9 Motivational Mechanisms
In my last section, I talked about how we as teachers can apply the attribution theory into our classrooms to help students’ motivation. I want to dive a little deeper into how we can get students motivated and involved in their learning process, and how we as educators can help facilitate this. I want to talk more about the cyclical loop and how this plays a role in motivation, engagement, and metacognition.
As discussed in my last section we need to make sure we are encouraging a growth mindset in our classrooms. Many students come into the classroom (especially math) with a fixed mindset. These students do not believe they are good at math, and can never be mathematicians. We as educators must help students realize that intelligence is not fixed and can be changed with effort. One of the ways we can do this is by encouraging students to simply just “do math”. We need to highlight that the action is important, “doing math” is more important than being a mathematician. “Use of identity vs. action-focused language is likely to have implications beyond influencing perceptions of difficulty or required skill”( Rhodes,2020). When we as teachers focus on doing math versus being mathematicians, we are showing our students that growth is possible. Us as educators need to make sure we emphasize and encourage the process of learning versus the outcomes of learning. If we can help students focus on the process, we can help them become cognitively engaged in their learning.
A way to get students focused on the process is by using self-regulation. This self-regulation process is called the cyclical cycle and consists of three sequential phases; forethought phase, performance control phase, and the self-reflection phase. Encouraging and helping students to work through this cycle will help to enhance their motivation over time. Guidance in such self-reflection and adjustment feeds our sense of competence, which is a key component of healthy motivation. The forethought phase consists of a learner accepting a task and starting the planning of their behaviors. This stage is when students make a plan on how to get a task done. The next step is the performance control phase. This is the step where students “think about their thinking”. During this phase, students guide themselves through the process, by applying task strategies and self-instruction. After this phase and before the next is completion of a task. During this time students often get some sort of feedback. The third phase which is the self-reflection phase is where students look at the feedback and connect it to their behavior. This is a time where students give causal attributions to their behaviors. We as teachers have a vital role to play throughout the steps of this cycle. As we guide our students through the steps, self-efficacy over time becomes more positive as students’ beliefs shift toward their internal attributions. When we support our students through this process we need to make sure that we point towards internal attribution styles. If we do not help our students make these connections, we are leaving opportunities for external attributions to take over and sabotage motivation in the long run.
This loop is very important for us as educators to be mindful of. If our responses nurture the self-efficacy of our students it will be easier to get them on task because we already have the motivational framework in place. We can do this by encouraging students to set goals, work through strategies, take feedback, and apply it to their behaviors. So what are some ways we can do this? How do we incorporate this into our classrooms? How do we get students into the practice of this loop?
To begin with, it all starts with you! It starts with you creating a mindset friendly classroom. Students need to feel like they are a part of a classroom where growth is encouraged and mess-ups are ok and simply a part of the process. It is important for us as educators to set up our classrooms with proximal goals, allowing students to do work, and then spending time reflecting on the work and how that relates to the goals. As we encourage students through the process they will begin to develop higher self-efficacy. Students with high self-efficacy will be more motivated to make a plan, see the value in doing so, and set proximal goals to get this done. Educators need to be mindful of the feedback that is provided to students. Verbal and nonverbal actions can play a significant role in students’ efforts. Feedback needs to be focused on students’ work and based on evidence. The feedback that we as teachers give can help shape internal attributions, which then feeds a growth mindset. Setting up our classrooms so that students feel safe, where they get productive feedback, and are given opportunities to set goals and work through them is vital for their success.
Implementing technology into daily classroom use may also help students get acclimated and motivated to be self-regulated learners. Math programs that offer students on the spot feedback may be very useful in helping students see where they went wrong in the application process. These types of programs instead of just telling students that their problems are wrong can help walk students through their strategies and the particular step/ or calculation that was missed. These programs can also help students in their self-reflective phase. They can attribute the incorrect answer to an exact moment in the process. When a student gets in the moment feedback on top of feedback from the educator this can help to nicely feed their attributions.
“ In a cyclical framework, self-monitored feedback helps students strategically reflect on their learning and to make the necessary strategic adjustments to improve task performance” (Cleary & Zimmerman, 2012).
Another way to add metacognition into the classroom is by adding it to assignments. How assignments are worded and organized could be useful for the feedback loop. Assignments could start with a small goal setting section where students write what strategies they think will work, and how they plan to approach the problem. Once a student starts working on an assignment it may be beneficial to have a section that allows the student to monitor their work and write down what is working/ what is not working and some suggestions of what they might try next. At the end of the assignment, you could have students evaluate what worked well, and what they are still struggling with. Having students fill this out will not only help them organize their thoughts and strategies, but will also be beneficial to teachers. This information will help us as educators understand where our students are struggling or missing steps, and can help us ensure we give appropriate feedback.
We must help students move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. As educators, we can help facilitate this through our teaching, classrooms, and actions. To begin learning a student must feel motivated to learn and believe that they can. Focusing on the process of learning and the efforts put into learning versus the outcomes of learning will help with motivation. If we can encourage and motivate our students to simply just “do” math, then maybe, just maybe, our students can begin to believe that they can be mathematicians!
Lei, R. F., Green, E. R., Leslie, S. J., & Rhodes, M. (2019). Children lose confidence in their potential to “be scientists,” but not in their capacity to “do science”. Developmental Science, 22, https://doi.org/10.1111/desc.12837
Cleary, T. J., & Zimmerman, B. J. (2012). A cyclical self-regulatory account of student engagement: Theoretical foundations and applications. In Handbook of research on student engagement (pp. 237-257). Springer, Boston, MA.