Current Even #2
WHAT DO THEY REALLY WANT? Student Voices and Motivation Research
According to this article, students who have the skills and abilities to succeed, but choose not to
succeed are the “disengaged and reluctant teenage learners.” These students usually show good test scores
but have low GPA. Daniels and Arapostathis, in this research, made it a point to listen to these
disengaged and reluctant learners’ voices. They found three factors that contribute to these students’
failures and success, and as a consequence they found ways to create encouraging learning environments
for these students.
The first factor is the relationships students build with their teachers. If students feel a genuine
interest teachers have for them, they will see teachers as their allies and advocates. That influence teachers
have in students can raise the level of intrinsic motivation and effort towards academics. A motivating
teacher has the following qualities flexibility, ability to understand situations from a student’s point of
view, experimentation, discussions, and encouragement. If students feel supported and cared for, they will
engage. The second factor is the interest students have in the assignment because of relevance and
connection they see of their academic success with their future. If the assignments relate to them, these
students will be engaged in learning. For example a student read “the Outsiders” because it related to him.
Another student read computer books because they helped him help his dad and another student read art
books because they gave him ideas for his art work. And yet another student liked home economics
because they made “muffins and pancakes in class.” The last factor that contributes to students’ success
or failure is the feeling of competency they have to complete a task. Students are successful if their skills
are matched to the challenge at hand while at the same time being pushed to a slightly higher level.
Ways to motivate disengaged and reluctant learners include educators building trusting
relationships with their students, alignment of the curriculum with student interest, and decreased use of
The topic and intent of this research seemed very engaging to me because I do have many
“disengaged and reluctant learners” in my biology classes. The authors actually interviewed the students
and asked them questions that contributed to their lack of motivation to do well in school. I believe that
nothing is more valuable than actually listening to the needs and demands of our customers.
I was a bit disappointed in the very small sample size, eight students at the beginning of the
research and 4 at the end, in the research. However, the authors acknowledged that their sample was small,
and they also encouraged others to continue this research. The element of time was not discussed and it is
very important for the clarity and possible replication of the research. It seems like this research was very
short because of the type of questions that were asked to students, which include describing their best and
worst memory of school, and when the students learned to read, and what they like to read. This type of
questions seemed very superficial. I wish the researchers had been clear and specific on how to carry out
ways to motivate those disengaged and reluctant learners, specifically on how to make assignments more
interesting to them. Actual data and would have shown a clear structure of the research to replicate it.
The authors of this research pointed out that the student participants rarely referred to poverty,
violence, or other difficulties common to urban settings, as inhibitors of their success and failures. That
indicates that those elements are not important; I disagree. In the past some of my students manage to tell
me about fights that occurred in their homes at two in the morning, the lack adequate space they have at
home to study, the loneliness they feel because there is no one who can understand them, the immense
responsibilities (emotionally and financially) they have to their families in this country and their country of
origin, etc. I do recognize that poverty and violence are very messy issues to deal with, and this may be
why they are ignored or thought of as unimportant.
Building trusting relationships with teachers, being interested in the assignments, and feeling competency
to complete a task are factors that not only benefit reluctant learners but also every student and anyone
who is in a classroom. These factors, however, seem to be the most important to help the reluctant and
disengaged learners. Now, the how to make this factors occur seems very complex and in my experience
is left at the end (of discussions, classes, etc.) when there is no more time to continue.
At the school where I work, building trusting relationships with students is not very difficult for
me because I grew up in the neighborhood and we share a cultural background. What is intimidating for
me is becoming aware of things, for which I have no knowledge or skills to deal with. If I need to I will
go do research and the necessary to help students, but that means that I have to sacrifice planning the
curriculum and possible class time. Aligning the curriculum with student interest is fun for me, but it
requires lots of time, knowledge, and resources, and collaboration from other teachers and student
personnel. Decreasing the use of extrinsic motivation is very important to make that motivation
permanent and fruitful, but it might be difficult and too late to internalize at the high school level.
During my six years of teaching, I have found myself puzzled about a number of students who
have the skills and abilities to be successful in school but for some reason they choose not to be
successful. It is very frustrating to see those students waste their time and not only theirs, but mine and
the other students’ as well. I have done things in my classroom to motivate them, but I realize that I lack
the necessary knowledge to be efficient at this. The other factor is support and continuity. If I am the
only person who makes such efforts, then my success with these students will be limited, as it has been. I
am very hopeful however, this week my small learning community has been discussing common behavior
and academic expectations for next semester and we are emphasizing uniformity and consistency within
our community of about 18 teachers and 450 students. I am very excited!
The authors suggest that teachers research the community where they teach, so that they will be
better able to reflect on what they do and to integrated theory with practice. I feel very confident on this
factor; I think I know what I need to know. Designing curriculum (with interesting and personalized
assignments) to address the needs of many students, including the disengaged and reluctant learners is
more challenging to me. There are so many kinds of students in one classroom at one time, including
gifted, special education, and language learners. I guess planning one lesson at a time is a start. Creating a
motivating learning environment by planning learning activities that give students opportunities to learn
skills, take risks, and show talents is one of my favorites. I can honestly say that my students feel
comfortable in my classroom and trust me. I do feel that I need to learn the little tricks to more efficient
to spark that internal motivation and help students understand and see the connection between their
success now and their future.
There is much I need to do. It is overwhelming sometimes, but I am very excited about my
research and support in the horizon with my SLC. I know I can create a heaven in my classroom, and for
many of them it already is, for students to engage regardless of any outside influences. Intrinsically
motivating them will be a lasting and productive factor for the good of their own lives.