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FREW Consultants Group        
Monday, March 18 2019

Converting Teachers' Lessons to Intrinsic Motivation

How often do we hear the comment ‘anyone can teach’ and I have to agree.  I see ex- footballers, netballers, etc. most afternoons ‘teaching’ youngsters how to play their sports.  The thing is anyone, who has the knowledge can teach someone who wants to learn that topic.  What defines a professional teacher is one who can teach a child something they:

  • Don’t want to learn
  • Don’t think they can learn
  • Have no reason to learn

Yet every day we go into our class armed with a syllabus full of topics that children, not only have the above attitudes, they often have no idea what the teacher is talking about.  But, every day successful teachers meet this challenge and they do this by motivating their students.

In a previous Newsletter, I discuss human motivations and how they are related to our physical and emotional wellbeing.  When we are dealing with the curriculum we are dealing with the child’s intellectual ‘wellbeing’!  The challenge is to create a level of stress that will motivate the child to learn.  We want our students to ‘want to know’ about the topic we are presenting; we want them to be motivated to learn.

In 1985, Edward l. Deci and Richard M. Ryan published ‘Intrinsic Motivation and Self- Determination in Human Behaviour’ and this underpinned what was to become Self-Determination Theory.  This theory explained how motivation supports the journey to independence, to make one’s own choices and control one’s life.  Of course, I can’t argue with this as a goal although I would add a few things like being ethical, responsible and contributing to make your community a ‘better place’.

Deci and Ryan discuss motivation that is underpinned by three drives:

  • Relatedness – A sense of belonging, interacting with others.  Caring for them and having that support returned
  • Autonomy – To be the causal agent in your life.  Your behaviour is self-endorsed and you are the master of your own destiny
  • Competence – You control the outcomes of your behaviour, you have the knowledge and skills to be successful in your community

These drives are very specific and can be part of any model of human needs but they have in common being involved with the cognitive processing of behaviours.  From the previous Newsletter this type of motivation is only possible as an active drive if our physical and emotional needs are generally satisfied.  The following discussion will describe this model but keep in mind that a successful fulfilment is limited to children who have a secure sense of self.

There are two further facets to be considered and these are:

  • Extrinsic Motivation – A drive that comes from an external force or demand to achieve nonessential goals.  In the extreme this motivation will be to get a pleasant reward or to avoid a disagreeable punishment.
  • Intrinsic Rewards – These come from the individual’s core values and a desire to seek new challenges and experiences.  The behaviour is at the heart of curiosity and enhances their expression of their ‘best self’.

The Model describes motivation being on a continuum based on the amount of external/internal motivation.  The continuum runs from an ‘amotive’ position, a point of no motivation, no prospective outcomes and no drive to behave through to a situation where all behaviour is driven by the internal drives outlined above.  The relevant behaviour is driven by self-interest and will satisfy the person’s desires; this is the point of authentic, intrinsic motivation.  Because the outcome they are working towards is so ‘rewarding’ the students will be fully focused on the task.

The point of interest for the teacher is how do we get the students to this point when we present them with another lesson on ‘simultaneous equations’?  This is particularly challenging when dealing with disengaged students.  In a previous Newsletter (Consequences Neither Punishment or Reward – 2nd April 2018) I discussed the problem of using rewards as a form of motivation however, when you are faced with a student with no interest you may find offering a reward is the only option.  This should only be the point of entry into the student’s world on motivation.

The task is to somehow link the pursuit of a ‘reward’ with a student’s sense of control.  That is, they have some power in the transaction that drives participation.  If you can then link this with an attachment to their values system, that is, if they can understand simultaneous equations it will enhance their drive for:

  • Relatedness - they are accepted by their peers and admired by the teacher
  • Competence – they have mastered a difficult skill
  • Autonomy – They have become independent in dealing with this mathematical problem

The teacher can support this change by teaching their students about goal setting.  Explain that to learn to solve simultaneous equations can have long term benefits; depending on the maturity of these students this could range from next week’s test for very young or disengaged students to university entry for those rare, mature, students.  Then teach them about breaking this task down to short term achievable goals that give them, and you a chance to reflect and celebrate.

The result is the student will become more engaged in the lesson.  As success breeds success the more you can develop this intrinsic motivation the most successful your students will be.  Sounds easy but it is not however, it can be achieved with patience and persistence.

Posted by: AT 10:39 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email

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John R Frew
Marcia J Vallance

ABN 64 372 518 772


The principals of the company have had long careers in education with a combined total of eighty-one years service.  After starting as mainstream teachers they both moved into careers in providing support for students with severe behaviours.

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