Student motivation is a major problem in classrooms. Many children are bored, inattentive, and unable to see much connection between schoolwork and their lives outside classrooms. Their boredom diminishes attention, lowers achievement, and is a likely reason for dropping out of school. How serious is the problem? A survey of 25,000 eighth-graders found that about half claimed that they were bored in school half or most of the time (Rothman, 1990). Furthermore, numerous investigators (e.g., Goodlad, 1984; Sirotnik, 1983) have found that student engagement in academic activities is of poor quality. Therefore, teachers need strategies to reduce student boredom and enhance student motivation. The purpose of this article is to provide teachers with four strategies to make learning interesting and relevant. This approach to enhancing student motivation is designed to help students value participation in learning activities. An additional purpose is to help teachers develop a better understanding of student motivation. For teachers to be professionals, they need to know both what is effective and why it is effective.
The research on student motivation indicates that most approaches, including the present one, evolved from expectancy-value theory. According to this theory, the intensity of motivation is determined jointly by the learner's expectancy for success and by the incentive value of the goal. It is assumed that no effort will be invested in a learning activity if either factor is missing entirely. This theory suggests that students can gain success if they apply reasonable effort and appreciate the value of learning activities.
Motivation theorists and researchers have devoted considerably less attention to the value component of this theory than to the expectancy component. The value factor merits attention, because a student who does not value an outcome is unlikely to expend much effort regardless of expectancies for success. Therefore, in this article I claim that motivation is tied to the belief that learning must be interesting and relevant, and therefore, of value.
To begin our discussion, let us consider two students named Joel and Rebecca. Both children entered kindergarten excited about learning. They were inquisitive and eager to undertake any assignment. A few years later, they are bored. Joel is inattentive during most learning activities, his enthusiasm for learning is fading, and his performance continues to suffer. When he does put forth effort, he lacks strategies to monitor his own work. Finally, he is more focused on completing assignments than on ensuring he understand what he is supposed to be learning. Rebecca is also losing her enthusiasm for learning. She is unable to see how learning in the classroom connects to her life away from school or to some future aspect of her life. She wonders what's in it for her. When she does try, she finds the work unchallenging. She wants to assume some control in her learning program, but the teacher does not want to relinquish control. The teacher needs strategies to establish the relevance of learning for Rebecca, and she needs strategies to stimulate Joel's curiosity.
Motivational Strategies to Make Learning Interesting and Relevant
A review of the research on motivational strategies showed that teachers can design learning activities in more stimulating and valuable ways for children like Joel and Rebecca. Teachers may capitalize on four sources of motivation -- student curiosity, challenge of the assignment, relevance of the content, and student sense of control. The following strategies use these sources to make learning more interesting and relevant for students.
Stimulate Curiosity by Asking Thought-Provoking Questions
Curiosity is a condition of aroused uncertainty that exists when there is a gap between a given and desired state of knowledge (Berlyne, 1960). If a teacher presents new or different information from that which students already know, this causes a discrepancy in their thinking. …