Motivation Theory


Recent motivation theory has bridged cognitive and sociocultural perspectives to develop a comprehensive view of how teachers can best motivate students. There are three main "situational factors" that help determine student motivation: perceptions of ability and expectations of success, perceptions of the value of the taught material, and emphasis on task mastery (learning) rather than evaluated performance (grades).

Ability and Expectations

In terms of perceptions of ability and expectations, teachers should "communicate high expectations by choosing varied tasks that are at appropriate levels of difficultly [see Zone of Proximal Development], by scaffolding student learning, and by teaching learning strategies to enable students to accomplish tasks. Teachers who do not group higher and lower achieving students differently, and do not use reporting practices that highlight ability-related information will also enhance students' beliefs in their ability to learn" (Blumenfeld et al., 1992, p. 209).

Content Value

In order to increase students' perceptions of the value of the material being taught, teachers should "emphasize intrinsic reasons for learning rather than stressing grades or other rewards; relate material to students' lives and experiences [see Funds of Knowledge] or to current events; offer choices about what, where, with whom or how work is done; assign tasks that are varied and that include novel, humorous, fantasy or gamelike elements; assign problems for students to solve that are realistic and challenging; and assign work that involves creating a product or provides some form of closure" (Blumenfeld et al., 1992, 209).

Task Mastery

Finally, in terms of task mastery, teachers should "hold students accountable for learning and understanding - not just getting the right answers; give students the freedom to take risks and be wrong; stress improvement over time; minimize comparison with others; minimize competition; and use private rather than public evaluation" (Blumenfeld et al., 1992, 209-210).



Blumenfeld, P. et al. (1992). Translating motivation into thoughtfulness. In. Marshall, H. (Ed.), Redefining student learning: roots of educational change (207-219). Norwood, NJ: Abbex.