motivation by keralaguest


									                READY OR NOT
A study of student perspective on motivation in the classroom

                        Presented By:

                        Kevin Kottkey

   In partial fulfillment for the Masters of Art in Teaching

                     At Pacific University

                        January 2005


          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


Acknowledgements                           i

ABSTRACT                                   ii

TABLE OF CONTENTS                          iii


     Introduction                          1

     Purpose of the study                  4

     Research Questions                    4

     Definitions of Terms                  5


     Review of Literature                  6

III. Methodology

     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

     Summary                               39

     References                            40

                            Section I


       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.

                       Research Questions
Central Question:
  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?

Sub questions:
  1. Does the use of humor in the classroom play a role in

      student motivation?

   2. How does the use of ideas from brain-based research

      affect motivation?

   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

intend to!

                           Section II
                       Review Of literature
                      Personal Motivation
      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

demotivate students.

       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

the classroom.

Final Thoughts

      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.

                             Section III

                    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.

Data Collection

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

     other interpretations.


  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

our building.

      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.

Ethical consideration

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 Collection

   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
                                          Work Time
18            45             37           17          6          28

What activities motivate you the least?

Topic         Labs           Groups       Independent Worksheets Videos
                                          Work Time
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?



 Student Responses


                     40                                                                                       Series1




                                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
     motivate you?

  -   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)
  -   outgoing
  -   different than other teachers
  -   energetic

   -    strict (2)
   -    good at doing different voices
   -    positive attitude
   -    expects us to do well
   -    hardly ever yells
   -    unique with his own style
   -    exciting
   -    fun attitude
   -    lots of effort into his class
   -    enthusiastic
   -    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

follow-up activities.

   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

other teachers.”

       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

the teacher.

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-

motivated/low-achieving students.

   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.

Personal Implications

   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!


Kevin Kottkey

Student’s Signature                           Parent’s Signature
____________________________                  ______________________________


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