Motivation—the energy or drive that gives behavior direction and focus—can be understood in a variety of ways, each of which has implications for teaching. One perspective on motivation comes from behaviorism, and equates underlying drives or motives with their outward, visible expression in behavior. Most others, however, come from cognitive theories of learning and development. Motives are affected by the kind of goals set by students—whether they are oriented to mastery, performance, failure-avoidance, or social contact. They are also affected by students’ interests, both personal and situational. And they are affected by students’ attributions about the causes of success and failure—whether they perceive the causes are due to ability, effort, task difficulty, or luck.
A major current perspective about motivation is based on self-efficacy theory, which focuses on a person’s belief that he or she is capable of carrying out or mastering a task. High self-efficacy affects students’ choice of tasks, their persistence at tasks, and their resilience in the face of failure. It helps to prevent learned helplessness, a perception of complete lack of control over mastery or success. Teachers can encourage high self-efficacy beliefs by providing students with experiences of mastery and opportunities to see others’ experiences of mastery, by offering well-timed messages persuading them of their capacity for success, and by interpreting students’ emotional reactions to success, failure and stress.
An extension of self-efficacy theory is self-determination theory, which is based on the idea that everyone has basic needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness to others. According to the theory, students will be motivated more intrinsically if these three needs are met as much as possible. A variety of strategies can assist teachers in doing so. One program for doing so is called TARGET; it draws on ideas from several theories of motivation to make practical recommendations about motivating students.
This page lists several materials and links related to motivating students in classroom situations: Motivation.
Allison, K., Dwyer, J., & Makin, S. (1999). Self-efficacy and participation in vigorous physical activity by high school students. Health Education and Behavior, 26(1), 12–24.
Lent, R., Brown, S., Nota, L., & Soresi, S. (2003). Teaching social cognitive interest and choice hypotheses across Holland types in Italian high school students. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 62, 101–118.
Lindley, L. (2006). The paradox of self-efficacy: Research with diverse populations. Journal of Career Assessment, 14(1), 143–160.
Mau, W.-C. (2003). Factors that influence persistence in science and engineering career aspirations. Career Development Quarterly, 51, 234–243.