Motivating Students to Learn

Motivating Students to Learn

Motivating Students to Learn

Motivating Students to Learn


Written specifically for teachers, this book offers a wealth of research-based principles for motivating students to learn within the realities of a classroom learning community. Its focus on motivational principles rather than motivational theorists or theories leads naturally into discussions of specific classroom strategies. Throughout the book the author focuses on and expertly synthesizes that portion of the motivational literature that is most relevant to teachers. Key features of this expanded new edition include: *Focus on School and Classroom Realities --The selection and treatment of motivational principles and strategies is constantly tied to the realities of schools (e.g., curriculum goals) and classrooms (e.g., student differences, classroom dynamics). *Integrates Intrinsic and Extrinsic Principles --The author employs an eclectic approach to motivation that shows how to effectively integrate the use of intrinsic and extrinsic strategies. *Covers Expectancy and Value-Related Topics --Full coverage is given to both the expectancy aspects of motivation (attributions, efficacy perceptions, expectations, confidence, etc) and to value-related topics (relevance, meaningfulness, application potential) and to their associated teacher-student dynamics. *New Chapters --Two theories that have spurred much education-related motivational research in recent years (self-determination theory and achievement-goal theory) have been given their own chapters. *Focus on Individual Differences and Problem Learners --Guidelines are provided for adapting motivational principles to group and individual student differences and for doing "repair work" with students who have become discouraged or disaffected learners. *Expanded Topical Coverage --Expanded coverage has been given to several emerging topics, including self-identity concepts, cross-cultural comparisons, situational interest, stereotype threat, and the rediscovery of John Dewey's motivational ideas. *Improved Pedagogy --Chapter and section introductions and summaries provide an unusual degree of continuity across the book, and its second person writing style is more reader friendly than most textbooks. New to this edition are reflection questions at the end of each chapter. This book is appropriate for any course in the undergraduate or graduate teacher education curriculum that is devoted wholly or partly to the study of student motivation.


This book offers principles and strategies to use in motivating students to learn. It is not a “bag of tricks” developed from my own personal philosophy or culled randomly from everywhere. Instead, it is the product of a systematic review of the motivational literature followed by synthesizing efforts that involved: identifying those portions of this vast literature that are most relevant to teachers; summarizing this relevant material using a basic vocabulary to counteract the proliferation of multiple terms for the same basic concept; and organizing the material within a few categories that are rooted in motivational theory and research but also supportive of teachers' efforts to incorporate motivational principles into their instructional planning.

My treatment of relatively obvious principles (e.g., warm, caring teachers are more likely to be successful motivators than indifferent or rejecting teachers) emphasizes their fundamental importance but does not go on to include unnecessarily detailed explanation or documentation. More detail is provided for less obvious and familiar principles, although even here I have focused on key ideas and application guidelines rather than providing broad coverage of the history and development of related theory and research. Similar concepts are treated together with emphasis on their common implications, avoiding “distinctions without difference. ”

Much of the scholarly literature on motivation has limited relevance to teachers because it deals with animals rather than humans or uses differences in individuals' motivational systems to predict differences in their behavior (e.g., students who value success and do not fear failure are more likely to prefer challenging tasks than students with the opposite motivational pattern). Concepts such as success seeking or failure avoidance are useful to the extent that they help teachers to understand their students' current motivational orientations and related behavior. However, teachers mostly need to learn strategies for socializing their students' motivational orientations toward optimal patterns (in this example, strategies for helping students to reduce their fear of failure and become more persistent in their efforts to achieve success). Consequently, although the book explains concepts needed to understand students' motivational orientations, it focuses on teachers' strategies for optimizing those orientations.

Furthermore, it does so with an eye toward the realities of classroom teaching. First, it recognizes that schools are not day camps or recreational centers: They feature an instructional agenda that teachers and students are expected to accomplish. Consequently, teachers' motivational strategies need to focus on motivating their students to learn—to achieve the intended curricular outcomes—not merely to enjoy their time in school. Learning should be experienced as meaningful and worthwhile, but it requires sustained goal-oriented efforts to construct understandings.

Second, the classroom setting complicates the motivational challenges facing teachers. Instruction can be individualized only to an extent, so some students may often be bored and others may often be confused or frustrated. Also, students' concentration on learning may be impaired by worries about getting bad grades or embarrassing themselves in front of their classmates.

These and other features of classrooms underscore the need for an emphasis on motivational goals and strategies that are feasible for use in that setting. Consequently, although I draw on the intrinsic motivation literature to describe forms of motivation that may be observed when people are engaged in activities of their own choosing without any felt pressure to respond to external constraints, I emphasize that such conditions of self-determination can only be achieved partially and occasionally in classrooms. Thus, the motivational challenge facing teachers is to find ways to encourage their students to accept the goals of classroom activities and seek to develop the intended knowledge and skills that these activities were designed to develop, regardless of whether or not the students enjoy the activities or would choose to engage in them if other alternatives were available. This is what I mean by motivating students to learn, and the book emphasizes strategies for doing so.

The book also presents strategies for capitalizing on students' existing intrinsic motivation and for reinforcing their learning efforts using rewards and other extrinsic incentives. In the process, I review and critique the often-contentious literature on these topics and develop principles for using intrinsic and extrinsic motivational strategies compatibly. An eclectic approach . . .

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