in students’ atti- lenges or fear failure. children’s beliefs about tudes that may influence learning and foster Creating a home environment that nurtures motivation involves children’s motivation to succeed supportive parenting effort for any parent, but it can be especially problematic for socio- in school. Findings from these must begin early and economically disadvantaged families—those with limited financial studies are often hotly debated, cannot be accomplished resources, low educational levels, single-parent homes, and other and recent analyses that look at by schools alone. stresses. Much attention has been devoted to achievement gaps current conceptions of motiva- between students from low-income and higher-income families, and tion through the lens of race, eth- between students of different racial/ethnic backgrounds. Similar gaps nicity, or culture are limited. have also been found between disadvantaged and advantaged chil- Some scholars, for example, have suggested that “stereotype threat,” dren in non-cognitive or “soft” skills that are critical to success in or a fear that poor performance on tasks may confirm negative racial school and later life—including motivation, self-regulation, and self- stereotypes, can undermine the competence of African American stu- esteem, as well as the abilities to work with others, focus on tasks, dents—or any other group faced with a task that can invoke a dam- and defer gratification (Heckman, 2011). Like achievement gaps, aging stereotype (Steele & Aronson, 1995; Aronson & Steele, 2005). these soft skill gaps emerge before children start school and persist as They note that stereotype threat can dampen students’ competence they progress through school. For example, one study found that stu- by heightening their anxiety, depleting their self-regulation skills, or dents from families with high socioeconomic status (SES) tended to spurring them to avoid challenges. approach academic challenges with a greater sense of internal control over success than students from low-SES families (Young et al., 2011). Other researchers have conjectured that a desire to maintain a distinct cultural identity in opposition to the dominant group can negatively Although the causes of gaps in achievement or soft skills are not fully affect academic motivation—most notably, when high-achieving understood, some studies have suggested that differences in parenting African American students are accused by their peers of “acting white” practices and social context are contributing factors. Children born (Fordham & Ogbu, 1986; Fryer & Torelli, 2010). But this conclu- into socioeconomically disadvantaged circumstances, particularly sin- sion has been challenged by researchers who cite evidence that both gle-parent homes, are less likely to have the opportunity to benefit African American and white students want to succeed in school and from the kinds of parental attention, activities, and resources that stim- that high-achieving students share similar experiences and challenges, ulate these skills (McLanahan, 2004). As summarized by Heckman, regardless of their race (Tyson, Darity, & Castellino, 2005). disadvantaged mothers, as a group, “talk to their children less and are less likely to read to them daily . . . and tend to encourage their chil- Several studies have explored how social and cultural context can have dren less, adopt harsher parenting styles, and be less engaged with their a bearing on students’ motivations or aspirations. For example, some children’s school work” (Heckman, 2011, p. 80). In other words, chil- researchers assert that experiences with or perceptions of discrimina- dren from disadvantaged families tend to have fewer opportunities at tion can damage the confidence of students of color and contribute home that foster competence, encourage them to find interest or see to academic disengagement (Graham & Hudley, 2005). Others value in learning, promote autonomous learning, or develop social maintain that social context can lead some children to perceive that relationships that support and value achievement. certain type of behaviors, such as spending time on homework, are pointless and “not for people like me” (Oyserman & Destin, 2010, Differences in parenting practices among low-SES or racial/ethnic p. 1002). groups are partly explained by disparities in social and material resources, such as disparities in income and accumulated wealth, parents’ level of Findings with relevance to both the parenting and cultural aspects of schooling and academic skills, and access to social networks and insti- motivation come from research that explores why Asian American tutions that control information or can provide assistance. students as a group have high academic achievement. Studies have found that, in general, Asian American students tend to attribute aca- These research findings do not mean that children from disadvan- demic outcomes to effort more than innate ability, a belief that is taged families are doomed to skill gaps and low academic motivation. associated with intrinsic motivation. Research has also found that Student Motivation—An Overlooked Piece of School Reform Center on Education Policy 5Asian American parents, on average, have higher academic expecta- found that 90% or more of the students who attended these cen- tions of their children than do parents of other groups, and that ters passed key state end-of-course exams (Kronholz, 2011). parental pressure and a desire to meet high parental expectations Programs focused on teachers recognize that teachers can influence appear to be primary catalysts of motivation among Asian American students’ motivation through their teaching styles, classroom manage- students (Eaton & Dembo, 1997). At the same time, stereotypes that ment, interactions with students, and expectations and beliefs. These all Asian Americans are high achievers can negatively affect the moti- programs typically provide professional development to help teachers vation of some Asian American students by making them anxious understand and use effective strategies to motivate students. Research about living up to this perception (Graham & Hudley, 2005). has identified several strategies and mindsets of teachers that can posi- tively affect student motivation, such as the following examples: Teachers can increase motivation by encouraging students to do • What Can Schools Do to Better Motivate their best, setting high expectations, allowing students some Students? choice where possible, and using lessons that involve higher-order thinking, collaboration, and student participation, among other Schools play an important role in boosting student motivation by strategies (National Research Council, 2004). picking up where parents leave off or stepping in when parents are unable or reluctant to be actively involved. Various elements of Teachers who are most effective at diagnosing and improving stu- • schooling, from teachers’ interactions with students to school organ- dent motivation tend to focus on interpersonal dealings with stu- ization, can have an impact on student motivation. dents, link education with things students value, and encourage autonomy more than control in their classrooms (Hardré & School-based efforts to improve student motivation generally fall into Sullivan, 2009). one of three categories: targeted intervention programs for students at risk, programs focused on teachers as motivators, and efforts to Students are more motivated by teachers whom they perceive as • reorganize schools. caring (Wentzel, 1997). Targeted intervention pro- According to a study of programs that provided intensive profes- • grams identify students who Schools play an important sional development to teachers, students were more engaged, per- are at risk of dropping out or role in boosting student formed better, and had higher self-confidence when their teachers who show other indicators of motivation by picking up emphasized student mastery over grades and performance and lagging motivation, such as encouraged students to take on challenges (Stipek et al., 1998). where parents leave off or poor attendance or a failure to stepping in when parents Teachers can also increase student motivation by reaching out to par- complete assignments. The are unable or reluctant to ents and encouraging their involvement in their children’s education. goal is to rekindle students’ be actively involved. interest in school before they Efforts to reorganize schools recognize that how schools are struc- disengage for good. Examples tured—their size, scheduling, climate, student groupings, and other of the many types of targeted aspects—can affect students’ engagement in learning. Schools have interventions used by districts and schools include the following: tried various redesigns to create more personalized environments and prevent students from falling between the cracks. Examples include An Ohio program for boys at risk of dropping out provided per- • breaking large schools into smaller schools or schools-within-schools; sonal motivators, participation in special extracurricular activi- “looping” teachers so they stay with the same group of students for ties, and close monitoring of students’ progress by a two or more years; and adopting block schedules, which allow more school-community team. After the first year of the program, par- class time for individualized or ticipants’ grade promotion and attendance rates increased and interdisciplinary instruction, suspension rates decreased (Hoke, 2008; Stephens, 2008). project-based learning, and Teachers who are most A program in the Baltimore City Public Schools identified why • teacher-student and student- effective at diagnosing and chronically absent students were missing school and responded student interactions. Some improving student with individualized interventions, such as mentors, home visits, schools have also sought to motivation tend to focus on meetings with parents, and involvement of service providers if establish relationships with necessary. The percentage of chronically absent students declined, interpersonal dealings with social service providers to dropout rates decreased, and the graduation rate increased students, link education address non-academic needs, (Sundius & Fothergill, 2010). with things students value, such as social and health prob- and encourage autonomy lems, that can sap motivation Districts in several states have instituted Performance Learning • or distract students from aca- more than control in their Centers, a model developed by the Communities in Schools net- demics. classrooms. work. These centers combine small classrooms with an online curriculum and teacher support and serve students who have poor Studies of these efforts at attendance, academic difficulties, or low motivation in traditional school reorganization show classrooms. A study of Performance Learning Centers in Virginia mixed results. While some attempts to create smaller schools have had positive effects on achievement, dropout rates, and school Student Motivation—An Overlooked Piece of School Reform Center on Education Policy 6engagement, others have been less successful. Key factors in success- dence outside the classroom. For example, the Baltimore Kids ful efforts seem to be the extent to which these schools incorporate Chess League gives inner-city students a chance to augment their personalizing features and ambitious instruction, have student-cen- learning through after-school chess programs, a summer camp, tered learning environments, and have high expectations for students. and chess tournaments across the country. Research has shown a In general, school-based reforms to improve student motivation have connection between participation in extracurricular activities and been most effective when coupled with high-quality curriculum, higher academic achievement, academic aspirations, and atten- instruction, assessment, and professional development or with social dance, although it is difficult to establish a causal relationship. services. Participation in extracurricular activities has also been linked to stronger social relationships, greater feelings of confidence, and in some cases lower dropout rates for at-risk students. What Nontraditional Approaches Can Creative educational uses of technology hold promise for • Motivate Unenthusiastic Students? increasing motivation for a generation of students who have grown up teaching themselves to communicate online, surf the Some students who can’t seem to focus on academics can spend hours Web, write blogs, or edit photos. Several characteristics of tech- outside of school on tasks they find engaging, be it video games, art, nology make it especially motivating, some scholars contend. car repair, or extracurricular activities. Districts, schools, and com- Video games can build a munities have tried a variety of creative approaches—ranging from mastery-based mindset by integrating community service with academics to incorporating social gradually increasing the Creative educational uses media into classrooms—to spark an interest in learning among stu- level of challenge, helping of technology hold dents who don’t respond to more traditional strategies. students visualize complex promise for increasing concepts, and giving stu- Examples of nontraditional approaches for motivating students motivation for a generation dents frequent positive include the following: of students who have feedback. Interactive and grown up teaching social media technology Inquiry-based learning provides opportunities for students to • themselves to communicate can stimulate the interest acquire knowledge and develop analytical skills by choosing activ- online, surf the Web, write of bored students and the ities that interest them. Instead of presenting material for students blogs, or edit photos. participation of shy stu- to learn, the teacher acts as a supporter and guide, encouraging dents. Web-based instruc- students to engage in self-directed thinking. Research suggests tion can motivate students that this approach has been successful only when certain condi- by creating more opportunities for active choice and collabora- tions are met: curriculum should be aligned with the knowledge tion. Educators around the country are incorporating technol- students are expected to learn and presented in the context of ogy into their teaching and a myriad of ways. Examples include real-world situations; problem-solving should be emphasized; and using video games to reinforce concepts in math and science or students should have frequent opportunities for collaboration. incorporating Twitter into a real-time discussion board during Service learning integrates community service with academic • class. Research on the effects of newer technologies for learning study. Researchers advise that for service learning to be effective is thin, however, and experts caution that how the technology is it must involve more than community service. It should also be used is the most critical factor. aligned with curriculum and academic standards, incorporate stu- dents’ opinions, engage students in reflection, and connect cur- riculum content to problems in the community. In a national Cross-Cutting Themes survey of service learning participants, students viewed service learning classes as more interesting and worthwhile than tradi- Our review of research on aspects of student motivation and efforts tional classes and felt the program motivated them to work hard to improve it reveals several cross-cutting themes: (Bridgeland, DiIulio, & Wulsin, 2008). Student motivation is not a fixed quality but is something that • Alternative education programs provide different learning envi- • can be influenced in positive or negative ways by schools, par- ronments for students who are struggling with academics or have ents, and communities and by individuals’ own experiences. behavioral problems. For example, students might be temporar- Research offers lessons on how and why students are motivated ily removed from their regular schools and placed in a setting that and what types of policies and practices hold promise for improv- provides additional counseling, behavior and stress management ing motivation. classes, and instruction in study skills and time management, in addition to academic instruction. One study in an urban district No single strategy will work to motivate all students. Motivation • found that students who successfully completed an alternative varies, not only among students but also within the same student learning program reported increases in motivation, self-esteem, depending on the task and context. Motivating students often and academic persistence (Nichols & Utesch, 1998). requires a combination of strategies that address the specific rea- sons why a student has become disengaged from school. Extracurricular programs can motivate students by providing • them with opportunities to demonstrate skills and build confi- Student Motivation—An Overlooked Piece of School Reform Center on Education Policy 7Allow students to choose whether to pursue a reward. Strategies to improve motivation should be implemented care- 3 • fully and thoughtfully. Effective strategies address some or all of Provide rewards promptly enough so that students see a clear 3 the four dimensions of motivation, including competence, con- link between their actions and the reward. trol/autonomy, interest/value, and relatedness. Effective school- based strategies to bolster motivation are often implemented in Have teachers or other individuals of social importance give 3 concert with changes in curriculum and instruction, faculty and out the rewards. student relationships, or school climate and organization. Take care not to condition students to depend on a reward. 3 Strategies that reward students’ mastery and growth appear to be • more motivating than those that emphasize the attainment of a specific performance level. Similarly, strategies that encourage per- If assessments are being used as motivational tools, consider these • severance, hard work, exploration, and creativity and that reward elements when designing and administering assessments: behavior within the student’s control appear to be more moti- Recognize that the most motivating assessments are those 3 vating than those that reward talent and intelligence or impose address the key dimensions of competence, control, interest or goals that students have not embraced. value, and relatedness. Improving student motivation cannot be accomplished by • Make students aware of what they need to learn to do well on schools alone. Efforts to develop motivation should begin early 3 the assessment. and address social factors that can sap motivation. Partnerships among schools, families, and communities can be effective in cre- Keep in mind that assessments which reward creativity, effort, 3 ating the conditions that develop and support motivation in chil- growth, and strategizing can have a stronger effect on motivation dren. than assessments that emphasize competition or performance lev- els. Many aspects of motivation are not fully understood, and most • programs or studies that have shown some positive results have Consider administering more frequent assessments that start 3 been small or geographically concentrated. Additional research and with easier goals and gradually increase in difficulty or providing programs would be helpful in expanding knowledge of how moti- students with opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge with vation works and which strategies are effective for increasing it. performance tasks or low-stakes tests before taking an assessment that counts. Recognize that high-stakes assessments, as well as some types 3 Actions That May Help Improve Student of test preparation that go along with them, can have a negative Motivation effect on the motivation of some students by evoking anxiety, frustration, or fear of failure or by causing some students to lose Although research on the impact of programs to improve motivation interest in instruction. is limited, our analysis suggests some ideas for actions that schools, families, communities, and others can take to foster students’ aca- demic motivation. The list below is just a starting point and is meant Give thought to adopting programs that encourage students to to stimulate discussion about a fuller range of options. Additional • view postsecondary education as a goal. These programs can be suggestions can be found in the six background papers on motivation motivating, especially if they incorporate the following aspects: that accompany this report. Provide academic, social, and other supports in addition to 3 IDEAS FOR SCHOOLS TO CONSIDER scholarships to ensure students who aspire to postsecondary edu- cation are prepared for the challenge. Think carefully about the pros and cons of instituting a reward • program to spur students’ motivation. If a school does opt for Provide access and encouragement for students to enroll early 3 such a program, consider building in the following characteristics: in the type of courses they will need to be ready for college. Reward students for mastering certain skills or increasing their 3 Provide students with information, advice, and guidance about 3 understanding rather than for reaching a particular performance college admissions requirements, entrance exams, applications, level or outperforming others. and financial aid. Target behaviors or tasks that students feel are achievable, 3 Create a “college-going culture” in which teachers, adminis- 3 clearly articulated, and within their control. trators, and other students reinforce the message that postsec- ondary education is a viable and important goal. Help students Reward tasks that are challenging enough to maintain stu- 3 understand how postsecondary education applies to their per- dents’ interests but not so challenging as to undermine students’ sonal life goals. feelings of competence. Consider offering rewards linked to academics, such as books, 3 rather than cash or non-academic rewards. Student Motivation—An Overlooked Piece of School Reform Center on Education Policy 8Institute programs to provide low-income and disadvantaged par- Recognize that using rewards and punishments for academic per- • • ents with information and resources to help them become better formance can discourage some children from developing intrin- “first teachers” of their children. sic motivation. Consider adopting programs to identify and address the academic Talk to your children’s teachers or school about programs to help • • and other needs of potential dropouts and other students who parents become partners in learning. show signs of low motivation. Be aware of who your children’s friends are and what messages • Provide professional development to teachers on encouraging stu- they are sending about academics. • dent motivation: IDEAS FOR COMMUNITY MEMBERS, POLICYMAKERS, AND Help teachers learn to identify students who are at risk of low 3 OTHERS TO CONSIDER motivation or have social, emotional, or developmental challenges that could affect motivation. Adopt policies and programs to provide disadvantaged families • with the resources they need to prevent gaps in achievement and Share ways that teachers can foster motivation in their own 3 non-cognitive skills from forming. teaching through such means as holding high expectations for all students, increasing students’ autonomy, emphasizing mastery Provide supports, such as scholarships, mentoring, and informa- • over performance, or creating an environment where students are tion about college requirements, to encourage children to set col- willing to take risks without fear of failure. lege attendance as a goal. Inform teachers about ways to effectively engage families in 3 Establish extracurricular clubs and other activities outside of • learning. school that can foster interest in academics and provide students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, with ways to Consider aspects of school organization that could improve stu- • demonstrate their competence. dents’ achievement and motivation, such as creating smaller schools or schools-within-schools or implementing block sched- uling or looping. Recognize that these approaches are most effec- Conclusion tive when combined with strong curriculum and instruction, teacher training, attention to school climate, positive faculty-stu- Student motivation is a critical part of success in education and later dent relationships, and other elements. life, but it has often been overlooked in the national push to reform Think about providing alternative learning approaches, such as • schools. The efforts now underway to raise academic standards, inquiry-based learning and service learning, for students who are improve the effectiveness of teachers, and identify and assist low-per- unmotivated in traditional classrooms. If these programs are forming schools are unlikely to increase student achievement if large offered, keep in mind that they are most effective when they are numbers of students are unmotivated. The time is right for a national aligned with a strong curriculum, are relevant and interesting to conversation about specific things schools, parents, and communi- students, foster connections between what’s being learned and ties can do to better motivate children and youth to learn, persevere, how it can be applied, allow for reflection and assessment, and and succeed in school and later life. emphasize problem solving and collaboration. Provide extracurricular activities that appeal to a range of interests • and encourage as many students as possible to participate. Investigate new applications of technology that can make learn- • ing and assessments more engaging to students. IDEAS FOR PARENTS AND FAMILIES TO CONSIDER Hold high expectations for your children’s learning and believe in • their competence. Emphasize effort over innate ability. Praise chil- dren when they’ve mastered new skills or knowledge instead of praising their innate intelligence. Encourage children’s curiosity, exploration, persistence, and prob- • lem-solving. Expose them to new experiences. Take an active interest in your children’s education. Provide a • stimulating learning environment at home, which does not have to involve elaborate resources. Make reading materials available and discuss new ideas or experiences with your children. Student Motivation—An Overlooked Piece of School Reform Center on Education Policy 9Hardré, P. L., & Sullivan, D. W. (2009). Motivating References adolescents: High school teachers’ perceptions and NOTE: For a more complete list of the information sources on which classroom practices. Teacher Development, 13(1), 1-16. this summary is based, see the reference sections at the end of the six CEP background papers on student motivation, available at Heckman, J. J. (2011). The American family in black & white: A post-racial strategy for improving skills to promote equality. Daedalus, the Journal of the American Aronson, J., & Steele, C. M. (2005). Stereotypes and the Academy of Arts & Sciences, 140, 70-89. fragility of academic competence, motivation, and self- concept. In A. J. Elliott & C. S. Dweck (Eds.), Hoke, W. (2008). Governor Strickland’s initiative targeting Handbook of competence and motivation (pp. 392-413). black boys shows some gains, coordinators say. Catalyst New York & London: Guilford Press. Ohio, 10(2), 18-20. Bandura, A. (1996). Social cognitive theory of human Kronholz, J. (2011). Getting at-risk teens to graduation. development. In T. Husen & T. N. Postlethwaite (Eds.), Education Next, 11(4), 24-31. nd International Encyclopedia of Education (2 ed., pp. 5513-5518). Oxford: Pergamon Press. Lepper, M. R., Greene, D., & Nisbett, R. E. (1973). Undermining children’s intrinsic interest with extrinsic Bridgeland, J. M., DiIulio, J. J., & Morison, K. B. (2006). reward: A test of the “overjustification” hypothesis. The silent epidemic: Perspectives of high school dropouts. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, (28) 129-137. Washington, DC: Civic Enterprises. McLanahan, S. (2004). Diverging destinies: How children Bridgeland, J. M., DiIulio, J. J., & Wulsin, S. C. (2008). are faring under the second demographic transition. Engaged for success. Washington, D.C: Civic Enterprises Demography, 41(4), 607-627. and Peter D. Hard Research Associates. Murray, A. (2011). Montessori elementary philosophy Dweck, C. S. (2010). Mindsets and equitable education. reflects current motivation theories. Montessori Life, Principal Leadership, 10(5), 26-29. 23(1), 22-33. Eaton, M., & Dembo, M. (1997). Differences in the National Research Council. (2004). Engaging schools: motivational beliefs of Asian American and non-Asian Fostering high school students’ motivation to learn. students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89(3), 433- Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. 440. Nichols, J. D., & Utesch, W. E. (1998). An alternative Ferguson, R. F. (2007). Parenting practices, teenage lifestyles, learning program: Effects on student motivation and self- and academic achievement among African American esteem. The Journal of Educational Research, 91(5), 272- students. Focus, 25, 18-26. 278. Fordham, S., & Ogbu, J. (1986). Black students’ school Oyserman, D., & Destin, M. (2010). Identity-based success: coping with the burden of “acting white.” Urban motivation: Implications for intervention. The Review, 18(3), 176–206. Counseling Psychologist, 38(7), 1001-1043. Fryer, R. G. (2011). Financial incentives and student Pintrich, P. R. (2003). A motivational science perspective achievement: Evidence from randomized trials. Quarterly on the role of student motivation in learning and Journal of Economics, 126(4), 1755. teaching contexts. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95(4), 667-686. Fryer, R. G., & Torelli, P. (2010). An empirical analysis of “acting white.” Journal of Public Economics, 94(3-4), 380- Raymond, M. (2008). Paying for A’s: An early exploration of 396. student reward and incentive programs in charter schools. Stanford, CA: Center for Research on Education Graham, S., & Hudley, C. (2005). Race and ethnicity in the Outcomes, Stanford University. study of motivation and competence. In A. J. Elliott & C. S. Dweck (Eds.), Handbook of competence and motivation (pp. 392-413). New York & London: Guilford Press. Student Motivation—An Overlooked Piece of School Reform Center on Education Policy 10Rigby, C. S., Deci, E. L., Patrick, B. C., & Ryan, R. M. Sundius, J., & Fothergill, S. (2010). Baltimore’s rapid (1992). Beyond the intrinsic-extrinsic dichotomy: Self- response strategy to increase graduation rates PowerPoint determination in motivation and learning. Motivation slides. From America’s Promise Alliance Grad Nation and Emotion, 16(3), 165-185. Spring Training materials. Retrieved from Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination Nation//media/Files/Our%20Work/Dropout%20Preve theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social ntion/Spring%20Training%20Materials/Sue%20Fothergi development, and well-being. American Psychologist, ll%20-%20national%20summit.ashx 55(1), 68-78. Tyson, K., Darity, W. A., & Castellino, D. (2005). It’s not a Seifert, T. L. (2004). Understanding student motivation. black thing: Understanding the burden of acting white Educational Research (46)2, 137-149. and other dilemmas of high achievement. American Sociological Review, 70(4), 582-605. Steele, C. M., & Aronson, J. (1995). Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African Americans. Wentzel, K. R. (1997). Student motivation in middle Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69(5), 797- school: The role of perceived pedagogical caring. Journal 811. of Educational Psychology, 89(3), 411-419. Stephens, S. (2008, January 24). Ohio education program Young, A., Johnson, G., Hawthorne, M., & Pugh, J. (2011). targets at-risk high school freshmen. The Plain Dealer. Cultural predictors of academic motivation and Retrieved from achievement: A self-deterministic approach. College plaindealer/index.ssf?/base/news/120116735630070.xml Student Journal, 45(1), 151-63. &coll=2 Stipek, D., Givvin, K. B., Salmon, J. M., & MacGyvers, V. L. (1998). Can a teacher intervention improve classroom practices and student motivation in mathematics? Journal of Experimental Education, 66(4), 319-337. Student Motivation—An Overlooked Piece of School Reform Center on Education Policy 11Credits and Acknowledgments This report was researched and written by Alexandra Usher, CEP research assistant, and Nancy Kober, a CEP consultant. Jack Jennings, CEP’s founder, and Diane Stark Rentner, CEP’s interim director, provided advice and assistance. We are grateful to Naomi Chudowsky, Lauren Goldenberg, Laura Hamilton, Andrew Przybylski, Richard Rothstein, Richard Ryan, Deborah Stipek, and Daniel Willingham for reviewing the summary papers which correspond with this report. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the Center. Based in Washington, D.C., and founded in January 1995 by Jack Jennings, the Center on Education Policy is a national inde- pendent advocate for public education and for more effective public schools. The Center works to help Americans better under- stand the role of public education in a democracy and the need to improve the academic quality of public schools. We do not represent any special interests. Instead, we help citizens make sense of the conflicting opinions and perceptions about public education and create the conditions that will lead to better public schools. The Center on Education Policy receives nearly all of its funding from charitable foundations. We are grateful to the George Gund Foundation and the Phi Delta Kappa International Foundation, which provide the Center with general support fund- ing that assisted us in this endeavor. © Center on Education Policy 2012 Center on Education Policy Graduate School of Education and Human Development The George Washington University 2140 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, D.C. 20037 Ph: 202-994-9050 Fax: 202-994-8859 E-mail: Web:

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