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Module 8 Assignment: Case Study in Motivation EDU 615, Motivational Theory & Class Management Kyla R.


I. Introduction GB was one of my 3rd grade students from Lisbon, Maine. GB was very capable of achieving above and beyond many of his peers, but often showed a lack of motivation to challenge himself and push his learning. He was above grade level in reading and rarely struggled with concepts in math he easily achieved 3s (meets the standards) in all subject areas on his report cards except writing since Kindergarten. However, GB rarely completed homework and frequently tried to do just the amount of work he could to not get in trouble. His attendance was exceptional with less than 5 absences consistently each year. He was, however, easily distracted and struggled to keep his focus, frequently getting off-task and distracting his classmates as well. Throughout his history of schooling, his learning behaviors were the area that he most frequently struggled with in meeting expectations. GB enjoyed classroom discussions and the social interaction of them. However, when it came time to small group work or independent work, the drive for social relationships was maintained and GB struggled to be self-directed even when a learning activity was one that he picked out himself. He was especially distractible and less-self-directed in writing: he was rarely able to maintain his focus or motivation to take the time to go through the steps of the writing process (he wanted to do it once and be done with it). This often caused his work to be sloppy and his handwriting illegible. In GBs situation, Goal Orientation Theory can be useful in identifying his lagging skills in being focused and self-directed in small group and independent tasks. The following observations on GB will address different classroom situations, looked at through the lens of Goal Orientation Theory, in order to identify why GB was more

motivated and engaged in some instances while showing complete lack of engagement in other assignments. GB often showed a performance goal orientation rushing through tasks to show his ability to complete them quickly, and thus proving his competence, or self-handicapping in order to avoid failing at academic or school-related tasks. He also frequently avoided challenging himself, reverting to the use of less effective cognitive strategies and less deep cognitive processing or critical thinking, which often goes with holding a performance goal orientation (Anderman & Anderman, 2010). By looking at each situation individually, though, through the lens of Goal Orientation Theory, the hope is to hone in on more specific factors that affected GBs motivation and engagement. Goal orientations are not stable for individuals, and while there may be personal tendencies towards one orientation or the other, goal orientations are more specific to particular subject areas or classes (Anderman & Anderman, 2010). By analyzing observations of GB within different subjects and classes, identifying the most potent motivational factors for GB as a whole student and learner will become clearer.

II. Observations Our school began using and implementing the Everyday Math program last year. Within this program, each days lesson follows a consistent format and routine, starting with the Mental Math and Reflexes in the form of a verbal call-and-response or quick, written response, which is then followed by a Math Message and the direct instruction. After the lesson, students are then given independent or small group work time to practice any new skills or get repeated exposure to concepts previously taught.

Within this structure, GB rarely struggled in the beginning of the lesson with his engagement and motivation. The quick pace of the Mental Math and Reflexes and the Math Message caused little trouble. The format supported students being able to quickly complete a task using surface strategies such as the rehearsal of basic math facts. Since GB often showed performance goal orientation, and enjoyed showing his ability to complete assignments quickly (thus proving his competence), he was lively and engaged in this aspect of the lesson. When the lesson moved on to direct instruction, GB still had few issues. GB enjoyed classroom discussions and the social interaction aspect of them, so he frequently participated. His energy often caused him to be moving around out of his seat, which was easily remedied by placing his seat so that no other students were blocked by him getting out of his seat and squirming. Once the instruction was complete, the options for independent work varied. Sometimes I directed students to work quietly by themselves, sometimes I assigned partnerships, and sometimes students selected work partners or chose to work independently. This was the point in the lesson where GBs engagement and motivation towards the lesson waivered. The energy he had that was once directed at participating in discussions was the same energy that caused him to wander around the room and not be able to maintain his focus with any partner. By himself, he frequently would find a group near him to talk to instead of maintaining focus on his work. Strategies that I incorporated to try to remedy this included being selective about his team members and work location in the room to minimize distractions and providing a choice board of assignments that all worked towards mastery targets that GB and other students could select from.

When thinking about how his behaviors switched from an approach method during group work and the quick-paced independent work, to an avoidance method during prolonged small group or independent work, his behaviors could be explained by mastery-avoidance where his goal was to avoid a misunderstanding of the task, or performance-avoidance where his goal was to avoid appearing incompetent at a task (Anderman & Anderman, 2010). Either way, he was self-handicapping to externalize the reasons failure at a task might happen so that it didnt affect his self-esteem or selfworth of feeling that he was a good math student as he had always been in the past. *** One of the classes that GB consistently struggled in from Kindergarten until I taught him in third grade was Music class. On his report cards, he consistently received 2s (partially meets expectations) in both behavior and academic performance. Several times I talked with the Music teacher about what was happening in class and he told me that GB could not control his impulses, distracting other students and moving around a lot, and not following or listening to directions. As with other interactions with GB, his level of energy and impulsivity was common, and with simple interventions, manageable in a classroom setting. The area of most concern in Music class was GB not listening or following directions and then distracting his classmates from their learning and practice as well. In thinking about the personal goal-orientation GB commonly displayed (performance), it was clear that GB was self-handicapping in Music class more-so than in more academic-driven school settings where he had a history of success. Music was not GBs forte and he had no history of success. To avoid having this lack of success

make his classmates view him as incompetent, he fooled around and found ways to cause distractions in class that diverted his own attention from focusing on the musical skill they were practicing so that he had an external reason why he was not succeeding (Im not paying attention and that is why I dont do good in music). These behaviors also drove his classmates focus off of him as a learner to him as a source of entertainment or simply a behavior problem which was less damaging to his sense of self-worth. Students engage in self-handicapping behaviors when they do not expect to succeed at an academic task. In particular, students who maintain-low selfperceptions of ability, or who truly are in low measured ability, are likely to engaged in self-handicapping behaviors (Anderman & Anderman, 2010, p. 169). Again, the Music teacher focused intervention strategies on being selective about GBs team members and work location in the room to minimize distractions. *** The Literacy Block was the part of the day where students needed to be the most self-regulated. During the Reading Workshop, there was a read aloud or shared reading, a mini-lesson relating to word study, authors craft, or other focus areas, and then guided reading groups. As the teacher, during guided reading groups I worked with three different groups on any given day out of the five total groups. When I was working with a group, the other groups were working as small groups towards their specific reading goals. Most days, the groups independently read, then buddy read, and did word work and/or activities relating to their book and a specific skill for that group to target within their reading. A big component of the guided reading time was teamwork and cooperation. The focus was on cooperative learning and mastery, where

the team succeeded only when every team member made progress towards getting better at their own individual skills and understandings of concepts within reading. Discussion was a big part of daily activities where each team member had a job to complete such as: leading a discussion of the book by asking deep questions; leading teammates to look at words that mightve been tricky or difficult either in pronunciation or understanding their meaning; developing a summary of the most relevant details to the plot development; or leading the group in discussing the connections between the text and real life or between the text and other stories. While GB enjoyed interacting with others, as was clear with his level of engagement and motivation during whole group discussions in math class, guided reading was one of the parts of the day where GB had the biggest issues relating to motivation and engagement. Since GB often self-handicapped and showed either a performance-approach or mastery/performance-avoidance, working with a group towards a mastery-approach was difficult. The group assignments focused on using deep cognitive strategies which were not obtainable when completing a task while avoiding risk-taking and not pushing oneself to attempt these deeper understandings. Since GB avoided challenging himself in order to maintain a sense of positive selfworth, he reverted to the use of less effective cognitive strategies and surface-level cognitive processing or critical thinking, which often goes with holding a performance goal orientation (Anderman & Anderman, 2010). Often, team members complained of his off-task behaviors and him rushing through his work using surface cognitive strategies, and then using his free time to distract them from theirs (which took them longer when using deep cognitive strategies). Quite frequently the intensity of his off-

task and maladaptive behaviors related to the amount of writing needed to record the completion of ones daily job relating to the team goal: the more writing, the more distractions that came from GB. In order to try to alleviate these maladaptive behaviors, I focused on making reading group assignments multidimensional where there was a wide range of different types of activities that tapped into different types of intellectual abilities (Anderman & Andmeran, 2010). Groups were also based on reading abilities but were flexible if you put in more effort and showed gains in the abilities that you once were weaker in, groups could frequently change. *** The final component of a typical day, and the Literacy Block, was Writers Workshop. During this time, students worked through different writing projects ranging from free writing in their writers notebook, to doing authors craft studies and analyzing the authors skill as a writer, to working through the writing process on a piece of writing they selected. The major project for the year was a personal narrative that was published into a bound book at the end of the year. Following the same pattern from independent/partner work time during math and working with team members in guided reading groups where GB struggled to work effectively with his team members, writers workshop was another area in which GB struggled to maintain engagement and motivation to push himself. In looking at GBs writing, it was clear that it was not an area he felt confident. His handwriting was still emerging and he struggled with correct spacing between words and neatness, even when he took his time. Even being provided with a variety of choices did not change the fact that they all involved writing, something which he wanted to avoid not looking

incompetent in or risk revealing to others the misunderstandings that he had about the writing process and the techniques involved. During Writers Workshop, he constantly checked in with me, seeking my approval to see if he had done enough to be finished for the day. To try to motivate him to take more of a mastery approach than a performance one, I pushed him to take ownership and held conferences to see where he felt least confident so we could set goals towards taking small-steps towards improvement in those skills. I let him develop writing projects based on books he had read that interested him and used the amount of time he wanted to meet with me to see if he was done as a time to meet with him to see where he could possibly go next. While these motivational strategies increased the level of his writing, without consistent pushing, he reverted back to completing the bare minimum that involved delving the shallowest into the writing process.

III. Effective Strategies In analyzing and comparing the observations of GB across several subjects and classes, a few trends emerged. The first is that he had many lagging behavioral skills that had nothing to do with motivation. GB was, and still is, a very active student who needs to move around. He was easily distracted even in math which was clearly his favorite subject to engage in and which had very little risk in him not succeeding, even with more difficult tasks. The second trend that emerged was the correlation with work that involved writing and the increase in self-handicapping and avoidance behaviors. In math, independent work was where there was more writing. In guided reading, the jobs required writing to show completion of job-related tasks since I was with other groups

and unable to use informal observations to gauge mastery. In Writers Workshop, clearly, writing was the one and only focus. In all these areas, GBs maladaptive behaviors and avoidance strategies were more frequently seen. The last trend that emerged was in Music class where there was no variation between on task and off task behaviors (like in math class for example where GB was engaged during the beginning and then showed lack of engagement and motivation in independent and small group work) all of GBs behaviors were maladaptive in Music class. This showed that interest was a major motivating factor for GB and that many of GBs maladaptive behaviors were driven by the avoidance of seeming incompetent or due to lack of interest in an assignment/topic. In thinking about different effective motivational strategies for GB, a major focus would be in emphasizing mastery learning goals across the subjects, which would work towards increasing GBs engagement and persistence in learning tasks. One way to emphasize mastery over performance goals would be to emphasize the importance of thinking creatively and understanding content versus focusing on the procedural aspects of a task (Anderman & Anderman, 2010). Providing more choices for GB that he could work on that are meaningful and allow progress towards mastery goals would help him make positive choices when he begins to lose focus by selecting a new learning task versus any off-task behavior. Finally, assessing the focus of groups themselves in the classroom would help so that teams were invested in cooperative learning - this would help GB maintain on-task behavior. When developing cooperative groups, teachers should carefully and thoroughly explain the procedures for how the groups will operate (Anderman & Anderman, 2010, p. 84). For students like GB with

lagging self-regulation skills, a big strategy might simply be setting clearer procedures and expectations. Also, by focusing on every team member having to show improvement, there would be more investment for team members to keep everyone accountable for each others learning. Cooperative learning also is more effective with older students (Anderman & Anderman, 2010). While some third graders may have the social and self-regulatory skills to function in cooperative groups, others, like GB, have many lagging skills that may set them up to struggle in cooperative groups. Providing more variety in groupings, such as groups formed based on interest, instead of just ability level may provide more engagement so that students can be motivated to work cooperatively. When reflecting on the strategies tried with GB, it became clear that even though task choice was often provided based on interest (between-task choices), there needed to be more divergent product options. GB clearly was unmotivated by writing, and by by not providing other tasks that had less focus on writing, GB struggled to maintain interest in many tasks and assignments. When thinking about differentiation, Tomlinson (2001) stated that an important question to ask oneself about assessment is What is an array of ways I can offer students to demonstrate their understanding and skills? (p. 20). Tomlinson (2001) also stated that teachers spend so much time remediating students flaws, that the students often have no chance to enhance their strengths. For a student like GB who flourished when his strengths were being utilized, and became extremely unengaged and unmotivated when his flaws were targeted, having the opportunity to use his strengths when addressing flaws would be extremely beneficial.


IV. Conclusion Tomlinson (2001) states that within a differentiated classroom, the teacher proactively plans a variety of ways to get at and express learning (p. 3), and asks his/herself: When during the unit should the class work as a whole? When should I plan small group activities? When does it make sense for students to work individually? When should I plan to meet with individuals? (p. 26), so that the teacher can provide differentiation in content, process, and products. I think these quotes touch on the key conclusion that this case-study of motivation has established within me: there is not one motivational strategy that you can use to reach every student. Instead, it takes pedagogical knowledge and thoughtful, strategic planning to provide each student with a motivating classroom experience based on who they are as an individual learner. After looking at GB through the lens of one motivational theory (Goal Orientation Theory), it has become clear that some motivational strategies that I did use, such as cooperative learning, did not effectively motivate him as a learner due to the factors that were un-motivating to him as well. In looking at specific instances where GB wasnt motivated, however, there was also a classroom full of other students who were motivated. Overall, I would say that providing student choices between-tasks is an important strategy that would allow each student to be motivated by completing tasks that are of interest to them, while the tasks are also thoughtfully and strategically designed by the teacher to achieve a specific learning goal. Finally, I think establishing a multidimensional classroom where there is a wide range of different types of activities that tap into different types of intellectual abilities (Anderman & Anderman, 2010) is an


important strategy so that every student can access strengths as well as weaknesses and discover who they are as a complete learner.

References Anderman, E., & Anderman, L. (2010). Classroom motivation (1st ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc. Tomlinson, C.A. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed ability classrooms. (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.