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Blog 7 or What I Learned about Student Motivation in 1,000 Words

My blog project focused on best practices in terms of fostering student reading motivation. My inquiry has led to shocking revelations!


OK, not really, but there was one nice surprise. One of the dominant ideologies I’ve encountered in the field of composition is that teachers should always strive to be as non-directive as possible. It is best, I’ve been told by some instructors, to let students struggle alone to build competence in academic reading and writing. To me, however, this does not make a lot of sense. Why wait for students to reinvent the wheel? As instructors, we know there are some nifty little strategies out there to help students read more effectively. Why not share and help students feel empowered and good about the knowledge they are gaining?

As a student, I’ve learned very productively with a more direct style of instruction. Having someone explain where I am going wrong and offer some strategies to help me solve problems is empowering. Conversely, the power dynamic feels weird when instructors withhold knowledge about strategies and techniques. It’s like the teacher is the holder of some esoteric, priestly knowledge that I, a mere novice, haven’t earned access to yet. What is this? The Church of Scientology? I’ll pass on the kool-aid, thanks, just gimme the tools.

As a tutor and teacher, I’ve also had good success, provided my interaction is in a coaching/collaborative style, as opposed to an authority figure throwing down the readin’ and writin’ absolutist laws. My view is that learning should be collaborative. We are adults in college. We should share knowledge, not hoard it. That said, the middle way seems the wise choice. Students do need to struggle to build their skills in reading and writing. I just think we should support them in their struggles by giving them the tools to succeed.


So, lo and behold,  I was thrilled to review Dawson R. Hancock’s Influencing Postsecondary Students’ Motivation to Learn in the Classroom. Hancock did a study published in College Teaching that looks at highly structured versus unstructured classrooms and their impact on student motivation.  She finds that students who are self-motivated, abstract thinkers need less direction. However, for students who tend to think more concretely, teacher direction increases motivation.

In my second blog on motivation, I reviewed Understanding the Motivation Problems of At-Risk College Students by Donna L. Mealey. Her work – as the title cleverly suggests! – examines reading motivation in high-risk populations.

This article provides a brief review of the literature on this topic. Mealey asserts that students with a history of poor academic achievement can improve their performance if they can learn to:

  • Take responsibility for their own learning,
  • Recognize that their success or failure is determined by the level of effort they invest, and
  • View themselves as college learners.

Mealey argues that low-achieving students arrive with negative beliefs about themselves that impede their success. If students do not believe they can be successful, they will lack the motivation to work hard enough to be successful. This seems pretty obvious. Who wants to work hard at something you think you will fail at no matter how hard you try?

She also explores the impact of metacognitive reading practices. It turns out it’s all about student-driven inquiry as well as the students’ sense of control over their own learning. To help students become aware, metacognitive learners, she suggests the use of journaling techniques that can help students increase their awareness of their beliefs about learning and that allow for the exploration of their motivations, attitudes, time-management and study skills and emotions. The ultimate goal here is to put students in the driver’s seat of their own learning process. This all sounds good, but, just sayin’, I found the methodology a bit weak in Mealey’s study. She did not conduct any new research on her topic and her conclusions and recommended learning strategies are derivative. Moreover, if her intent is to provide a review of the literature, she reviews a pretty paltry number of sources. Okay, got that off my chest, and movin’ on.

Numerous other articles, as well as our class discussions, have improved my understanding of motivation practices in reading.  Here are some highlights:

Get to know your students. One-to-one conferences, journals, diagnostics, etc., can help you understand the needs of a diverse student population and tailor the class work to meet divergent needs. Making a conscious effort to build community is important too. Conferences and classroom dialogue can help you connect with students. Facilitate students getting to know each other as well. Horizontal relationships can allow unmotivated students to be inspired and coached by motivated students. Motivated students might get even more motivated through sharing their interests with other students. Yay! Building peer and teacher-student relationships apparently improves achievement and motivation. It’s all good! Andrew J. Martin and Martin Dowson’s Interpersonal Relationships, Motivation, Engagement, and Achievement: Yields for Theory, Current Issues, and Educational Practice provides a comprehensive review of the literature on the relationship between motivation and achievement and interpersonal relationships. They bring together findings on a number of motivation theories, including attribution theory, expectancy-value theory and goal theory to look at how motivation can be conceptualized in terms of relational practices. Guess what? “[P]ositive relationships with significant others are cornerstones of young people’s capacity to function effectively in social, affective, and academic domains.”

Student driven inquiry. Need we even say it again? Yes! Student. Driven. Inquiry. Motivation is linked to interest, which is linked to choice. Let students chose what they want to read and write about, perhaps within teacher-guided limits depending on the class and student. It also helps to link the classroom content to student’s lives. In other words, it’s a good thing to encourage students to work on topics that are related to real issues in their lives.  One article I really liked, Response to literature as a cultural activity, by Lee Galda and Richard Beach, advocates a socio-cultural perspective. They offer a number of educational practices, but one practice with middle-school students sounds particularly appealing to me. Students examined political and educational systems as well as hierarchal social organization (such as gender and religious power relationships) in medieval novels. Students got into it, especially religious beliefs and gender constructs, which lead them to want to reexamine these constructs in their lives and in contemporary culture.

Strategies! Finally, the reading I did reinforced the value of reading strategies such as predictive reading strategies, KWL+, and double journal entries. Finally, let’s not forget good ol’ metacognition! Introduce the student to her-/his-self! In other words, create opportunities for students to become aware of their metacognitive strategies.

Well, I guess it’s time for me to ride off into the reading and writing sunset, files and mind stuffed with knowledge and strategies, ready to set classrooms across the Bay Area afire (figuratively that is)! Well, after summer break that is. Whew.



Blog 6: The Exciting Motivation Sequel!!

Blog #6

Mealey, Donna L. 2003. “Understanding the Motivation Problems of At-Risk College Students.” Eds. Stahl, Norman A., Hunter, Boylan. Developmental Reading: Historical, Theoretical, and Practical Background Readings (208-213). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

In Blog #5, I focused on the impact of highly structured versus unstructured classroom environments on student motivation. In this week’s exciting sequel, I look at approaches to fostering reading motivation in high-risk populations.

I think this topic is particularly salient for those of us who plan to teach at community college, or any diverse public college or university in fact. Every teacher in these types of settings will encounter students that have had less than stellar academic experiences that have negatively affected their academic confidence. What’s a teacher to do?

Donna L. Mealey asserts in “Understanding the Motivation Problems of At-Risk College Students,” that students with a history of poor academic achievement can improve their performance if they can learn to:

  • Take responsibility for their own learning,
  • Recognize that their success or failure is determined by the level of effort they invest, and
  • View themselves as college learners.

Mealy argues that low-achieving students arrive with negative beliefs about themselves that impede their success. If students do not believe they can be successful, they will lack the motivation to work hard enough to be successful. She cites the work of attribution theorists who argue that students will be motivated when they attribute their successes and failures to the amount of effort they invest – rather than to their innate ability, luck, etc.  If students attribute their success or failure to luck, genetics or other factors outside their control, their sense of personal control decreases. The problem here for educators is that if students do not perceive a pay-off for hard work, if success is all up to chance and circumstance, students are not likely to put in much effort. The probable result? Demoralized, anxious, unmotivated, failing students who are very likely to feel like helpless victims in the education system.

This scenario makes sense to most of us, both as people who have failed at thingsL, and as educators who have worked with students who struggle academically.  I think most of us can relate to the desire to avoid situations where we feel like we are failing and have no control over engineering a better outcome. Despite my general agreement with Mealy’s characterization, I was a little surprised at the lack of support she offered for her assertions. Isn’t there a lot of research out there on this topic? I would have loved to have seen a bit more summary of the literature on the links between achievement and motivation…

She does a better job providing supporting evidence for the strategic learning approach she advocates to help correct this unmotivated student scenario however.  Strategic learning here is defined as a combination of learning and metacognitive strategies.  Essentially, Mealy argues that since motivation is a function of attribution, e.g., students are motivated by success, and success is largely a function of effort. Therefore, motivation can be increased if students experience success as a result of effort. She suggest that the negative loop of low-self esteem, avoidance and failure can be corrected if students strive for competence by exerting effort and persistence; achieve success as a result of their efforts; and therefore develop confidence in their ability to succeed in academic tasks.

Cool, I’m with her there. But wait, what about the metacognitive component? Did we talk about that? Well, it turns out it’s all about control too. Student motivation is also, according to Mealy, contingent upon students’ sense of control over their own learning process. You can’t have strategic learning without student investment in the process. To help students become aware, metacognitive learners, she suggests the use of journaling techniques that can help students increase their awareness of their beliefs about learning and that allow for the exploration of their motivations, attitudes, time-management and study skills and emotions. The ultimate goal here is to put the student in the drivers seat of their own learning process.

As Mealy explains, “Metacognitive development is important because students need to monitor their comprehension and become aware of when they are experiencing difficulties with academic material and when to use appropriate fix-up strategies. Motivation is predicted to improve because of the self-control implicit in their awareness and subsequent actions and the self-management of their resources. If students are shown that strategy use will improve their achievement, they can become convinced that their efforts will make a difference and that their learning is under their control.

This all makes good sense. Yet, I am a little disappointed in Mealy’s methodology. She did not conduct any new research on her topic and her conclusions and recommended learning strategies are derivative. Moreover, if her intent was to provide a review of the literature, she reviews a pretty paltry number of sources. On the positive side, however, she does a nice job of pulling together attribution theory and metacognitive learning strategies in a succinct and practical overview. Sounds great! I hope it works!


Fostering Student Motivation or Keepin’ It Real My blog project is focused on approaches to fostering reading motivation through guided student inquiry and multimedia approaches. My goal is to better understand some of the field-level dialogue, best-practices and theories on … Continue reading

Avoiding the Bored Student Blues

Avoiding the Bored Student Blues

I will focus my blogging activity on approaches to fostering reading motivation through student inquiry and metacognitive approaches. My goal is to better understand some of the field-level dialogue, best-practices and theories on motivation and inquiry and to expand my current repertoire of related class room practices and assignments. In other words, my goal is to avoid as much of this as possible:

One of my concerns is how to both expose students to challenging new writers and materials and put them in charge of choosing their reading. Right now my approach would be to offer students a limited selection of materials to choose from on a few topics – a pretty much standard teacher guided approach. But, I am wondering if it’s possible to take this further, to engage students’ imaginations in a way that really puts them in the director chair of their own college-level inquiry, kind of an I-Learn paper on steroids, where students design their own course of learning, and by god, embark on a lifelong learning quest!

I also want to look at the impact of the classroom discourse community in terms of fostering motivation. How can the classroom environment and practices facilitate that highly lusted after class full of engaged, inspired budding scholars? How can I get students truly excited about sharing their projects and learning about other students’?

Another way I want to approach looking at motivation and inquiry is through metacognitive approaches. Aren’t students who are beginning to engage in understanding their own learning processes more engaged? This could be a whole new world of excitement for some students, so how to get there?

Some things I have found so far that look interesting include:



Technology Ideas

I thought a lot about techology after our class brain stormed some thoughts:

The positives:

Learning Environments

Wikies, etc., where students together create an extensive knowledge base on a topic, is actually quite an interesting idea to me.  An online environment that allows for easy interactive dialogue between students, as well the use of enhanced documents and audio/visual components, is a format I think can significantly reinforce and expand learning.  Texts can be annotated, augmented with visuals, and interacted with by students in highly enriching ways. For example, readings from a particular historical period can be greatly enriched by adding historical elements, such as news accounts, photos or artwork from the era on social, political, aesthetic or historical topics raised in class. Another very intriguing emerging genre is online museum sites that explore places like the Globe Theater or the history of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Students can work with these visual elements to enliven text-based materials. Multiple translations or manuscripts of one work can be uploaded so students can become more aware of the fluidity of texts in motion in the real world in history. Histories about texts, such as critical reviews, interviews, etc., can also be added.

Sites that utilize role-playing activities where students take on character identities from texts and interact with one another is one highly creative use I have seen. This method can really help bring to life historical texts. Students can create their own avatar and interact with other students within the role of, for example, a 17th Century subject position. Another approach is to upload group problem solving projects, games, etc. Working together on a solving project is a powerful learning tool used mostly in the sciences, but can be applied to composition as well. I can imagine assigning groups to work together to rewrite a text together.

Another use might be class preparation and peer review. As in our class, posting a response to readings on  prior to our class meeting helps deepen classroom discussions.

Peer review forums are another effective use. In my course design for an FYC class, I plan to have small group book clubs. Students will share responses to texts they are reading together on our class site, add visual elements and extra-textual materials, such as video content about issues raised in book club selections. Since the course is theme-based around the concepts of place, students will also post travelogues and ethnographies that include video, photos, text excerpts and interview quotes from interviewees about the place they are writing about. Another online component for this class is a Grammar Merry-Go-Round I-Learn posting project. Students will choose at least one grammar issue they are struggling with in their writing, research it online, and post an explanation of how to solve the issue for their peers.

Public Writing

Blogs, tweets and wiki contributions can all be part of the composition classroom. One idea is to use public dialogues, such as tweets, to help frame writing assignments. Student-driven inquiry seems naturally enhanced by multiple media outlets and opportunities for dialogue. Contacting a public representative, commenting on a news story or gathering opinions and data on topics of interest can all foster as sense of civic and social participation for students. This type of project might culminate in a video, letter or multimedia essay directed to a particular group or person about an issue meaningful to the student. I am quite excited about the ways in which students will use their creativity to expand the classroom. The notion of multimedia culminating portfolios is an area that  I am excited to explore as well.

 Instructor Tools

Slides, audio, video and other multimedia formats can enliven instructor and student presentations. In addition, new media easily allows the whole class to work together on editing, close reading and analyzing texts. New ways of sharing text also allow instructors to give feedback on drafts more easily. This has worked well for me as a teaching assistant. It was very gratifying and effective to work with students via email on drafts and see significant improvement and learning happen from draft to draft.

 Some Final Thoughts

All that said, helping students to bring a critical eye to how technology constructs content and who controls the framing of content also seems extremely important. Facebook, smart phones, and new forms of advertising all have embedded persuasive strategies, often designed to generate revenue. Fostering critical analysis of the way in which users are influenced and constructed by technologies seems to me to be an important component of preparing students to be savvy users and informed opinion holders. Moreover, it is worth exploring the ways in which the distraction of technologies can undermine critical reflection as a practice. Continual electronic distractions, superficial content, and lack of mental space for sustained, in-depth thought are factors worth considering. What does it mean to lose regular face-to-face contact and conversation? Who does it benefit? What about privacy concerns? How can technology be used to improve our lives, rather than distract us from the real problems in our lives? These are all extremely important questions that I believe need to be incorporated into a 21st Century education.

Creativity and Sameness

Our selection of readings this week, for me, examines the relationship between existing schema and the ability to expand schema within a social context. I am left questioning how closely existing student schema might need to be in order to facilitate comprehension and what the benefits might be if information does NOT match schema might be.

Ie point where student’s existing schema’s do not match with new information a place for potential creative revision?


There seems to be a bit of unacknowledged bias towards one correct meaning in McVee et al, as illustrated by the example of the lesson on racism. Deng’s interpretation of the shades of hand color as a literal activity to check-out varying tones of skin color – and not an exploration of racism – indicates a problem for the authors in the way in which the lesson was delivered. Deng and the teacher are characterized as failing to meet the task of the lesson adequately. Yet, as  Ferdman points out, being literate in a particular culture can be defined as sharing the same set of conventional schema.



Since Deng does not share this schema, he did not make the “correct” connections. However, I am left wondering if the class would not have been enriched by Deng’s perspective. His failure to perceive the existing set of constructs that underlie American racism could have been a very deconstructing and fruitful exploration for the class to experience.


The authors identify small group peer work, or class discussions where Deng would have had a chance to express his reading as a remedy. Though I don’t necessarily agree with the problem they identify, I agree with the solution. Not only would Deng potentially gained additional resources from discussion, the whole class would have gained something from his “incorrect” reading.



The readings overall support the notion of collaborative learning. Sharing of multiple readings in small group activities, reading multiple perspectives on a topic area, and utilizing reading tools such as journals and free writes may help students to not only grasp the information being shared, but to make a connection between Rosenblatt’s efferent and aesthetic continuum, in terms of absorbing or understanding facts versus deep topic on a more complex or literary text.


Though, uncomfortable and sometimes unpleasant, isn’t challenging existing schema part of a college education? Does information that does not fit existing schema engender energy, excitement and creative thought? Perhaps even skills and abilities not stereotypically assigned to one’s particular subject position can unexpectedly occur. J





How to get critical without really trying

Bored Silly

In some sense, the blogger’s typically less academic voice is relevant to my question. From our readings for the week, including the “Study Strategies” chapter in the handbook and the articles on pre-college and college level reading and critical literacy in “Teaching Developmental Reading”, I was inspired to think about motivation and student interest.

My question is, how can instructors generate student interest and foster critical literacy skills if developmental students have significant and consistent trouble identifying main ideas due to lack of interest in the readings?

My question is partly inspired by my observation of an English 114 class last year. Students spent an entire class period reading a Time Magazine article about a man who was fighting a law that negatively impacted the environment. Sections of the article were read aloud by students and each student completed a handout that asked basic questions about the article.  By the end of the class, only two students out of 20 were able to identify whether the guy was for or against the law discussed in the article.

Lesley’s article on critical literacy suggests that inquiry or critical engagement are key to success, and I tend to agree. However, many students seem so disinterested or unused to owning their own sense of academic inquiry that using this strategy as an entry point seems of limited use. Which brings me back to the tone of blogging. Would encouraging students to frame their inquiry in a more visual and casual  blog format help foster habits of critical inquiry?