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The Learning Classroom: Theory Into Practice

Expectations for Success: Motivation and Learning

Teachers can enhance their students' motivation by encouraging them to be thoughtfully and critically engaged in the learning process, by supporting their drive for mastery and understanding, and by helping them become self-confident. This program takes a second look at classrooms seen previously to show how motivational techniques work in concert with other learning theories. Stanford University School of Education Dean Deborah Stipek adds her insight to this program.

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Linda Darling-Hammond: Motivation is critical to learning. In order to learn difficult material, students must first become engaged and then persevere when they encounter challenges.

Although many people seem to think that motivation is something that students either have or they don’t have, their participation and interest varies dramatically from one situation to another.

What makes the difference? And how can we manage our classrooms so that students want to learn and are willing to put forth the effort to do so?

I’m Linda Darling Hammond, and that’s our challenge for this session of The Learning Classroom.

Three major factors have been found to influence motivation.

The first is what we call “expectancies of success” – what the learner thinks about herself and her abilities. If she’s in a classroom that enables her to feel competent, she’ll likely answer “yes” to the question, “Can I do this?”

Tthe second factor relates to the kind of task the teacher creates. Is it interesting, engaging, challenging, and well-organized to get students involved and keep them involved? If the task is genuinely interesting, students are likely to say “yes” to the question, “Do I want to do this?” The third factor relates to the classroom environment – does it support students in the process of learning and taking risks?

If students know they will get the assistance they need to succeed and they can try without fear of ridicule, they’re more likely to say “yes” to the question, “Will I be supported in learning this?”

Deborah Stipek, whose research focuses on motivation theory, explains:

Deborah Stipek, Ph.D., Dean, School of Education, Stanford University: Expecting success is absolutely critical. Children need to feel confident and they need to feel competent. Nobody likes to engage in an activity that makes them feel incompetent. And there’s no reason to try on something when you don’t believe that you are going to succeed on it. So it’s probably one of the most critical variables in motivation. And there are a number of ways you can promote expectations for success in your children and there’s a number of ways you can make them feel confident and competent about their ability to learn.

Linda Darling-Hammond: In this session we’re going to take a look at some classroom scenes we’ve seen before. Only this time, we’re going to look at them through this new lens of motivation.

Daryl Robbins motivates her 5th and 6th grade students in a classroom atmosphere where each member’s contribution is valued and respected. She skillfully uses peer teaching and group work to support every student’s success.

(classroom scene)
Daryl: Would this be sharing? “I’ll find Egypt and then I’ll tell you?”
Class:
 No.
Daryl: What would take place if you were sharing…

Daryl Robbins: Expert jigsaw equalizes learning a little bit, because regardless of your ability level, you’re still contributing to whatever the task was as a whole. So you know that without you we couldn’t have gotten there. Whether you’re more advanced and you did a huge chunk or you’re struggling and you just did a small piece, it was a piece.

(classroom scene)
Steven: Libyan desert, I found it! It’s right by Egypt.

Daryl Robbins: Kids are quick to thank each other for contributions. And kids know that everyone played a role regardless of ability level or, or other factors. Everybody helped us get to the point where we are now. And definitely I think that, that is a community.

(classroom scene)
Daryl: Israel. Give her a clue, in relationship to?
Boy: It’s west, it’s the country exactly west of Jordan, north of Egypt, south of Syria, southwest of Lebanon.

Daryl Robbins: It would definitely be faster if I just answered their question. But part of what I’m doing is not only helping that child to engage in dialogue with another child, but I’m also hoping that the child who answers their question will be kind of validating what he or she knows. In repeating something or explaining it, I think you’re solidifying what you know. So I’m hoping it will help both kids involved in that process.

I think when kids discover something on their own or with a friend, they feel like they own it. They are very proud of themselves. They’re proud of the group. They’re proud of the partnership. They’re proud of the process. And they can talk about the process in terms of how they got to where, where they are now. They can say, you know, at the beginning of the hour I thought this, but then I talked with a friend, and now I think this. I can’t believe I’ve totally changed what I thought. Or I’m, I’m different than I was an hour ago. If I tell them something, it’s, you know, are we gonna be tested on this. It’s, it’s more that kind of thing.

Deborah Stipek: It’s important that children be able to have opportunities to use their own learning styles, to use their skills, and if you have tasks that are so narrowly defined that you have to do it exactly one way, then kids who don’t have that particular skill and that particular way down very well, they’re gonna have difficulty with it. But if there’s some room for them to change the task around a bit to make it work for them, then they can succeed and they can have a sense of competence and expect to succeed in the future.

And you really got a sense that these classrooms were, had a culture of community of, of learners – really wonderful communities of learners where kids were sharing, collaborating, helping each other, using, being used as a resource for each other.

Linda Darling-Hammond: We can see how Daryl Robbins motivated her students by creating an activity where learning was the focus and everyone could succeed. Like Daryl, Mary Edmunds does not give her 10th grade students the answers either. Instead, her students must discover the answers for themselves, and they do so in a context where they can safely make mistakes and learn from them.

(classroom scene)
Mary: So since we are scientists ourselves, right?  We want to find out if it’s true that the cellular membrane is permeable. Means that it lets things in and out, right?  So we’re gonna use an egg, okay everyone?  We’re going to use an egg.

Mary Edmunds: You see in the classroom when I ask the students how would you get the membrane initially, that a lot of them thought, well I’ll boil the egg – because they took their past experiences. They boil the egg, they peel it off, the membrane’s right there. But I had to get them to understand that this is a living cell, and a living cell has cyto-cell…it has cytoplasm that surrounds the nucleus, so you can’t do that, so what are you going to do?

(classroom scene)
Group 1
Nichole:
 It’ll start cracking and it’ll start peeling off. You ain’t never boiled no egg have you?
Girl: Hard-boiled eggs, like what you do for Easter, like hard-boiled eggs.
Nichole: And after awhile it’ll start to crack.
Group 2
Girl:
 It could be like, maybe lemon juice.
Boy: I say vinegar.
Girl: Vinegar, not lemon juice?

Mary Edmunds: And see, I had the students decide how to dissolve it. And then that made them interested. If I would’ve just said, “Okay, today you are going to dissolve the membrane of an, of an egg in vinegar,” they would’ve said, “Okay,” today….And if I would’ve asked them two days later what did you dissolve?  What, what acid did you use?  They would say, “I don’t know. Whatever you told us to.” But see, now if I asked them, they would say vinegar. And I would say why?  Because the pH is low enough to dissolve the membrane, to dissolve the eggshell without effecting the membrane. That’s why I did that.

A couple of the groups broke their egg accidentally, and they thought, “Oh, the experiment is now a disaster.” But that’s, I wanted them to understand that that happens to scientists. That there’s limitations in life, but the scientific word is a limitation..

(classroom scene)
Mary: What’s the problem?  What happened, what is this, you’re a scientist.
Nichole: 
It’s a limitation.
Mary: Why is it a limitation?
Nichole: Because it was…
Girl: All the membrane of, the shell was gone for the…
Nichole: The membrane dissolved.
Mary:
 Okay, exactly, what is this?
Nichole:
 The membrane.
Mary:
 Okay, let’s look at it. Can you describe the membrane?
Boy:
 It’s rubbery, almost like a balloon.
Mary: So if it’s rubbery, do you think it’s, it’s got pores in it?
Boy: Yes.
Mary: But we can’t see them, how can we prove there are pores in this?
Nichole: With a microscope.
Mary: Without a microscope. How could you prove in your scientific investigation…
Girl:
 Because the vinegar got in…

Mary Edmunds: It was a perfect opportunity for them to see the consistency of the membrane and to see, they can’t see the pores. They cannot see the pores, but they’re microscopic.

Well, they, they read that, or they learned that in some past experience that we’ve done, because I didn’t lecture to that. So that, that was a learning experience for them.

(classroom scene)
Mary: What happened?
Girl: It broke.
Nichole: It um, it weighed more.
Mary: It weighed more. There you go it weigh…
Boy:
 So it blew up like a balloon…oh!
Mary: You got it!

Mary Edmunds: They have to feel secure in making a mistake and not thinking that they’re gonna be ridiculed by me or the other students in the classroom, and they have to be able to take chances. I, I don’t know everything. And the kids can ask me something, and if I don’t know it, and I tell them, you know, I’m gonna look it up, they feel more secure with me asking them questions, and them not knowing the answers. But the best thing to do is to go around and catch it. Catch them while they’re doing it and get, get them to think about it.

Deborah Stipek: The children were working on the egg membrane activity and the teacher walked over to them and asked questions. She didn’t tell. She asked. It’s a very important distinction. She prompted and guided the children in exploring and, and inquiring on their own, so that when they got to the solution and they understood something, again, they had a sense of satisfaction because they brought themselves into it. So the teacher’s role there was more of a coach, as a guide, not as someone who told them things that they wrote down.

Linda Darling-Hammond: Mary Edmunds’ classroom supports students autonomy. Rather than controlling the lesson and its outcomes, Mary invited the students to investigate on their own.

She created a task that was interesting and engaging, that gave the students a genuine question to answer, and that was something they could, with assistance, accomplish.

Deborah Stipek: The main role of the teacher is to create activities and tasks that are engaging for kids; to create a situation that provides them some room, to give them some opportunity to have some autonomy, some control over how they engage in the, in the activity;  to provide some scaffolding.

So the teacher there is not really giving the answer and telling the child to learn it, but is giving questions, asking questions that guide the child to help prompt them, help them figure things out on their own with just a little bit of help.

Linda Darling-Hammond: As we can see from these classrooms, designing a task that stimulates students desire to learn is terrifically important. Let’s look at another example.

In Don Johnson’s engineering class, his students are organized into companies that must pull together what they’ve learned in order to design and build a bridge.

(classroom scene)
Don: Because of the events that you are aware of (shhhhhhh!) that have happened recently, you know we’re at war, and a lot of planes aren’t flying like they were, so due to, that its harder to get the materials in. Due to inflation I’ve had to raise the prices on a couple of the items that you use the most. The lumber, instead of being $10,000 apiece, is now $12,000 apiece.
Class:
 (reacts in astonishment) Whoa!  WHAT?
Boy:
 How you gonna just raise the prices?  What if we won’t have enough money to get it done? Then what?
Don
I’m not giving anybody a loan. However, in the spirit of competition, everybody wants to see a good game, maybe one my companies that has a lot of money left might be willing to work out something with a company that doesn’t have any money.
Boy:
 Boardwalk needs what?
Girl:
 15,000.
Boy: 
That’s out of the question. I think we should give them like 10,000. And I think, which team needs 6,000?
Girl:
 Um, the Eclipse.
Boy:
 
The Eclipse company needs 6,000 dollars. Now, you think we can hassle that down to see how much money they really have right now to see if they’re asking for too much?
Don:
 Okay, I also need to know what is the span of the your bridge, which means how long it is. The span.

Donald Johnson: They can show me that they’ve learned everything that I’ve taught by creating something.

For example, in this particular project, everything that I want them to learn I’ll know if they learned it, because I’ll see a successful bridge that meets the specifications…it’s not even important whether the bridge wins the contest or if it holds more than one gram. Just that visually I see proof that everybody understood. Now because there is a group of five of them, obviously I won’t see a bridge unless there’s been some cooperation. So again it’s not something that is pencil and paper, and I’m going to mark off when they get 10% and 20%, it’s more of an application in the real world, because in the real world, the proof is that you did it.

Linda Darling-Hammond: It is clear that the students in this classroom are motivated by this task. By connecting the lesson to a real world situation, and by introducing real world challenges, Don Johnson has made an engineering lesson relevant and engaging to his students. You may have noticed something else about this lesson: Don was able to use cooperation as well as friendly competition in a way that was motivating and non-threatening.

Deborah Stipek: Where competition can be used productively and effectively is in collaborations where you have groups of kids that are heterogeneously grouped, where everyone has a fair chance of winning and any child on a given day has an equal chance of winning or losing, and they’re not always the loser or always the winner.

Whether they’re the winner or the loser depends to some degree on the degree to which they collaborate with the, with each other and can teach each other and take responsibility for each other’s learning.

Linda Darling-Hammond: Kendra Hearn also has her 12th grade English students working in groups, and she connects the lesson to a real world situation for them. In this case, her high school seniors are learning how to write and critique college essays. Writing is presented as a process of revising, reworking, and revising again. This allows the students to develop competence with support. Their learning is assisted, and they can focus on the work and their own improvement, not on the grade or their fear of failure.

(classroom scene)
Kendra: What I want to move into now is peer response, what we’ll probably do is a two part session on peer response.
What I want you to focus your energy on, because what I’ve been noticing about peer response sessions is a lot of us are still focusing in on fixing the essay. The point of peer response is to think about it, talk about your thinking, share your thinking with each other, and have this communal discussion about it, let the author listen in and process it through their thought processes and then go back. You ready? Okay, go for it.

Kendra Hearn: Today, students presented their drafts of their reflective essays in what we call peer response sessions.

And the structure of it is quite interesting, because it’s unlike other peer conferencing techniques.

(classroom scene)
Boy: Let’s see, I connected with you’re ah, improving over the year, on my writing. I also improved during this year, right. Um, all things that Mrs. Hearn taught us, the different stages that you use, and um, I actually disagreed with you on the pre-writing part. I actually, it actually helped me a lot. And…
Boy2: I just think it’s cool that ah, you actually talk about what type of methods help you write your papers out.
Kendra: The next step is what? Gotten some peer feedback on our drafts….Revision. The purpose of revision is what? Not just to correct grammar and spelling errors, but what? Okay, say that again, Jared.
Jared: Think about what people said.
Kendra: Think about what people said. What does your thinking need to be about any changes you may want to make.

Deborah Stipek: If you want to focus children on learning, on, on mastering, then you have to give them opportunities to not get it right the first time and to continue to work to be able to develop their competencies. Usually that first draft is not great, and it’s the second, sometimes the third, sometimes the fourth draft that you could really take pride in, that you can really feel like you’ve accomplished something.

The level of effort that a child puts into an activity influences the degree to which they have a sense of competence when they finish it.   And usually when an activity that requires a lot of effort, usually requires some revision, some changes, some, “Oh this isn’t working let’s try it a different way.” It focuses students on learning, understanding, and ultimately mastering rather than on getting it right all the time.

Linda Darling-Hammond: You may have observed how working with others toward a clearly articulated standard motivated Kendra Hearn’s students. What else motivated students in these examples?

Deborah Stipek: The children were not passively sitting at desks just listening, or even just reading. They were in…actively involved in exploring. They had problems to solve. They had materials sometimes. Or sometimes it was just their voices. They were exploring in conversation. But they were actively involved in the activities, and that’s a critical quality of an engaging task.

Linda Darling-Hammond: It is not enough, of course, for a task just to be fun. It also has to lead to learning that’s lasting. In Julie Helber’s fourth grade classroom, she engages students in guided discovery, so that they explore what works and what doesn’t in their investigations in science and mathematics. Because they have figured out the answers, they’re more motivated to remember them.

(classroom scene)
Julie: You have a lot of knowledge right now about static electricity. What I’m going to be giving you are some materials that you will be working with a partner to use. How can we use these?  Because in a minute you’re going to get to try these, but how are we going to use them? Matt?
Matt:
 Maybe try rubbing them together.
Julie: With that in mind, I need to create a chart that will show us our results.

Julie Helber: The students are constructing meaning by actually using these materials in a way that they have chosen, so I haven’t determined how they are going to use the materials and told them exactly what to do. Um, because I want them to err in what they are doing. I want them to see that they’ve tested or tried something that doesn’t work, because that’s really when they learn. And they can apply that to other situations. I think that if you can make a connection to the real world with what they’re doing, anytime that you are experimenting, if the students can construct meaning they are then able to apply that to a task that they may have, they may need to fix their bike, or they may need to do something with a toy at home, but they, if I tell them how to do it, it’s not likely they’re going to remember it later. But if they actually learned it while they were doing it, it is likely that they would remember it later.

When there are a variety of opinions regarding a particular topic, really, I think that’s the meat of teaching. The students interacting with each other, or I disagree with another student is probably the best thing that can happen in my classroom. You need to create an environment in your classroom that the students accept that. So it’s really important that the students feel comfortable enough in a classroom that they can go out on a limb and take a risk and make a statement. And then if somebody else disputes the statement and proves they’re wrong, they are able to handle that.

(classroom scene)
Julie: Yes, Brian, you want to explain?
Brian: Here’s, if you folded this they have too little. This one has too much, this one’s right.
Girl: Yeah, this one’s right, but these two are wrong.
Brian: Yes, this one has – they should take the half off of the eight… And put it on the seven and a half to make eight.
Girl:
 Yeah.
Julie:
 Okay, so if I did draw a line like this and gave that one, then would it all be divided in thirds?
Class: 
Yeah, yes.
Julie:
 
Take that line off, take that diagonal line off. So this line off and then we would have thirds.
Girl: Yeah.
Julie: Okay, good!

Deborah Stipek: I think another quality of the classrooms which was really outstanding, I thought, was the way students clearly had opportunities to learn from each other to get feedback that was critical from peers, and to feel comfortable with that. You don’t know exactly what happened before, but the teacher had developed a culture of the classroom where if you, another peer could give suggestions and that was helpful. That wasn’t failure, that was constructive feedback that could help you get it right the next time. Or there was dialogue; people could disagree with each other. And it wasn’t a put-down – it was simply a natural process of learning and under…and developing understanding.

Linda Darling-Hammond: Finally, in a supportive classroom, both teachers and peers help students develop their understanding. In Avram Barlowe’s social studies class, it’s clear that students’ ideas count – that they are important contributors to the process of learning for the entire group.

Avram Barlowe: They’re looking at the question of the freed men after the war in the context of the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln’s role, the slaves’ self-emancipation.

(classroom scene)
Avram: What, what about the people who passed these laws?  What do you expect from these people, but what should have been done with the people who passed these laws?

Avram Barlowe: There may be times when a kid says something, and another kid wants to respond to it immediately, and, and, and it’s, they’re supposed to wait, but you sort of feel like the dialogue between the two kids has to happen.

You have to be able to, to, to, to let that, to sort of cast out the, the line a little bit and then reel it back in, so that not everybody’s jumping in.

(classroom scene)
Jose: You shouldn’t be able to reap the benefits of something you were trying to destroy a couple weeks ago. That’s not right.
Michelle: 
The whole, part of the war was keeping the Union together, you know. You can’t, you can’t have a country together when you’re pushing away half of it, you know?
Matt: The black people?
Avram: No, I think she’s talking about the southern white people.
Michelle: No, I’m talking about the…
Matt: …Black people.
Michelle:
 But the black people weren’t as important as, like, the white people were. It’s a sad thing to say, but it’s true, you know. You had to keep the Union together, you have to have the Congress and senators from, you know the other states, you had to have representatives, and even if they did not agree with what you wanted, or like what you want for the country, or whatever, you still have to have it, or else there would be no Union. What’s the point of having a war over keeping them together if you’re gonna push them out after when it’s over?
(everybody talking over one another)
Avram: 
Go ahead Stephanie….SSHHH!
Stephanie: If you keep those same people in power, the same people that started the first succession, then you give them, you give them another chance to be in a place where they could start another war. Why would you do that?
Avram:
 Alright.

Avram Barlowe: It works very differently for very, for different kids.  I think one of the real strengths of this, of what, of what we’re doing methodologically with a diverse group of kids, is we’re, is, is we’re allowing kids to see that I can put out an idea and defend an idea in this classroom, even though I don’t necessarily feel like I read as well as this kid or as much as this kid, or I write as well, or as I score as high on a test, because here’s an issue that’s being posed here, I’m looking at something that I’m reading, I uh…I think I understand what it means, and, gee, I have an opinion about this that’s based on my experience, and I can sort of test my mettle here. And I think it’s a very empowering experience for kids – very important.

The whole process is empowering to different kinds of kids, sensitizing to other kids, um you know, I think that really everybody in there can see that there’s, that, that on any given day somebody can say something that makes you think about something in a way that you haven’t thought about it before. And it doesn’t matter who that kid is in the classroom. And that’s good for every kid in that classroom.

Deborah Stipek: It’s really important for children to have opportunities to develop their own passions, their own interests. And clearly we have a curriculum. There is a body of material, of, of knowledge that we want children to, to master. But to make school really engaging and exciting for kids, we also have to be alert to what those passions and, and enthusiasms and interests are.

Linda Darling-Hammond: Teachers don’t need to be at the mercy of some mysterious moment when students will “become motivated.” They can, in fact,  develop motivation in their classrooms by being conscious of how they help students feel competent, how they create tasks that are interesting, engaging, and accessible, and how they create the kinds of assistance with clear feedback and opportunities for revision that are necessary for students to succeed. Teachers can also increase students’ motivation by letting them make mistakes and learn from them in a supportive environment.

In motivating classrooms like the ones we’ve seen, where students learn to persevere as they encounter challenges, they gain skills that will help them achieve their goals both in school and in life.

This is The Learning Classroom. Thanks for watching.

“A lot of times people think about motivation as something that the student has – she’s either motivated or un-motivated. But we actually know that motivation is a function of what happens in classrooms. The way teachers construct tasks, the way they let students know about their competence, the way they scaffold and support developing competence, all motivate students, or if they’re done badly, they de-motivate students.”
Linda Darling-Hammond

Key Questions

  • What motivates us to learn?
  • How can teachers create motivating learning environments?

Learning Objectives

  • Influences on motivation – Teachers will understand motivation as something constructed by both teacher and students. Teachers will learn how students’ expectations for success and interests in learning can influence motivation.
  • Motivating learning environments – Teachers will understand the characteristics of learning environments that enhance students’ motivation, including building on students’ interests and strengths, offering choices, encouraging risk taking and improvement over time, and minimizing competition and comparison.

Video Program

Teachers can enhance their students’ motivation by encouraging them to be thoughtfully and critically engaged in the learning process, by supporting their drive for mastery and understanding, and by helping them become self-confident. This episode takes a second look at the classrooms of Daryl Robbins, Mary Edmunds, Don Johnson, Kendra Hearn, Julie Helber and Avram Barlowe to see how motivational techniques work in concert with other learning theories. Stanford University School of Education Dean Deborah Stipek adds her insight to this episode.

Session Content Outline

Key Questions

  • What motivates us to learn?
  • How can teachers create motivating learning environments?

Learning Objectives

  • Influences on motivation – Teachers will understand motivation as something constructed by both teacher and students. Teachers will learn how students’ expectations for success and interests in learning can influence motivation.
  • Motivating learning environments – Teachers will understand the characteristics of learning environments that enhance students’ motivation, including building on students’ interests and strengths, offering choices, encouraging risk taking and improvement over time, and minimizing competition and comparison.

Session Outline

  • Motivation to learn is more than simply excitement about a particular topic. Rather, being motivated to learn refers to the degree to which students are dedicated to and engaged in learning. A willingness to think through problems and work through challenges to achieve mastery of a concept or skill goes beyond simply having fun during learning.
  • Teachers can make learning more accessible to students. These practices include at least the following:
    • enhancing students’ expectancies for success by choosing tasks at an appropriate level of difficulty, scaffolding student learning, and communicating high and equitable expectations for all students
    • enhancing students’ interest and the value of the material being studied by relating classroom work to students’ experiences, offering choices, and assigning varied and interesting tasks that are active and authentic
    • creating a supportive learning environment that emphasizes learning and encourages risk-taking, not just getting the right answers; stresses improvement over time and provides opportunities for revision; and minimizes competition and comparison

Expectations for success: Can I do this?

  • Students who have confidence in their abilities to succeed on a task work harder, persist longer, and perform better than their less efficacious peers.
  • Contributions to students’ expectations for success:
    • students’ beliefs about intelligence and their capacity to improve their intellectual abilities
    • teachers enhancing students’ expectations for success
    • students witnessing their own progress
    • teachers communicating that all students can succeed and then enabling them to succeed

Interest in learning: Do I want to do this?

Students’ interest in learning is influenced at least by the following:

  • Students are more likely to be interested in a task that they find personally relevant or valuable.
  • Students are more likely to find an assignment interesting if they have a say or a choice in what they get to work on.
  • When teachers stress ideas instead of disconnected facts or procedures, they create room for students to explore and pursue their own curiosities.
  • When introducing a new abstract concept, or a complex concept, a teacher can help students understand better by drawing on experiences and concepts that are already familiar to them.
  • Students are more interested in tasks that are more realistic and challenging.

The Learning Environment: Is Learning the Primary Focus?

Characteristics of a classroom environments that supports learning:

  • Through their choice of tasks, approaches to instruction, and verbal interactions with their students, teachers communicate the goals of learning and how to be successful in their classroom.
  • The class focuses on activities designed to help students understand concepts, improve their thinking and analytical skills, and concentrate on a particular topic. The goal is to learn and gradually improve.
  • Goals are task-oriented, rather than ability-oriented.
  • Teachers help students focus on mastering concepts and skills by minimizing social comparisons in the classroom.
  • Teachers provide clear criteria on which their work is being evaluation. Feedback is frequent and mistakes are treated as opportunities to learn.
  • Students have opportunities to learn at their own pace and are able to recognize when they might need extra help.
  • Students feel that their teachers support them and care about them as individuals.

Conclusion

Students may enter the classroom with certain beliefs about themselves, but in a supportive classroom, teachers have opportunities to help them gain self-confidence and enhance their motivation to learn.

Key Terms - New In This Section

  1. Ability-oriented Learning – learning that is accomplished by activities that tend to highlight differences in students’ abilities and achievement. When performing well is the goal, students often lose sight of what they are learning – focusing instead on the easiest or shortest way to earn the grade and be deemed successful. (Ames, 1992; Eccles et al., 1998; Urdan 1997).
  2. Expectations For Success – the degree to which students believe they will accomplish a task or master a skill successfully
  3. Supportive Learning Environment – a classroom that emphasizes learning and encourages risk-taking, not just getting the right answers, stresses improvement over time and provides opportunities for revision, and minimizes competition and comparison (Blumenfeld, Puro, & Mergendoller).
  4. Task-oriented Learning – learning that is accomplished by activities designed to help students understand concepts, improve their thinking and analytical skills, and concentrate on a particular topic. Students get concrete specific feedback and revise their work until they achieve mastery (Ames, 1992; Eccles et al., 1998; Urdan 1997).

Questions for Reflection Step-By-Step Instructions

Step 1. The video segments in The Learning Classroom were taped as teachers worked in their own classrooms. As you watch, jot down the questions you have about what you see the teacher do and how the students respond.

Step 2. When you’re done, click on the episode title from the list and compare your questions with the Questions for Reflection and responses that our project team has anticipated.

Step 3. Review the responses we have prepared to questions that match the ones you have asked. The expert responses are not “final answers,” they are provided to give you a starting point for your own reflection. What else might you add to the response you read?

Questions for Reflection

Question 1: The students in the geography class seem to be enjoying the work they are doing in the “expert jigsaw,” but it appears they are essentially collecting sets of facts about countries. Is that what would be called an “authentic task?”

Response 1: We don’t know the full context of the research that the students were doing about different countries. Although the collection of facts in itself may not appear to be an authentic assignment, it could be part of a broader project that includes stronger connections to the world outside the classroom. In other episodes, for example, we saw students making presentations to their parents, college students and others. Those are just a few possibilities.

The teacher also has several other good motivating factors working, so the students are deeply engaged even though the immediate activities may not have very direct connections to real world situations. For instance, she is managing the situation so each student has both individual and group challenges with good supporting mechanisms in place so she and the students all expect success. For example, her “three before me” rule for getting help encourages a high amount of student-to-student interaction, and that’s fun as well as instructive.

Question 2: As students work on the “expert jigsaw” activity, each student is supposed to have a certain assignment within the group. How does the teacher really control that when some kids want to “show off” their abilities beyond their assignment? Others in such a group may become less motivated when that happens.

Response 2: A degree of teacher and peer regulation is very important for expert jigsaw activities to succeed. As an example, the teacher sets up the exercise with this question to the class, “Would this be sharing? ‘I’ll find Egypt and then I’ll tell you’?” She thus creates the proper culture for collaboration, and then personally monitors it. As they do more small group work, students get better at it, so they can regulate their own interactions according to the expectations set up by the teacher. In addition, when reviewing the specific assignments within each group, the teacher may also have an opportunity to encourage students who are easily mastering the material in one way to stretch in other ways. In other cases, it might be good to let some students “play to their strengths” to maintain the jigsaw within a very heterogeneous group.

Question 3: The biology teacher allows students to truly experiment – that is, she allows failures and helps students learn from them. How does she prevent students from carrying the “failure is fine” to an extreme – where students accept, and even aim for, failure because it might be “cool?”

Response 3: The teacher is accepting an experimental failure because she expects she and the students will turn it into a learning success. Failure is not the end but, used correctly, it is often the first step toward a success. Failure is accepted when it is clear the students are documenting what went wrong, considering ways to address it, and moving forward with a better understanding. For instance, when the egg broke she didn’t simply ask the group to start over. Instead, she seized the opportunity to consider the problem from an entirely different perspective.

Question 4: The biology teacher seems to be pushing the students with the broken egg pretty hard toward a correct answer – even dismissing one suggestion about “using a microscope.” How does that fit with the suggestion that students be given a lot of leeway to come up with their own hypotheses or solutions to problems?

Response 4: Every teacher has to make judgment calls every moment in class, and this teacher may have felt that this group – faced with what they perceived as a failed experiment – needed to get to an “aha” moment quickly to maintain their engagement. Her questions are a form of scaffolding that helped the students refocus on an important concept immediately. In another situation it might have been entirely appropriate to let the students brainstorm, try the microscope or other laboratory instruments,and direct themselves more toward a success.

There may have been other pragmatic concerns as well – such as the end of the class period looming – that led the teacher to quickly bring closure to the discussion.

Question 5: The eighth-grade technology teacher said each student had a specific task in building the bridge. What happens when one student just doesn’t hold up his or her end? Or worse, tries to cover a failure by talking down the whole activity?

Response 5: The teacher is managing the toothpick bridge project so it is challenging, but it does give the students a number of “lifelines” to keep their expectation of success high, even when they encounter obstacles. If a group has a “failure” in one area, for example, the teacher does not consider it a failure of all the group’s work – only a setback that might be overcome through collaboration or bartering with other groups, or as a last resort, teacher intervention.

When the classroom is an emotionally safe place for students to challenge themselves, the likelihood of one student trying to cover a failure by trying to disrupt the group becomes less likely

Question 6: It appeared that the eighth grade students enjoyed the negotiating part of the toothpick bridge project, and certainly that’s part of what makes the activity authentic. But how do bartering skills improve standardized test scores?

Response 6: The bartering isn’t just banter, although banter makes it more fun. As the students discuss trades, they are likely doing quick calculations on paper or in their heads and making estimates or projections. These are skills that would likely transfer very easily to many timed standardized tests.

The simulation is also giving students experiences that they may draw on when they study supply and demand in economics, trade negotiations in history or geography, and perhaps even principles of equilibrium or balance in biology. When they encounter these topics later, trading toothpicks will become one of those prior experiences that help make connections to new concepts. Toothpick bridges may not show up on tests, but those larger concepts are likely to.

Question 7: The high school students in the writing class were working on essays that appeared to be based on their personal experiences. How does the teacher motivate students to get past the surface – that is, to overcome their resistance to sharing their personal feelings or what might be embarrassing experiences?

Response 7: Sharing writings of any sort can be very difficult – regardless of the subject matter. The teacher has likely taken clear steps to address that issue by spelling out the rules of the peer discussions, getting agreement from the group about what can and cannot be shared outside the classroom, and making it clear that no one is required to push themselves to reveal truly private matters. For instance, by discussing the rubrics for assessing the writings and identifying such things as “hmm” questions, she can also focus discussion on the writings themselves and not the writer.

The teacher may also push students to “dig deep” by sharpening their observations of the immediate world around them. Every student comes to class with funds of knowledge obtained almost unconsciously from their family, ethnic, religious, neighborhood and school cultures. Sharing these in writings can be very powerful learning activities. And even when students appear to have very similar ethnic or religious backgrounds they will have unique stories to tell about some aspects of their lives.

Question 8: The high school history teacher tried to ensure that every student felt that his or her ideas counted – that was an important motivator to participate in the discussion.

However, not all students come to class equally prepared. Some will have studied the text closely, and others, perhaps, not at all. If all ideas expressed are considered equally valid, what’s the motivation to prepare for class, and how will they be prepared for other activities or assessments?

Response 8: It is true that every student has a chance to express an opinion, regardless of whether or not he came to class prepared. But the teacher manages the discourse to examine each opinion using the methods of inquiry of history – is it backed by evidence from the text or from some other recognized source or is it a logical inference from other known facts or assumptions that have been made. The teacher is constantly testing ideas and encouraging the class to test them using the same principles. Poorly prepared students may have the same right to state an opinion as that of a better prepared student, but the better prepared student will have a better chance of defending it. When students see that played out, it encourages those who want their ideas to stick – to do the homework first.

The teacher is still in charge of the discussion, and if, in his judgment a good idea is expressed, but the student is not prepared to defend it, the teacher can draw on others to help out. On the other hand, if the idea has little merit, it won’t get support and it will wither. Throughout the discussion the teacher is also very consciously separating the ideas from the persons expressing them – so there is no stigma if a student takes an intellectual risk and puts a provocative idea out on the table.

Although they may not be putting pen to paper, the students are engaged in very powerful pre-writing activities – organizing ideas, presenting evidence and expressing opinions – that the teacher can help them transfer to written assessments.

CONTRIBUTORS TO THE SESSION

Linda Darling-Hammond
Charles E. Ducommon Professor of Education, Stanford University

Deborah Stipek
Dean, School of Education, Stanford University

Daryl Robbins
Fifth and Sixth Grade Teacher, Birmingham Covington School, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

Mary Edmunds
Tenth and Twelfth Grade Biology Teacher, Detroit High School for the Fine and Performing Arts, Detroit, Michigan

Don Johnson
Eighth Grade Teacher, Columbus Middle School, Detroit, Michigan

Kendra Hearn
Former Teacher, West Bloomfield High School, West Bloomfield, Michigan. Currently professional development consultant, Macomb Intermediate School District, Michigan

Avram Barlowe
Tenth Through Twelfth Grade American history teacher, Urban Academy High School, New York, New York.

Transcript of comments by Deborah Stipek, Dean, School of Education, Stanford University

Excerpts from an interview with Deborah Stipek, Dean of the School of Education, Stanford University

Taped October 5, 2002

We often think of motivation as being a quality of a person. There are people who are highly motivated, and there are people who are less motivated. But anyone who’s seen a child in a different learning context move from one class to another, move from the regular class into the special ed class, you’ll see dramatic differences sometimes in children’s behavior. I have seen children who were quite passive, quite quiet in one classroom just come alive with energy in another. It makes me realize the degree to which the motivation is really in the context. It’s the nature of the task that children are involved in. It’s the quality of the relationships in the environment. It’s the opportunities that the child has to bring him or herself to the activity to participate. That’s where motivation lies. That’s not to say that there are not individual differences, that children respond differently to different situations. But that context is very powerful, dramatically different sometimes.

Expecting success is absolutely critical. Children need to feel confident, and they need to feel competent. Nobody likes to engage in an activity that makes them feel incompetent. And there’s no reason to try on something when you don’t believe that you are going to succeed on it. So it’s probably one of the most critical variables in motivation. And there are a number of ways you can promote expectations for success in your children, and there’s a number of ways you can make them feel confident and competent about their ability to learn. There are some wonderful examples in the tapes. For example, children had opportunities to produce products that they could feel proud of, that they could stand back and look at. So the bridges, for example, was a wonderful activity – where it gives you a real sense of pride and satisfaction when you’ve created something that is a visual, especially if it’s something that’s very difficult, that you have to start from the beginning, and create and develop over a period of time. The other thing that I saw in those tapes was the children had a lot of opportunity to have some autonomy – so that they could really take ownership of their successes. When they did understand something, when they did solve a problem, they didn’t do it because they were coached every minute of the way. They need to play around themselves. So when they really understood something they could feel a sense of accomplishment, a sense of pride in their own understanding. Another thing that I saw on the tapes was that children were able to venture their own opinions. They were able to participate, and they were able to contribute. There were a variety of ways, for example, in the discussion on race in the last tape – where every child got to participate and feel competent in that context. It wasn’t just one or two children who were answering the questions. And one of the teachers at the very beginning pointed out it’s important that children be able to have opportunities to use their own learning styles, to use their skills – and if you have tasks that are so narrowly defined that you have to do it exactly one way, then kids who don’t have that particular skill and that particular way down very well, they’re going to have difficulty with it. But if there’s some room for them to change the task around a bit to make it work for them, then they can succeed, and then they can have a sense of competence and expect to succeed in the future.

If people don’t expect to succeed on a task, they don’t try.  There’s no reason to try if you don’t think you can do it. So it’s critical that children feel that they can, in fact, attack an activity or attack a task and achieve it and finish it and feel successful.

One of the most important things is that the activities and the tasks that children get need to be ones that they can complete. If they’re too difficult, then they’re not going to experience success, and they’re not going to be able to complete, and they know that, so they’re not going to try very hard. Another thing they need to do is make sure that they’re challenged, though, because we don’t feel a sense of success. We don’t feel our competencies learning, growing if we have tasks that are always too easy for us. So it’s that “just right” level of challenge that is really important for children to have a sense of confidence and competence, because they can achieve, they can learn, they can succeed, but they have to put a little effort into it, so they really have a sense of pride and accomplishment when they finish.

Well, I think in the tapes there were some wonderful examples of ways in which the teachers provided students an opportunity to feel competence, to feel satisfaction and pride in what they were doing, which promotes high expectations for success. In one of the tapes they were building a bridge, so the children actually had a product that they could stand back and look at and take satisfaction in. And it was a difficult task, and I suspect that, although we didn’t see the whole process, I suspect it took them a while to actually get it to work. So that increases the level of satisfaction and confidence in being able to do hard things. The other thing that most of the teachers did is give children a fair amount of autonomy, so that when they did succeed, they could take ownership of it. They could feel responsible for their success. You don’t feel confident or competent if you succeed or learn something when somebody has guided you all the way at every single step. So you really don’t feel like you had any say or any input into the process.

And nobody likes to be told exactly what to do, when to do it, and how to do it every minute of the day. You don’t enjoy that, and kids don’t either. They want to have some opportunity to make their own decisions. We saw a number of examples in the classrooms where kids had lots of space to bring themselves into the activity. One of the teachers who was doing the static electricity experiment actually articulated the importance of letting children figure things out on their own, try their own experiments, fail sometimes, but have some sense of autonomy and control over the situation. The teacher didn’t say now do this, now do that, write down what you found. She basically gave them some materials, gave them a problem to solve, and let them figure out how to solve it. That’s much more motivating than having everything structured for you.

Well, the main role of the teacher is to create activities and tasks that are engaging for kids; to create a situation that provides them some room, to give them some opportunity to have some autonomy, some control over how they engage in the activity;  to provide some scaffolding. In one of the classrooms the children were working on the egg membrane activity, and the teacher walked over to them and asked questions. She didn’t tell. She asked. It’s a very important distinction. She prompted and guided the children in exploring and inquiring on their own, so that when they got to the solution and they understood something, again they had a sense of satisfaction, because they brought themselves into it. So the teacher’s role there was more of a coach, as a guide, not as someone who told them things that they wrote down.

One of the things you’d notice in the classrooms is that the activities were very active. The children were not passively sitting at desks just listening, or even just reading. They were actively involved in exploring. They had problems to solve. They had materials sometimes. Or sometimes it was just their voices. They were exploring in conversation. But they were actively involved in the activities and that’s a critical quality of an engaging task. It doesn’t necessarily have to be hands-on in the sense of manipulating materials – although we saw several examples of that in the egg membrane activity and children were looking at globes. So they were exploring, they were using materials, but in a couple of situations the kids were just talking to each other. They were exploring ideas – sharing ideas, and that’s an active role of the child, and the teacher’s task is to set up opportunities for children to engage in that kind of activity. And I just want to say one other thing about those classrooms that are really noteworthy.  When you walk in those classrooms, they’re not quiet. There’s a buzz. There’s an energy. I like to call it controlled chaos. It’s not really chaos; it’s actually quite orderly if you look closely. And the students are very engaged in what they’re doing. They’re very focused on learning. But, there’s a movement. They’re not sitting still. They’re moving around. They’re sometimes talking at the same time. That’s when you know kids are motivated is when you have that kind of buzz, that energy in a classroom.

There’s one other quality of the activities that I thought were very nicely illustrated in the classrooms that we saw, and that is that the work was connected to the real world. In a number of cases the learning the children were doing was embedded in a task that was very much like the real world. So, for example, I don’t know if it was a math lesson or an economics lesson, but apparently the kids were involved in creating a company and really having to deal with the real world kinds of experiences like inflation, and figure out how to make sense of that. They were working with eggs. They were building bridges. They were doing things that were not so divorced, so separate, so different from what they experience in the real world. That’s something that motivates kids.

One quality of the learning activities that children in the classrooms we observed is that they were inquiring. They were actually, in many cases acting like scientists. They were learning like scientists. They had a question or a problem that was posed. They were trying to figure out hypotheses. They were figuring out themselves how they might test those hypotheses, and then they were looking at what the outcome was. So they had an experience that is very much like a scientific inquiry. And I think that people are more engaged and more excited about learning when they go through that inquiry process than when they’re simply told things and have to write them down and learn them.

If you think about it, there was no failure in those classrooms. There was no real opportunity to fail. There were opportunities to not get it right. I mean, the bridge probably fell down a few times in those experiments, and kids disagreed with each other. And when they wrote their stories the student who was giving them feedback had suggestions. But it’s not failure in the sense as, “Oh, I failed, it’s over.” It was enroute to learning or success. So it was a more normal process in which failure wasn’t something that happened, it was just mistakes. It didn’t work the first time, and I just stuck with it, or we stuck with it in our group until we got it right. So in many respects those classrooms just didn’t have failure. I think another quality of the classrooms which was really outstanding, I thought, was the way students clearly had opportunities to learn from each other to get feedback that was critical from peers, and to feel comfortable with that. You don’t know exactly what happened before, but the teacher had developed a culture of the classroom where another peer could give suggestions, and that was helpful. That wasn’t failure – that was constructive feedback that could help you get it right the next time. Or there was dialogue; people could disagree with each other. And it wasn’t a put-down; it was simply a natural process of learning and developing understanding.

I really liked the teacher who mentioned that she modeled not knowing things. You know, in a lot of classrooms kids feel like they’re supposed to know the answers always, because the teacher always knows the answer. And sometimes teachers won’t admit it when they don’t know the answer. This teacher went out of her way to say, “I don’t know the answer to that, but let me find out, or let’s find out together.” That’s really important, because it gives students the message that it’s okay not to know the answers. If you don’t, you find it out.

Competition typically is not very good in classrooms. The reason is that children usually aren’t starting on equal footing. And when you have a competitive situation, somebody has to fail, somebody has to lose. And if it’s always the same child with the same group of children it’s very de-motivating and very discouraging. And that’s very common in classrooms that it is the same group of kids or the same child sometime who win those competitions, who does better than the other kids. Where competition can be used productively and effectively is in collaborations where you have groups of kids that are heterogeneously grouped – where everyone has a fair chance of winning, and any child on a given day has an equal chance of winning or losing, and they’re not always the loser or always the winner, because whether they’ll win or they’ll lose depends to some degree on the degree to which they collaborate with each other and can teach each other and take responsibility for each other’s learning. So I think collaborative opportunities, heterogeneous grouping, competition among teams, can be very energizing for kids, especially if there’s no opportunities for put-downs and for feeling badly if you don’t win the competition. It can be done badly, and it can be done well. But that can be energizing for kids. One of the things that I was really struck by in the classrooms that we saw was to what degree children did collaborate with each other. And you really got a sense that these classrooms had a culture of community of learners – really wonderful communities of learners – where kids were sharing, collaborating, helping each other, being used as a resource for each other. And I didn’t see any examples of children putting each other down or being less than supportive of other kids. You got a sense that this classroom was working together, that these kids were working together to learn together and to succeed together.

If you want to focus children on mastering, then you have to give them opportunities to not get it right the first time and to continue to work to be able to develop their competencies. Usually that first draft is not great, and it’s the second, sometimes the third, sometimes the fourth draft that you could really take pride in, that you can really feel like you’ve accomplished something. The level of effort that a child puts into an activity influences the degree to which they have a sense of competence when they finish it.  And usually when an activity that requires a lot of effort, usually requires some revision, some changes, some, “Oh, this isn’t working, let’s try it a different way,” it focuses students on learning, understanding, and ultimately mastering, rather than on getting it right all the time.

For students to expect to succeed, they need to experience success. They need to have tasks and activities that they are able to complete. Clearly, if you give students tasks that they can’t do, they’re not going to expect success. But they also need to be challenged a little bit. If they get tasks that are too easy for them, they may develop some sense of confidence, and they’ll expect to succeed, but as soon as they encounter a little bit of difficulty, that confidence erodes immediately. It’s paper thin. So they have to have opportunities to be challenged, to have a little bit of difficulty and to persist and overcome that difficulty. And it’s in overcoming, it’s in the persistence in overcoming the difficulty that you really develop a sense of competence and confidence that in the future, when you’re challenged, when you’re having a little bit of difficulty, you can make it if you hang in there.

One of the things teachers need to do is just choose their activities and choose their tasks very carefully. This is difficult when you have a classroom with children with very different achievement levels or skill levels. Having every child be a little bit challenged, but be able to succeed on the task is not so easy when you have some children who are as much as a grade level or two grade levels above or below the other children. That usually requires having tasks that are a little bit open ended, that children can come into and solve and, and deal with using the skills that they have. If there’s only one way to do a task, then some kids are going to be able to get it and some kids aren’t. But if there’s a little bit of flexibility so that activity can be completed at different levels with different learning styles, then all children have an opportunity to succeed. The other thing that teachers can do is essentially scaffold. Sometimes, I’m sure we’ve all had an experience of asking a question and the person doesn’t know the answer. But sometimes if you ask a few follow-up questions, give a few hints, they will be able to figure it out in the end. So the teacher there is not really giving the answer and telling the child to learn it, but is asking questions that guide the child to help prompt them, help them figure things out on their own with just a little bit of help.

There are a couple things that teachers can do to make tasks more interesting. One is to give children some control over the activity so that they’re not told exactly what to do and how to do it. Give them some more room to bring themselves into the activity. And maybe even their own interests into the activity, their own styles. People enjoy working on things more when they feel like they have some control over it than they do when they feel like they’re told exactly what to do and how to do it. So creating opportunities for children to have some opportunity to make choices in the learning situation and in the task. Another thing is to provide kids with opportunities to collaborate – to interact with each other. They like to do that. We saw many examples of that in the classrooms that we observed. In fact, I believe in almost every one, kids either worked in pairs or in small groups, or they were engaging in a whole group, but they were participating and talking to each other. So there was a sense of collaboration and involvement among peers. It wasn’t the teacher talking, the student answering, the teacher talking, a student answering. It was a conversation or an active collaboration.

It’s really important for children to have opportunities to develop their own passions, their own interests. And clearly we have a curriculum. There is a body of material, of knowledge that we want children to master. But, to make school really engaging and exciting for kids we also have to be alert to what those passions, and enthusiasms, and interests are. and when we can – and we can’t always do it – try to work them in and give them opportunities to explore and develop them. And sometimes they can be worked in – into the predetermined curriculum and instructional program.

Teachers need to make sure that students learn to support each other, and I think it was clear the teachers were successful at that in the classrooms that we observed. Kids helped each other. They served as a resource for each other. I saw no examples of kids putting each other down or making fun of each other for making mistakes or not getting it right or not getting it the first time. Teachers can create a culture in their classroom of a community of learners, of people who are all together trying to understand something or some things. And they’re responsible for each other’s learning. They’re not only responsible for their own learning, but they’re responsible for the other kids who are collaborating with them.

There are a variety of ways in which teachers allowed students to succeed and to feel a sense of mastery and a sense of competence. In one case, the children were building a bridge. So they could stand back and see a product that they had produced over some time and with some effort. They also allowed students some opportunities to bring their own learning styles to the activity. I think the first teacher actually articulated this, that it was important to give enough room for children in an activity to bring their own style of learning to it – so they could play to their strengths, rather than being in a situation where they didn’t have exactly the right skill that was required for the way that the task had been structured. They wouldn’t be able to do it.

I think often in our concern for kids’ self-esteem, their sense of confidence and competence, we’re afraid to let them fail. We want to make sure that they always succeed, when in fact that’s not real life. And kids who develop a sense of competence only on the basis of constant success don’t have very robust confidence. It’s fragile confidence. And when children like that encounter difficulty they sometimes fall apart. So what’s important is not that they succeed all the time, but that they are challenged, have opportunities to fail, and find out that if they stick with it, they will succeed eventually. That way, when they encounter difficulties in life, they’re not going to give up easily. They’re going to have learned that sometimes success requires some effort and some persistence. And sometimes it can be a challenge. That’s the kind of self-confidence, robust self-confidence that stands up to challenges that we really want to promote in our children.

Teachers’ own enthusiasm is absolutely critical. If they’re not interested in the topic, then the children won’t be interested in the topic. It’s amazing how children will pick up their queues from the level of energy and enthusiasm that the teacher has. So it’s really important to let children know that you think this is a cool experiment, too. That you’re learning from it. Or to share the experiences that you’ve had of learning, even if they’re not directly related to the particular activity or task at hand – to show them that you get excited about learning, that it’s cool and it’s fun.

I think one of the ways in which I’ve seen a pendulum swing is from a belief that children need to construct everything on their own; that they’re only motivated in a kind of free-for-all where the teacher’s role is to put materials out, give children activities, and then let them somehow construct an understanding of static electricity, or membranes. What we observed in the classrooms that we saw was not a free-for-all. It was not children constructing completely on their own. It was structured. The teacher had a very active role. She was teaching; not in a didactic way.  The teachers were not telling them things that they had to memorize or giving them rules that they had to apply. But the teacher was guiding, prompting, giving hints, and in a variety of ways, helping them construct that knowledge. So it was a very nice balance between children constructing their understanding, but under the guidance in a very carefully structured task. So the teacher had a very important role – not a passive role – but not a didactic, all-controlling role.

The neat thing about motivation theory is that everything that applies to kids also applies to grown-ups. It applies to teachers. It applies to administrators. If we want teachers to motivate students, then we have to create schools that are motivating to teachers. We have to create schools where teachers have opportunities to feel competent and to be able to expect success and to have the supports they need to be able to be confident and be successful. We have to have schools in which teachers have some sense of control and autonomy, where they have some room to play around and not be told exactly what to do, when to do it and how to do it – just the way kids are not going to be motivated when they’re told what to do, and how to do it, and when to do it. Schools need to be organized to provide opportunities for collaboration, because teachers enjoy that and learn from it just the way kids do. Schools need to provide scaffolding for teachers so that they have opportunities to develop competencies and to be successful. So really, I think what I would say is – take all of the principles that we’ve learned about creating a classroom that is engaging and motivating for children and think about how schools can be organized to provide all of the same things for teachers.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Web-Based Readings

Lumsden, L. (1994, June). Student motivation to learn. ERIC Digest, (92) EDO-EA-94-7.
http://eric.uoregon.edu/pdf/digests/digest092.pdf
This reader-friendly article summarizes research on motivation.
Snowman, J. & Biehler, R. (1997). Motivation: excerpts from chapter 11 of Psychology applied to teaching, Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
http://college.hmco.com/education/pbl/tc/motivate.html
This is an indexed series of sections from a textbook that defines motivation, summarizes viewpoints about it, and offers classroom suggestions.

Related Links

Patterns of Adaptive Learning
www.umich.edu/~pals/
This Web site, developed by scholars at the University of Michigan, includes reports and publications about research in adolescent development and motivation. Included are links to other resources related to motivation research.

Information on Self-Efficacy: A community of scholars
www.emory.edu/EDUCATION/mfp/effpage.html
This is a Web site on “self-efficacy” (the belief in one’s abilities to handle a situation), created by researchers at Emory University. The site has links to definitions, examples, and research.

Sessions