From Theory To Practice: The Power of Motivation


Students motivation has to do with their natural desire to participate in the learning process. It also concerns the reasons that underlie their involvement or non-involvement in different activities. Students can be equally motivated but for very different reasons.

Today, teaching is still understood, in most cases, like a process of pouring down information into the students heads while waiting for them to integrate this information on their own. If they manage to do that, we say that they are ‘good’ for science; if they fail, we say that they are not ‘talented’. This is essentially an empirical hit and miss process. The process of teaching science should take into account the complex mechanism of the creation of abstract concepts and of the associations that link a specific problem to previously assimilated concepts. Teachers should be as familiar to the cognitive bases of science as to the science they teach. The power of multimedia should be extensively used in teaching, but in a context appropriate to the cognitive mechanisms of learning and creativity in real situations. The fact that someone has good marks means that he or she may be quite smart, but not necessarily that he or she will be as effective in solving a problem in a real world setting as for a school problem.

The efficiency of this system is given mainly by the power of motivating students to work on their own. A student who is intrinsically motivated undertakes an activity ‘for its own sake, for the enjoyment it provides, the learning it permits, or the feelings of accomplishment it evokes’ (Lepper; 1988). An extrinsically motivated student performs “in order to obtain some reward or avoid some punishment external to the activity itself,” such as grades, stickers, or teacher approval (Lepper; ibid).

The term motivation to learn has a slightly different meaning. It is defined by one author as ‘the meaningfulness, value, and benefits of academic tasks to the learner regardless of whether or not they are intrinsically interesting” (Marshall; 1987). Another notes that motivation to learn is characterized by long-term, quality involvement in learning and commitment to the process of learning. (Ames; 1990)

According to Brophy (1987), motivation to learn is a competence acquired ‘through general experience but stimulated most directly through modeling, communication of expectations, and direct instruction or socialization by significant others (especially parents and teachers)’.

Does it really matter whether students are primarily intrinsically or extrinsically oriented towards learning? When intrinsically motivated, students tend to employ strategies that demand more effort and that enable them to process information more deeply. Extrinsically oriented students, on the other hand, are inclined to put forth the minimal amount of effort necessary to get the maximal reward (Lepper, ibid). Although every educational activity cannot, and perhaps should not, be intrinsically motivating, these findings suggest that when teachers can capitalize on existing intrinsic motivation, there are several potential benefits.

What can be done to help unmotivated students? Even when students use strategies that are ultimately self-defeating (withholding effort, cheating, procrastination, etc), their goal is actually to protect their sense of self-worth (Raffini; 1993). Classroom climate is important. We need to create an atmosphere that is open and positive. What is more, to reinforce motivation to learn, we should give them positive feedback that supports students’ beliefs that they can do well.

Having many students who value learning for its own sake – it is priceless.

Article written by: Malgorzata Zajaczkowska, Scientix Ambassador

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