READY OR NOT
A study of student perspective on motivation in the classroom
In partial fulfillment for the Masters of Art in Teaching
At Pacific University
To Mom and Dad for always being there and supporting me.
To Dr. Debbie Wintermute for always answering all my questions with a smile.
To Dr. Mike Charles for being there when the computer wasn’t doing what it was
supposed to be doing!
To Kristy, my loving wife, who made many sacrifices so that this could happen.
Without you, I could not have done this.
To Henry, my 6 month old son, this is for you, now let’s play.
This study examines students’ perspectives on their own
motivation in my own seventh grade life science classroom. My
research and data collection led me to believe that perhaps the
greatest factor that influences student motivation in my classroom is
my relationship with my students. They felt – according to interviews
and surveys – that a teacher’s personality had a large impact on their
motivation to learn. I also discovered several activities that are and
are not motivating.
The literature review examines the problem of motivation and
the study of motivation as weeding out the many – and seemingly
impossible – amount of factors that affect each student on any given
day. Previous research does suggest that certain activities are more
motivating to most students, but it is limited in the sense that it does
not always address certain grade levels, achievement levels, or
subjects. I used the research I found to help frame questions that
would help me understand the students I see on a day to day basis.
The methodologies included an anonymous written survey which
included both short-answer and ranking systems for students to
comment on classroom activities as well as my own personality traits
that they found – or didn’t find – motivating. This information allowed
for a complete and thorough qualitative investigation of my students
at Evergreen Middle School in Hillsboro, Oregon.
The analysis implies that the majority of students felt motivated
by basically any classroom activity or strategy that allowed them to be
social; this included group work, partner activities, and labs. Students
also described their “hatred” for bookwork, lectures, and most often
listed – the worksheet. Even more eye-opening were the data that
showed a student’s strong need for a personal connection with the
teacher, and that a teacher needs to be “fun” to seem motivating to a
student. This was an almost universally mentioned trait on the
surveys and in the interviews.
The implications of this study are that I will be able to change
the way I plan and deliver curriculum in my classroom. I also will
make a point to give this survey out every year at the beginning of the
year to help me understand what each new group of incoming
students considers motivating. Most importantly, I have realized that
it is more important for me to develop a positive relationship quickly
so that my students will feel as motivated to learn as possible from the
beginning of the year.
Table of Contents
TABLE OF CONTENTS iii
I. SECTION I – CONTEXT
Purpose of the study 4
Research Questions 4
Definitions of Terms 5
II. LITERATURE REVIEW
Review of Literature 6
Rationale for qualitative design 15
Site and participant selection 16
Delimitations and Limitations 17
The role of the Researcher 18
Methods of verification 19
Ethical consideration 20
Data Collection and Analysis 21
I used to spend my lunch times sitting in my classroom,
forcing students who didn’t finish the previous night’s homework
to complete it while chowing down their free and reduced lunch.
If they weren’t going to learn, then I would make them learn. I
can admit now that this particular strategy for increasing
motivation may have worked for a few but not for everyone.
After all, wasn’t I helping them be successful? Wasn’t I fostering
a one-on-one relationship with these struggling students? If
only I could figure out why they wouldn’t do the work on their
own. Why can’t they just get motivated to do it? After several
years of teaching seventh grade at Evergreen Middle School, I
have learned many lessons about how to become a successful
teacher. Teacher in-services have taught me how to map
curriculum, assess learning styles of my students, teach reading
strategies to struggling readers, modify and adjust lesson plans
for students on Individual Education Plans, and many more “hot
topic” items. However, I have yet to understand or have
someone make clear to me what exactly it is that motivates
individual students to want to learn. I mistakenly believed at
first that if I delivered the curriculum correctly, each student
would learn. I have since come to believe that despite the
various ways I teach the content in the classroom, it is difficult
to distinguish if the methods I use contribute to a student’s
motivation to learn. The problem is knowing how successful
teaching strategies are in motivating kids to want to learn. Can
the way a teacher presents information actually change a
student’s motivation on that day? That week? For good? Or is
that motivation level something that is set and decided when
they enter the classroom. There has been plenty of research
compiled on the topic of motivation. Earlier research shows that
students tend to learn something when it is connected to their
real-world. (Heacox, 66.) Students learn by hands-on
experience. Kids want information to be meaningful.
(Winebrenner) Some studies cite a strong teacher-student
relationship is a motivating factor. (Marzano, 42.) However,
these studies were often content-specific. Others were age-
specific or addressed motivating Talented and Gifted students or
low-achieving students. Each study produced results that were
unique to each situation. Although this previous research
examines strategies that influenced motivation, it didn’t always
indicate which strategies were the most successful and why.
Each teacher is different, and each teacher instructs in a unique
way. So previous research might show that
Hands-on experience is a motivator, but it might not be the case
for another teacher in another setting with another curriculum.
This study is important for me personally; I had hoped to gain
insight as to what I can do – or what I was already doing - in the
classroom that I know would make a difference in motivation for
the particular age group and set of students that I taught in my
science class. The purpose of this study was to help me
understand which strategies I used that were helping to
motivate my students, and which ones were not motivating
them. On a larger scale, the results of this study may be shared
with other middle-school teachers as anecdotal evidence that
they may also use in their classrooms.
The purpose of this study
The purpose of this inquiry study is to understand and describe
the teaching strategies that affect student motivation in a middle
school classroom. At this stage in the research, student
motivation will be defined by a student’s attitude and willingness
to learn in the classroom.
1. What teaching strategies and activities motivate students
in a seventh grade science classroom to learn?
2. How much does a teacher’s personality affect a student’s
motivation to learn?
1. Does the use of humor in the classroom play a role in
2. How does the use of ideas from brain-based research
3. How does direct instruction affect motivation?
4. How does hands-on instruction affect motivation?
Definitions of terms
Because this study is qualitative, there are a limited number of
terms to be defined. Some key terms may include:
TAG: Talented and Gifted: a label given to students who have
exceptionally high abilities.
IEP: Individual Education Plan: : A written plan for educational
support services and their expected outcomes, which is
developed for students who are enrolled in special education
SES: Socio-economic status
Motivation: This term is difficult both to measure and define.
Universally, the word itself means to cause someone to act in a
certain way or do a certain thing. With regards to this study, the
definition of motivation could be “a teaching technique or style
that causes a student to learn the given material.” As the study
progresses, this definition may change to “….that causes a
student to want to learn…” Because a motivating factor may not
necessarily mean a student will learn something even if they
Review Of literature
When examining motivating factors in my classroom, I will
be focusing on several areas and how they may affect student
motivation: curriculum content delivery methods, teacher-
student relationships, learning activities, and finally, personality
traits. There have been hundreds, if not thousands, of studies on
the topic of motivation. I broke down the literature and the
topics above into three broad categories: in what ways are kids
individually motivated, how a teacher can affect another's
motivation, and how might a classroom (i.e. other factors) affect
motivation, First of all, what is already known about motivation
in general? Behaviorists have noted that "rats - as well as
humans will consistently seek new experiences and behaviors
with no perceivable reward or impetus." (Jensen, 63.) The idea
that we are motivated by rewards only seems to be one of the
past. It is helpful to know that perhaps people are motivated by
curiosity alone. A student may also know the content, but not be
willing or motivated to demonstrate that knowledge. This was
shown in a Los Angeles County study where 849 eighth graders
"found that they scored 13% higher when offered $1 for every
correct answer on the national exam.” (Jenson, 63) This result
seems to suggest that although motivation can come naturally
without rewards; the use of rewards may also have an impact.
Brain research mentioned in Eric Jensen’s book breaks student
motivation down into three areas under the subject of
“demotivatation.” Instead of looking at what motivates students,
this information looks at what might temporarily demotivate
Associations with the past, present time experiences, and
a relationship with the future all play a role in student
motivation. The present and future topics deal more with the
methods I can use in my classroom and those will be discussed
in the following sections. On the student level, past associations
may actually change brain chemistry so that motivation
decreases. If associations from the past encourage negative
feelings, “the brain acts as if the incident were occurring in the
moment. The same chemical reactions are triggered, and
adrenaline, vasopressin, and ACTH are release into the
bloodstream.” Jensen suggests that the physical response to
past and personal negative associations can temporarily
Personal motivation can be defined by being "intrinsically
motivated." What makes a person motivated in some areas but
seemingly not in others? A study done in 1995 by Biddle,
Goudas, and Underwood looked at student perceptions regarding
personal motivation. This study concluded that the students'
"perceptions of autonomy at the beginning of the course were
predictive of their motivation. In other words, although a student
may feel he is competent in an area of the curriculum, their
perceived autonomy was a more critical factor for intrinsic
motivation.” (Bomia, 5.)
Brain research shows us that the brain actually makes its
own rewards. These are known as opiates and can produce a
natural high. With this in mind, students who succeed usually
feel good, and that is reward enough for most of them. (Jensen,
65.) That is our internal reward system. But how do students
acquire this system? In different ways. They have this from
different genetic factors and different life experiences. (Jensen,
65.) Curiosity, past associations, brain chemistry, perceived
autonomy, and genetic factors are all things that research has
shown affects a person's personal motivation. Of course,
because every student is different, that makes the job of a
teacher that much more difficult. Choosing strategies that work
are important, but it is also necessary to see how environmental
factors and other factors can affect a student's motivation in the
Environment and Motivation
Several environmental factors including parental
involvement, community activity, teacher’-student relationship,
classroom discipline, and challenging curriculum/ correct student
placement can all contribute to the overall motivation of the
student. A vital component of student success in school is the
collaboration between parents and teachers, the student's
parents need to be involved in their child's education and the
community must also be involved. Lickona (1992). Goodman,
Suttan, and Harvey (1995) stated that that by encouraging
participation in parent teacher organizations and workshops, the
communication between parents, community and school may
improve. Often negative feelings and attitudes of parents
towards school are reflected through their children's school
experiences. Parents need to have positive interactions with the
school to help take responsibility of learning. (Epperly, 2000).
The community can also play a role as far as environment
is concerned. If students are involved in activities which build
success, this can enhance their overall motivation. (Heacox,
63.) Students who are participating in events, clubs, groups,
sports, and church have opportunities that provide success.
Because parents pay for and direct these activities, this is a way
that parents can influence motivation.
A factor of the classroom environment is that of the
curriculum itself. "A too easy curriculum is as unmotivating as a
curriculum which is beyond the student's grasp.”(Heacox, 63.)
Although the teacher can affect the curriculum that is delivered,
the overall curriculum and student's ability level is something
that can be altered before the year begins. A student should be
placed appropriately where challenging material will be offered.
Initially, making sure the classroom environment as a whole will
be stimulating can affect motivation.
The relationship between a teacher and student can create
an environment where kids want to learn. According to William
Glasser, “Control theory explains that we will work hard for those
we care for, for those we respect and who respect us, for those
with whom we laugh, for those who allow us to think and act for
ourselves, and for those who help us to make our lives secure.
The more that all five of these needs are satisfied in our
relationship with the manager who asks us to do the work, the
harder we will work for the manager.” (30.) Separate from the
strategies and methods used by a teacher in the classroom is the
relationship mentioned by Glasser. Although every teacher might
strive for those five qualities in different ways, Glasser actually
suggests a list of actions which may help this relationship
develop. Sharing with students the following six items can help
develop this positive motivating relationship: Who you are, what
you will ask them to do, what you will not ask them to do, what
you will do for them, what you will not do for them.(Glasser,
32.) Glasser leaves it up to the individual to decide how much,
when, and what kind of personal information to share with
students, but he believes that working on those steps can foster
a positive relationship.
Within the classroom there are several factors that
contribute to motivation.
Finally, classroom management strategies must be
successful to create a classroom where effective teaching and
learning is taking place. According to Robert Marzano,” ...the
research over the past 30 years indicates that classroom
management is one of the critical ingredients of effective
teaching.” (Marzano, 6.) While this study will focus mainly on
teaching strategies and methods, the importance of
management to the classroom environment must be mentioned.
Environmental factors such as community participation,
parental support and encouragement, challenging curriculum,
positive teacher-student relationships, and effective classroom
management all combine to help set a student up for being
motivated in the classroom. The final piece is examining what
the research says about specific teaching methods and strategies
used to increase or encourage motivation.
Teaching Strategies and Methods
I looked for research that would speak to specific
strategies that seemed to motivate students. Some basic
components emerged. Strategies that allowed students to be
social, to work “hands on” regarding a topic, to physically active,
and to feel that they had some choice all are used by teachers in
the classrooms across the country. “The teacher’s main reason
for using strategies seems to be to meet their students’ needs
for affiliation, autonomy, and physical activity.” (Hootstein, 4.)
In addition, when eighteen U.S. History teachers and their
students were studied with regards to motivation, the conclusion
by the researcher was that “the data show that teachers
attribute less importance to the relevance of subject matter than
to their attempts to stimulate student interest with a variety of
motivational strategies that students might find interesting.”
(Hootstein, 4.) In the same study, students were asked what
strategies they would use if they were teaching. Responses
correlated with teachers’ perceptions: Playing games, videos,
acting out plays, and giving students more control. (Hootstein,
Using relevant curriculum can also affect students’
motivation. In one teacher’s attempt to reach struggling
readers, she “selected literature that spoke to students, such as
newspaper clippings about the death of popular singer Aaliyah
and “Seventh Grade,” a story by Gary Soto. With students so
interested in the book, writing about it evolved naturally.”
(Anderson, 4.) Certainly, most teachers will agree that students
are more motivated to learn when the learning is relevant.
“When teachers demonstrate that learning is important,
motivating, and relevant, Students will become increasingly self-
motivated to be active learners.” (Wiseman, 20) Figuring out
how best to make the material seem relevant when it may not
be to all students is the challenge!
Using videos, hands-on projects, opportunities for physical
activity, social engagement, and making the curriculum relevant
are strategies that all can combine to help motivate students in
Much of the literature on motivation discussed ideas and
concepts that most teachers are already using or trying to
implement in their classrooms. This study focused on examining
the following aspects that were mentioned in the review of
literature: development of a positive teacher-student
relationship, use of hands-on projects cooperative learning,
direct instruction, and play (games and humor) to encourage
increased student motivation.
Rationale for qualitative design
There are several key components that characterize
qualitative research (Croswell, 2003) it must occur in a natural
setting. I conducted the research in my classroom throughout
the 2004-2005 school years. The use of multiple methods for
data collection that were both interactive and humanistic
involved interviews, observations, surveys, and discussions with
the students and possibly their parents in the natural school
setting. At first, I was seeking to understand what methods
motivate my students in the classroom; as I conducted the
research, I also found that the key to motivating my students
seemed to focus more on my relationship with them. Again, my
own interpretation of the survey data as well as how
“motivation” is defined makes this a qualitative study. Because I
evaluated this research, I was well aware of the bias that may
have occurred in my analysis. I was able to use this data to
reflect on my skills and attributes as a teacher; in addition, I
also looked to see what changes I could make to better serve
the students in my classroom this year and in years to come.
The strategy of inquiry used was be primarily a case study.
Site and participant selection
This suburban middle school in the Pacific Northwest
housed 800 students in grades seven and eight. The Socio-
economic status of the school is defined by participation in the
free and reduced lunch plan, mobility rate, student attendance
rate, and the level of most educated parent (grades 8 and 10
only). This middle school was ranked 325 out 365 for SES. In
the classroom that was studied, 1% of the students in the
seventh grade science classroom being studied were in the
program. Ethnic backgrounds were as follows: 81% Caucasian,
15% Hispanic, 3% Asian, and 1% African-American. Three
students in the class were special education students with an
Individualized Education Plan. These students have extended
services beyond the classroom and six were considered
intellectually Talented and Gifted. Reading levels ranged from
third to twelfth grade.
Delimitations and Limitations
1. The subject matter being taught is Life Science. Although
the sampling of students is fairly general, the subject
matter is not. Therefore, this study may not be equally
applicable to all areas of the curriculum.
2. Because this study involved examining my own individual
personality styles and methods, the results may not be
applicable to other teachers and persons in the same
3. In this qualitative study, the findings could be subject to
1. This study confined itself to interviewing and observing a
team of approximately eighty seventh grade students at
Evergreen Middle School in Hillsboro.
2. This study employed interviewing and observing a group of
heterogeneous students; this group included students on
Individual Education Plans, participants in the Talented and
Gifted program, and students of all learning styles and
The role of the Researcher
I have taught Life Science at Evergreen Middle School for
five years. Over the course of those five years, I have taken on
the role of team leader for a team of students. Working with
students and teachers on the team, I became increasingly aware
of the different styles and methods that motivate students to
learn. As a team leader, I work on motivating kids to learn in all
areas of our curriculum. And also as team leader, I am present
at nearly every conference regarding a student and his issues in
the classroom. Most of these conferences and meeting center
around the problem of “getting this kid to be MOTIVATED!” In
addition to finding ways to help students to learn difficult
curriculum in my own classroom, I believe my experience as
team leader has helped me define the challenge of motivating
kids in many areas. It is my hope that by studying my students
in my own classroom, I can apply this knowledge to the bigger
picture that is my team, and eventually to the student body in
I am aware that the fact that because I studied my own
behaviors and methods as they pertain to student motivation in
my own classroom, I invited a bias that will demanded a “thick
skin.” I had to be willing to realize that something I was doing
is not – in fact – motivating my students. I had to also admit
that there might be something I need to consider changing when
it comes to my own style or preferences. I had to be able to
look at the data collected and not change or alter what it showed
to allow my own ego to stay intact!
Methods of Verification
I used several of the methods of verification for this study.
Member-checking occured as I shared my findings with students
and parents to get feedback about which parts they felt were
accurate. I was able to clarify the bias in the study as I
examined parts of my own style and methods of teaching. I was
able to spend prolonged time in the field as it was my own
classroom for the 2004-2005 school year. Peer debriefing
occurred before and during the data collection to ensure that my
techniques and own research questions were thorough.
Again, this related back to my own personal bias. I wanted the
students to respond honestly about questions regarding my style
and the methods used in my classroom without fearing it would
affect my feelings towards them or even how I assess them in
the future! With this in mind, I will made sure that any survey
given was to be anonymous. I also shared my proposed
research project with all students and encouraged them to be
open and honest with their feedback. When interviews were
warranted, I had a teacher’s aide and parent ask the questions
to encourage open and honest answers. No names were
revealed during data collection or in the final project.
Students in my study were be informed with a letter sent home
to parents of my intent to include their responses (anonymously)
in my study. Both the student and a parent or legal guardian
were asked to sign the form before I gathered any data. A copy
of this letter was also be sent to my principal and to our district
office. Permission was obtained verbally from my building
principal before the study began. A draft of the parent/student
letter is attached.
Data was collected through individual student surveys and
individual student interviews. Waiting until the second quarter
to administer the surveys allowed me to get to know my
students and develop a fairly sound relationship with most of the
two-hundred that I see on a daily basis.
Students and parents were sent a copy of the survey and
also a rationale for this project. They were able to complete the
survey only if they had their parents’ permission. Those who
completed the permission form returned it to the classroom.
The following day, surveys were given out to students who
wished to participate. The surveys were anonymous and
students were not encouraged or discouraged to fill them out.
Students could complete the survey on their own time; the
majority (90%) completed it overnight and brought it in the
following day where they were collected by another student at
the beginning of class and placed in an envelope. In total,
seventy-two students completed the survey, or approximately
36% of the total student population in this science classroom.
The survey asked for short answers, ranking, and using a
scale system to comment on several questions relating to
motivation, teaching techniques, and Mr. Kottkey’s personality.
Of the surveys returned, 43% were completed by girls, and the
remaining 57% were filled out by boys. Ages of the participants
ranged from twelve to thirteen years old. All were currently in
Mr. Kottkey’s science class.
Students were first asked to write their own definition of
what they thought the word “motivated” meant. Nearly 75% of
the students left this question blank. Of the remaining 25% of
those surveyed, twelve of the students wrote that it meant” to
be excited about something.” The other seven students wrote
answers that varied and included: “OK with the class.”
“Influenced.” “Prizes.” “Fun.” “Score.” “It’s when you tell
yourself you can do it.”
Students were asked to give a ranking on a scale of one
to ten of how motivated they were to learn in Science class on
an average day. Twenty-eight students, or 37%, ranked their
motivation as a nine or ten on the scale. Forty-one students, or
55%, gave their motivation a five, six, seven, or eight ranking,
and only five students, or a mere 6%, ranked their personal
motivation as less than a five.
What activities motivate you the most?
Topic Labs Groups Independent Worksheets Videos
18 45 37 17 6 28
What activities motivate you the least?
Topic Labs Groups Independent Worksheets Videos
24 9 19 22 43 21
On a scale of one to ten, how much does a teacher’s personality influence your
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
1 1 1 1 3 11 14 38
When asked what motivated them the most, students
were to rank six activities from a one to a six, with one being the
most motivating. The activities included: topic, labs, group
work, individual work time, worksheets, and watching a video.
Data was collected by noting the top two ranked activities for
each survey. The top two responses included labs – 29% of
students listed this as their number one or two choice – and
working in groups – with 24% listing this as either their first or
second choice. Watching a video earned the third spot with 18%
of responses listing this as their first or second choice.
Independent work time and topic of study both were mentioned
as top choices by 10% of the students. Dead last with a mere
3% of student support were the dreaded worksheets.
When asked which activities were the least motivating,
the overwhelming majority of opinions listed worksheets – 43
students listed this as the most non-motivating. Topic, work
time, and watching videos were next in line with approximately
13 % of the votes.
Question number eight asked students to list things that
Mr. Kottkey does to motivate them to learn. Approximately 86%
of student responses listed that Mr. Kottkey was “funny” and
“made science fun with his jokes.” This response overwhelmed
the others which included “draws pictures so we can understand
better” and “goes over and over it until he knows we get it.”
When asked to write the activities that students do not
find motivating, 55% of students mentioned “reading out of the
textbook.” Other activities mentioned included “worksheets” –
written down by thirty-five students (47%), “lectures”, and
“when Mr. Kottkey is grumpy.”
Finally, question ten asked,” On a scale of one to ten,
how much does a teacher’s personality affect your motivation to
learn?” An overwhelming 85% of students – sixty-three
students – circled an eight or higher, and 51% circled a ten!
Three students circled a seven, with six, five, three, and one
being circled only one time.
How much does a teacher's personality affect your motivation?
1 to 5 6 to 8 9 to 10
Ranking (ten being very much)
Students who also opted to be interviewed had signed
permission from their parents. These twelve students were
pulled out of class and interviewed; half of the twelve were
interviewed by a school volunteer who had a student at
Evergreen. The other interviewer was a school classified
employee who worked as a teacher aide in Mr. Kottkey’s science
classroom. Students were interviewed in groups of two to use
time most efficiently.
The interviews were to garner more in depth answers to
some of the same questions, but it seems that many of the
responses were identical to those on the surveys. However,
there were several new pieces of information that should be
1. In general, what would you say motivates you to learn?
- my parents want me to do well (2)
- if it’s not interesting, it’s not motivating (2)
- it depends on the teacher – I like to go fast and learn
- my mom expects it
- playing games – making it fun (6)
- hands-on is more fun
- making it easy to understand
- labs and projects
2. In Mr. Kottkey’s classroom, what kinds of things help
- Jokes (3)
- slides and pictures
- he’s not grumpy
- he’s different than other teachers (3)
- he’s energetic (2)
- explains things well (2)
- visual stuff makes it easier (3)
3. Does a teacher’s personality have an effect on your
motivation to learn?
- yes! (12)
4. How would you describe Mr. Kottkey’s personality?
- Funny (5)
- different than other teachers
- strict (2)
- good at doing different voices
- positive attitude
- expects us to do well
- hardly ever yells
- unique with his own style
- fun attitude
- lots of effort into his class
- sometimes kind of strange and interesting
- not serious all the time – he mixes it up
The main purpose of this study was to examine what
teaching strategies and activities motivate students to learn, and
to investigate how much – from a student’s perspective – does a
teacher’s personality affect student motivation in the classroom.
Other areas of interest included looking at direct instruction, use
of humor, and brain research and their effects on student
Of the students who answered the survey questions, 93% of
them indicated that they were motivated to learn in science
class. Although some ranked their motivation between a five
and an eight on a scale of one to ten, 55% ranked their
motivation in science class as a nine or a ten. Only a handful –
6% - ranked their motivation as low. This data alone was
surprising and encouraging. Something in science class was
motivating to the students.
Teaching Activities and Techniques
Six common daily activities were listed on the survey and
students were asked to rank them according to what they felt
was the most motivating. An overwhelming number listed both
labs and group work as their top two choices. When asked on a
short answer question to describe why they choose these as
their top choices, answers included “because labs are fun” and
“because I get to work with my friends.” In essence, the labs
were listed as a top choice but not necessarily because of the
learning that was involved. “Labs are fun,” was mentioned most
often and several students added that was because they were
“hands-on.” Brain research tells us that many students learn in
different ways. Students may feel more successful in the
classroom and learn more when having a “fun” time doing so.
The reasons listed for group work as a top choice fell into
three main responses that included “I get to work with friends”
and “I get to talk to people” and “I get to get help from my
group.” Middle School students are beginning to realize the
social aspect of their lives. Allowing them to learn while being
social again seems to be something they enjoy. Although
several students commented that they did not enjoy groups
when the teacher assigned the members of each group; this
implies that students enjoy talking with friends more than just
talking with other students. One can conclude that group work
with friends might create the most optimum atmosphere for
students to feel motivated to learn in the classroom. Their
comfort level is high, self-esteem improves, and their willingness
to learn and explore challenging concepts may improve.
The third highest response included “watching a video.” This
wasn’t a surprise. Again, research shows us that people learn in
different ways. The idea that people have multiple intelligences
is a familiar one in education. Learning visually is one of the
intelligences that students list as their preference; watching a
video is anther way of learning that they find motivating,
probably because they like it! Reasons “video” was listed as a
top choice included “I like to watch them,” and “It’s a break from
class.” Also, this is a visual society. We watch television, play
video games, watch movies, take pictures digitally, and even
email images on our phones. Students today are used to
learning visually and watching a video seems “easy” to them.
One student mentioned that she liked videos as long as she
“didn’t have to take notes for Mr. Kottkey.” Again, the
assumption is that just watching is easy…as long as there is not
additional thinking involved!
In a typical two-week period, we might do one lab and two
other activities that involve working in groups. One reason labs
are so infrequent is because of the lack of time to set up, the
lack of money to purchase supplies, and the lack of equipment
needed to perform labs that are relevant to the curriculum.
However, additional group activities and mini-labs should be
incorporated to increase student motivation in my classroom.
This survey also asked students to give their opinions on
what activities and strategies were the least motivating. The
overwhelming response was that completing worksheets were
the least motivating followed by the topic of study. I did not ask
a follow-up question to this one but should have. The result of
this question was a surprise to me. I used to give out
worksheets for review several times a week in my first couple
years of teaching. Students seemed to enjoy them as they
searched to find the answers that fit neatly in the spaces. They
discovered that they could read along in the book and find the
right word for the space; however, I discovered that even
though they were filling out the worksheets correctly, they didn’t
understand what they were writing! I mistakenly assumed that
they enjoyed the success that completing the worksheet brought
them. I slowly phased out the use of the worksheets as we did
more labs, group activities, and different kinds of assessment
like drawing pictures and making charts and graphs. This year, I
hand a worksheet out for review about twice a month. Students
don’t complain about them, and they dive right in to complete it.
The survey results were a surprise. My guess is that because
we are doing other more interesting and “fun” things, a
worksheet falls last on the list of the ranking. A couple of
students did list “worksheets” as their number one choice, citing
that they like being able to fill in the right answers. I will,
however, need to ask my classes the reasons that worksheets
were their least motivating activity.
One topic earned equal votes on both sides of the question.
At least two times I week I like to give students individual work
time to complete work we begin in class. This gives me a
chance to help students and touch base with students who have
been absent. It also gives students a chance to catch up and get
ahead on their homework. Typically, this is quiet time and they
do not work in groups. Approximately 11% of the students
listed this as their top motivating activity. Yet 15% of students
listed it as their least motivating. Students who listed it at the
top cited reasons such as “I like to get my work done in class”
and “It gives me a chance to get help if I need it” and “I like to
work on my own instead in groups – I can go at my own pace.”
Although the 15% of students did not cite why it was their last
pick, these were the students who also cited group work as the
top. The connection may be made that those who are more
social are motivated by activities that allow them to do so! It
seems that students do not get excited when I give them work
time like they do when we do a lab. But this time may still be
useful. Although not motivating to some, getting caught up and
help from the teacher might lead to increased motivation on
I was surprised by a few things in this part of the survey.
One was the overwhelming amount of students who listed labs
and group work as the most motivating. I had anticipated that
labs would be the number one choice, but not that group work
would be second. I had underestimated the power of the social
aspect of group activities, and I realized that students were
more motivated when they worked with people that they liked or
chose. I had also assumed that the topic had a larger impact of
student motivation. It seemed that my students didn’t really
care what they were learning or even if it applied to their every
day lives as long as it was “fun” and they got to learn with their
friends. I would see that “fun” is the key factor in seemingly
every aspect of student perceived motivation in my classroom.
Teacher Personality and Motivation
This was the most enlightening part of the survey because it
gave me true insight as to how my students perceive me as a
teacher and a person. According to my students, a teacher’s
personality had a strong impact on their personal motivation in
the classroom; in fact, much stronger than I had anticipated.
Eighty-five percent of students surveyed said a teacher’s
personality had a strong impact on their motivation, and 51%
circled a “ten” on the ranking scale from one to ten. When
asked in interviews and on the written surveys to describe the
things that I specifically do in my classroom that help motivate
students to learn, three main things were listed. “Making jokes”
was the number one answer, with drawing and reviewing
concepts coming in second and third. Almost every single
student listed “jokes” or “being funny” as the main thing I do to
help motivate them. This led me to realize that the relationship
with a teacher and his students can possibly be the most
motivating thing that he can do in the classroom. All students
described my personality as “fun,” “unique” and “different from
Of course, what one student considers being “fun” or
“funny” can differ from student to student. However, most
students – regardless of their sense of humor – agreed that I did
things that were goofy and fun. This is where things get a bit
nebulous. I might assume that if I weren’t having so much fun
in the classroom and goofing around, that I might not have my
students’ attention as often; this would lead to lower motivation
for learning. However, I’m not sure why using humor in the
classroom is motivating in itself for students to learn. My earlier
research noted a connection between the relationship between a
student and teacher and a desire to work to please that
particular person. Joking around with someone implies that you
know them well enough to kid around, and that implies that you
have a good and positive relationship with them. The connection
might be made that in order for students to feel motivated, they
must first feel that they have a positive relationship with a
teacher. If this occurs, then they will be more willing to
participate in the classroom ideas and activities that the teacher
Another area of my research that would support this
claim is that the activities listed as ones that students do not find
motivating are: reading out of the book, filling out worksheets,
teacher lectures, study time, and when Mr. Kottkey is “grumpy.”
All of these activities employ limited – if any – social interaction.
Students at this age enjoy activities that are social,
engaging, and foster positive relationships with their peers and
Authenticity and Questions for Further Study
Conducting this study, I have discovered many additional
questions that need to be pursued as I teach – in action research
models most likely.
First of all, because the survey was voluntary, I noticed that
the vast majority of students who returned it were students with
whom I had a good relationship and students who were also
earning high grades in my science class. I know the results were
skewed because of this. Secondly, students were interviewed in
pairs, and I noticed that many of their answers were similar –
even the words they used to describe things. We combined the
interviews to save time and also to make the students feel more
comfortable. It turns out that most of the students who took
the survey and were interviewed were already highly motivated.
Of course, the data was still useful because I was able to
understand what activities motivated them the most, but I
believe I missed a key group of students; the non-
To continue this project, I would sample only students who
were earning below a 70% in my classroom. I would assume
that because they are not earning higher grades, they are - for
some reason – not as motivated to learn. It would be interesting
to learn why they aren’t as motivated, although my hunch is that
these students don’t have the support needed at home.
This project enabled me to answer some key questions. As
stated earlier, the main purpose of this study was to examine
what teaching strategies and activities motivate students to
learn, and to investigate how much – from a student’s
perspective – does a teacher’s personality affect student
motivation in the classroom. I was able to gather research that
helped me answer both of those guiding questions rather
definitively. This project will assist me in planning my
curriculum for the year. Because my students stated that a
teacher’s personality strongly affected their motivation in the
classroom, I will spend more time at the beginning of the year
developing positive relationships with my students. Instead of
diving right into the curriculum, I will mix in several days of
activities that enable me to get to know my students and ones
that allow them to know me as well. I will make an extra effort
to develop strong relationships with students who are at risk.
In planning classroom lessons, I will cut back on the
amount of worksheets I use in the classroom for review, and we
will work more as a class, in groups, or in pairs for review.
Because there were some students who did enjoy worksheets, I
will continue to make these available, but not always required.
This study has had an impact on the way I look at my
students and the way I plan activities for my classes. Because
each group of students is different – as each learned is also an
individual – I think the survey is something I will continue using
each year at the beginning of the year. This will give me some
individual knowledge of my students and their motivation before
the year begins, and it may allow me to focus on some students
who see themselves as not motivated in the classroom.
Student motivation can be strongly influenced by the teacher in
the classroom; a teacher’s personality may be the strongest
factor in a student’s motivation in the classroom. This concept
was just one of the interesting things I learned by conducting
this research. Although there are so many factors that
contribute to student motivation, I was able to focus on several
that will actually impact the way I approach my curriculum and
my students. Making sure that I reevaluate each incoming class
will also help me stay on top of the individual needs of my
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September 7, 2004
Dear Parents and Students,
I am currently completing my Masters of Teaching Degree at Pacific
University. As a part of this program, I am conducting research which will
involve the students in my science classroom this current school year (2004-
2005.) With your permission, I would like to include data from surveys,
observations taken (anonymously) in my research thesis.
The purposes of this study is to examine the factors that motivate all
students to learn in the classroom – specifically the science classroom. It is my
hope to take a look at what methods and strategies are most successful in helping
students learn difficult curriculum such as Life Science. Is hands-on experience
best? What kinds of communication are most easily understood by a variety of
learners? How does brain-based research affect student motivation? These are
some of the questions I hope to be answering. After five years of in-service on
many of these issues, I would like to put the theories to the test.
The procedures of my study would most likely focus on assessing
student’s attitudes towards different methods used in the classroom. Students
would be asked at times to give feedback (if time allows in their schedules!)
through surveys or interviews. These would never take the place of class time,
and students would be asked to fill them out voluntarily if time allowed. At no
time would this information become required or a part of their grade in the
All students and parents would be able, at any time, to see a copy of the
results and the final thesis presentation. Their privacy would be of the utmost
importance and always be respected. The benefits of this study will be shared
with other teachers at Evergreen as well as the participants in Pacific’s program.
If you are willing to be a participant in this study, please sign below! If
you have any questions or need further clarification, you may call me at 844-
1400. I’m looking forward to an exciting – and motivating! – year!
Student’s Signature Parent’s Signature