"Without motivation, there is no learning."
- Pauline B. Gough in the esssay "Interest Matters" (Phi Delta Kappan, 83(8), 566)
Dan Pink and Mary Renck Jalongo make compelling cases for our paying careful attention to the roles of motivation and interest in learning, as noted in part one of this entry. Given Pink’s and Jalongo’s insights into the nature of motivation and interest, what is the teacher’s role in motivating learners and building interest?
Jalongo’s analysis lands on five research-based recommendations for “support[ing] children in reaching their full potential.”
 Establish a Rationale for Learning
Far too often in teaching and learning, in our zest to teach our children how and what, we sorely neglect why. Jalongo nails the importance of why on three counts:
• “Sansone and Smith (2000) found that when students were provided with reasons for learning, they were more adept at generating strategies for making relatively boring tasks more interesting.”
• “A review of the literature suggests that when children have to deal with dull materials, it places a drain on their ability to focus and slows down their reading and response time.”
• “Conversely, when they work with high interest materials, it ‘frees up’ some of their cognitive resources and makes their processing of information more efficient; this enables them to persist at the task and retain the material better” (Ainley & Hidi 2006).
 Set, Monitor and Attain Goals
How do we help, even inspire, students to get from here to there? In part, we articulate our goals in the classroom AND we help students frame their goals as well. We need to name the end game rather than assuming it—or having our students guess at it. And we need to join with our students in mapping out the route our journey will take along with our measures for determining our success. Jalongo focuses on two key points:
• “In order to set learners’ expectations for success, teachers need to share their goals and methods of evaluation with students and establish an emotional climate for success in classrooms.”
• “Evidence suggests that when achievement in a domain is attributed to effort rather than innate ability, students tend to perform better, assuming that value is attached to the goal in their society as well.”
Both Stevenson and Stigler’s work from the early 90’s and Carol Dweck’s more recent work on growth mindset support this argument.
 Capture Learners’ Attention
A graduate school professor of mine once shared a syllogism that applies here: “We understand what we remember. We remember what we pay attention to. We pay attention to what we want.” Capturing students’ attention is a sine qua non of enhancing their learning. Quite simply, if students do not pay attention, they do not learn. So how do we achieve that end? Jalongo offers several keen insights:
• “To learn, we first have to understand it: we have to make a connection to prior knowledge; and we have to want to learn it. . .Hook into what is important for your students’ lives, presently and in the future. Connect to what they already know” (Mack-Kirschner, 2005).
• “Tapping into the learners’ experiences and emotions generates interest because ‘personal and meaningful memories can be held in their brilliance while dry facts learned at school may soon fade away’ (Gilbert 2002).”
• “There is ample evidence that human beings are drawn to and remember material in narrative form much better than when the same material is presented as a list of facts.”
In his thought-provoking, often practical and thoroughly researched book Why Students Don't Like School, University of Virginia cognitive scientist Dan Willingham explores the power of story structure in memory and learning. Willingham lands on "four principles" (or the four Cs) of story: causality (events are causally related to one another), conflict (main character is unable to reach a goal), complications (sub-problems that arise from the main goal) and character ("A good story is built around strong, interesting characters, and the key to those qualities is action.")
• “Ask questions that are perplexing, paradoxical or unexpected. . .Good questions. . .help to build a commitment to thoughtful inquiry and reliance on authoritative resources.”
 Understand the Role of Choice in Learning
Jalongo brilliantly captures the complexity of the role of choice in learning. Quite rightly, she notes, “Many teachers assume that giving children a wide array of choices will lead to greater engagement and academic achievement; however, both the research and practical experience suggest this is not necessarily the case.”
Indeed, the nature and the context of the choices we give our students have everything to do with the degree to which these choices inspire engagement and motivation, and enhance learning. As Jalongo notes, “Choice involves making a judgment and, in the absence of information on how to render that decision, a huge range of options can backfire, causing students to disengage and rush through the task just to get it over with.”
Jalongo makes a distinction worth careful consideration: “One reason that choice is overrated is that research has tended to confound the variables of choice and interest (Flowerday, Schraw, & Stevens, 2004). In studies of choice, learners usually select something that interests them. Therefore, the positive effects on achievement attributed to choice may actually be attributable to interest.” This takes us back to part 1 of this blog entry and the essential role students’ interest in their motivation and learning.
Finally, on this point, Jalongo specifically addresses the kinds of choices we should consider giving out students: “Contrary to popular opinion, completely individualizing the curriculum is not the only way. It often is preferable to make the course of action—rather than topic—the place where students exercise the most choice.” The Northeast Foundation for Children’s Responsive Classroom’s extensive, well-researched and wonderfully practical recommendations on academic choice support Jalongo’s insights. In Learning Through Academic Choice, author Paula Denton notes that, essentially, teachers have two choices to offer students:  What to learn (content) and  How to learn it (process). Denton goes on to identify 3 key findings from 32 research studies that examined outcomes of providing choices to students K-12:
I. When students make choices about what and/or how they learn, they become more motivated to learn
· More likely to be on task
· More likely to incorporate use of positive learning behaviors and skills at own initiative
· Students with Academic Choice (AC) experience tend to prefer more challenging tasks and complete more of those tasks
· AC experiences support intrinsic motivation to learn
II. When students make choices about what and/or how to learn, they think harder and use more academic skills.
· AC enhances problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
· Those with AC experience show greater persistence in staying with difficult tasks and tend to set intrinsically motivated learning goals
· AC enhances creativity
· AC leads to more self-initiated editing and revision of work; more personal application of learning to students’ lives (transfer); and better organization, understanding, and ability to isolate variables in science experiments.
III. When students make choices about what and/or how to learn, they are more likely to behave in constructive ways and develop more friendships with a wider range of classmates.
· Taking initiative and making decisions has been shown to correlate with students’ attempts to solve problems through independent discussion reasoning (rather than tattling and fighting)
· Use of even minimal AC correlates with decreased disruptive behavior during AC times.
· In in-depth study of boy with significant learning and behavior issues, use of AC was associated with increases in student friendship and academic performance
 Build Students’ Skill in Self-Evaluation
Jalongo’s fifth recommendation focuses on the importance of “self-evaluation [as] a major mechanism for building intrinsic motivation.” Jalongo’s point here is simple: “If learners exercise control over when to move on to the next challenge, it helps build confidence and avert failure.” This, she argues, is one of the reasons children demonstrate such a passion for electronic games: “These learning situations put children in control and allow them to adjust and evaluate their performance.” In short, “self-evaluation is a major mechanism for building intrinsic motivation.”
These five recommendations gain their chief importance as strategies for and approaches to cultivating in our students those "building blocks" that Dan Pink describes in his TED talk and his upcoming book Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us.
Autonomy: the urge to direct our own lives
Mastery: the desire to get better and better at something that matters
Purpose: the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves