In a previous entry about motivating students, I quoted an observation from the book Adding It Up that intrinsic motivation is a largely a function of two things: how much a student values the task at hand, and whether they believe they will be successful at that task.
In my Algebra 1 class today, I was reminded of just how true this is. Most students were happily solving linear equations and I was thrilled at how many of them were doing it successfully and independently. However, one student was off-task most of the class. I walked by many times to offer encouragement and help on the assignment with no effect. Then finally, he revealed why he wasn’t working: “I don’t want to do this, mister, it’s hard.”
Aha! So I brought over another assignment involving graphing. The worksheet had 4 linear equations and students had to fill out a table of x- and y-values, then plot points. I asked, “would you like to work on this instead?” Student replied, “Oh yeah, I’ll do that; it’s easy.” He whipped out that worksheet in no time. Funny thing is that there were equations on the worksheet such as 2y+x=5 and the table of numbers had values for x given but not y so the student had to solve a linear equation to find the value of y given x.
Part of this students’ motivation to do work might have also been due to the perception of being control over the situation–I gave him some choice on what to do. However, the two choices were relatively “boring” worksheets with “naked” problems. They didn’t contain interesting problems and I didn’t try to relate the problems to their lives. They were just plain math problems.
So at least in this case, it seems that this student’s motivation is very strongly correlated to how successful he perceives he’ll be at a particular task. I need to remember this key to motivating this student and exploit it next time he’s off-task. In retrospect, I should have suspected that lack of self-efficacy was the reason behind his reluctance to work because he was in a group with two girls who showed a huge amount of mathematical growth today. He may have been intimidated to try because he didn’t want to look dumb in front of them.
Overall, today was a great day at school. I am continuing to build rapport with students and am more frequently able to capitalize on their respect for me to influence their actions and behavior.