Student Motivation

This post has come about after some reflection about how we motivate the kids in our classrooms AND how ‘rewards’ affect motivation. I know for me, as part of a PB4L school, my main aim is to create INTRINSIC learners. This is the foundation of what it means to be a PB4L school. I want my learners to be motivated to learn because it is what they desire to do… not because someone or something is telling them that when you learn something or do something right that you get something for it (some sort of extrinsic reward). My aim is to develop learners who want to learn because what they get out of it is new understanding or new knowledge about something… they WANT to learn something new… it is them making the decision to do it not because I have said they have to.

Now this is not an easy task.

Having studied Motivation I have learnt that a student will ask themselves 2 questions when faced with a learning task: “can I do it” and “do I want to do it”.

The first question relates to efficacy. How a learner FEELS about themselves as a learner. Whether they think they will be successful at it. The second question is to do with how willing the learner is to do the task – is it of interest, relevant, or meaningful to me. There are MANY concepts which impact on how a student answers these questions for themselves (I am not going into those here – that is an essay).


But…motivation I learnt is a continuum and extrinsic motivation “can be self-determined through the developmental process of internalisation and integration” (Brophy, J. 2010, p 155) Internalisation is when an externally recommended value (a certain behaviour or task) is altered to become an internally adopted one. Integration is the process through which these new internalised values become integrated into the self. If we can incorporate external values and alter them so they become personally ratified, it allows us to feel self-determined when we enact them. This extrinsic regulation occurs along a continuum from ‘external control to autonomous self-regulation’. Integrated regulation is “the most self-determined form of extrinsic motivation” (Brophy, J. 2010, p. 155)

To explain this theoretical position, I see it this way… helping to develop intrinsic learners (or at least self-determined extrinsic learners) is all about building a love of learning for learning sake! A love of learning because I am curious, I am wondering about something, there is something I want to find out about, it is relevant to me, I can see why I am learning this, it is of interest to me, and it is something I have had some ‘voice’ in, I have chosen this to learn or I see it as being relevant and purposeful… and hopefully it is fun.

PB4L is run on a voucher system. Now because learners receive a virtue voucher when seen displaying positive behaviour for learning, there are likely VERY FEW truly intrinsic kids BUT there are certainly those who are self-determined extrinsics and who are learning because they want to, are motivated to take some control over their learning and at the same time happily accept their voucher when given one – they don’t become self-directed/regulated learners BECAUSE they will receive a voucher. They have become self-determined… they have internalised and integrated an externally recommended value.


Now this isn’t easy either when we have 30 learners in our classrooms.

But I still feel we have to start SOMEWHERE to provide SOME opportunity for our learners to learn stuff that THEY have selected. I think doing this would go SOME way to developing learners who are learning because they want to … on the continuum to becoming intrinsic (or at least a self-determining extrinsic learner).

One of my Teaching as Inquiries this year is concerned with this. Can I develop more agency in my students through guiding them to design their own curriculum? Of course I will post the outcome at the end of the year!

The other purpose for this post is to briefly share my personal dislike for ‘behaviour management’ tools like Class Dojo when used to develop ‘motivation’. I have questioned and still question HOW they motivate learners to become intrinsic. Are they not simply tools to ‘manage behaviour’?

Having used Dojo back in 2014 I saw some form of motivation develop. But what was being motivated? Their commitment to their learning task or how many ‘points’ they had because they were doing what the teacher had said. I will tell you… they became motivated to “see how many points they had” and the ‘behaviours’ they were getting their points for became irrelevant. I realised very quickly (even after altering the ‘behaviours’ to ones which suited my pedagogy) that it was just as easy to ‘tell’ the student face to face what they had done well at or what they needed to manage better.

For me, I want to develop learners who have control of THEMSELVES. Learners who learn to self-regulate and and develop an intrinsic desire to make good choices – not learners who ‘get points’ because they have done what the teacher has said is right. My other concern as a PB4L school is this… if we have something positive to say to kids…let’s just TELL them; let’s have those wonderful conversations – HAVE A 3-SECOND PARTY to celebrate:)


Is it necessary to award points?


I am not saying that any of this is easy… but as a PB4L school I think it is important to keep it about the CONVERSATIONS and keep it about the LEARNING and not the behaviour. I have moved away from thinking about it as ‘behaviour management’ but rather ‘engagement management’.

What am I doing or not doing or could do to engage my kids…to foster motivation for learning for its own sake and learners who manage themselves and don’t need a teacher to do this.

This blog post from the well known Cult of Pedagogy (Jennifer Gonzalez) is definitely one to read on this topic:)


Brophy, J. (2010). Motivating Students to Learn. New York: Routledge.


5 thoughts on “Student Motivation

  1. Dean says:

    Kerri – I agree totally. I tend not to give out a little orange piece of paper for the ‘expected’ behaviour that adds to our classroom community, which I guess goes towards backing up your intrinsic comments. For example, our (the class) expect everyone to use their manners. To give a VV for saying please changes the purpose of saying it in the first place. Does that make sense? I’m writing on the fly here. And conversations with kids, my god with all the digital things thrown at us that seems to be a thing of the past. There is nothing better than sitting beside a kid and talking to them about their work, their life, their next steps….. face to face is the best and only way to actually make sure your message gets across in the intended way. And the follow up discussions are instant and you can witness their understanding, or clarify if unsure. And others get drawn in and, well I could go on and this is a comments box. In short, I agree. Thanks for this post, interesting, very interesting. Thanks also for having the guts (for want of a better word) to actually saying what you mean as well. Kia kaha Kerri

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kerri says:

      Oh… and one more thing… I agree with you that the VV’s should be given out for those special moments we see kids displaying our virtues…not for every expected behaviour:)


  2. Jude cheer says:

    Very thought provoking and I totally get the comments regarding the “conversation” around vouchers as it is this that is the cornerstone of PB4L celebrating the success of the student on their journey to be intrinsically motivated to learn.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kerri says:

      Hey Jude… thanks for reading and leaving some feedback. Although my blog is mainly for me to reflect and clarify things I am thinking about…it is always good to know others are having their ‘thoughts provoked’ too:)


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