Fun or Facts?

Wayne teaches at an inner city public high school. While he is really excited about his new job close to the inner city suburb where he lives and went to university, he’s finding that not all the students share his enthusiasm for learning. Wayne really enjoys the subject matter of his senior classes and spends a large proportion of his planning time ensuring he has the depth of content covered. However he is finding that his class is falling into two groups. In one a group a number of apparently highly motivated students are intellectually pushing him. Another group seems to consist of students who don’t really want be there. Both groups are causing Wayne concern as it appears that the ‘motivated’ group don’t engage at a deep level and instead want to know the ‘correct’ answers, while the ‘less motivated’ group are difficult for him to engage. A number of students seem to be distracted at school, he thinks they are tired or have perhaps been using drugs and alcohol. He is also concerned that a number of students seem anxious and fearful of not getting into the nearby University. When talking about his situation with a friend Wayne realised he is torn between the need to make learning interesting and relevant for a number of his students and the pressure from others to prepare for the end of school exams.

In the last sentence of this scenario we see that Wayne views engaging learning activities and exam preparation as mutually exclusive events. From Wayne’s perspective, learning the content and processes required to pass exams is incompatible with a learning environment that helps students become and remain motivated. Wayne also seems to view some students as responding only to the extrinsic motivation of exam, not the intrinsic motivation of personally fulfilling, interesting learning. However, high levels of intrinsic motivation and engagement are more likely to produce deeper, more lasting understanding because they are engaging their emotions (Mayer, in Churchill, 2011, p. 118), which could result in better exam results for students.

Martin, A., (2002)

No two students are alike and so there are a variety of different motivational goals that Wayne needs to consider in his classroom. Martin (2002) examined a variety of motivational theories with the aim of synthesising them to provide teachers with a framework to use in the classroom. Martin suggests this model is relevant to a variety of students, including students not interested learning and high achievers who need to be sustained (2002, p. 45). Wayne has both these types of students in his class, and increasing motivation boosters in his class may help him engage these learners into more active, in-depth participation.

Martin places high emphasis on the importance of self-efficacy in motivating and engaging students (2002, p. 42), a sentiment echoed in the literature by many (Bandura, 1993; Zyngier, 2004). For students to have high self-efficacy, it is important that they experience success in the tasks they complete. It is possible that Wayne’s students are not engaged because the work they are doing in class is not at the appropriate level and they are not experiencing success. To tackle this problem, Wayne should implement some strategies to ensure that all member of the class can succeed at the tasks set in class.

One strategy would be for Wayne to discover the ZPD of all learners in his class. Pre-assessment would give Wayne a more accurate picture of the zones of the students in his class. Armed with this information, Wayne then needs to plan lessons that take into account the needs of his students, such as learning styles, ZPDs and intelligences, by implementing lessons that incorporate Bloom’s Taxonomy, Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, and learning contracts. This will give students choice in their lessons, and allow them to learn in a variety of styles and levels. By also providing a variety of teaching aids, such as videos, posters, study skills and strategies, and scaffolding learners so that learning is challenging yet successful, students will have feelings of greater control and self-efficacy.

By increasing motivation levels within the classroom as per Martin’s framework, and by implementing some learning strategies that allow for student’s individual differences and interests, Wayne will be able to prepare his students for their exam and still make learning interesting and relevant for all students. Indeed, it is essential that students are emotionally engaged in order to foster deeper understandings in learning. Wayne needs to prepare his students by making learning relevant and interesting, not instead of.

Bandura, A., (1993). Perceived Self-Efficacy in Cognitive Development and Functioning. Educational Psychologist. 28(2), pp. 117-148.

Churchill et al., (2011). Teaching: making a difference. Milton, Queensland: John Wiley & Sons Australia.

Martin, A., (2002). Motivation and academic resilience: developing a model for student enhancement. Australian Journal of Education. 46(1), pp. 34-49.

Zyngier, D. (2005). Doing education not doing time. Engaging Pedagogies and Pedagogues – what does student engagement look like in action? AARE 2004 Conference: Doing the Public Good: Positioning Education Research. Retrieved 26 April 2011 from

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