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Extract: Motivated Teaching by Peps Mccrea

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Date published 23 September 2020

The latest edition in the High Impact Teaching series, Motivated Teaching explores how harnessing the power of motivation can help improve your teaching practice.

The book’s author and our Dean of Learning Design, Peps Mccrea draws on behavioural economics, evolutionary psychology and motivation science to create a framework that can be used to ensure your pupils remain interested and engaged in the classroom.

Find out more in the short extract below.

Why motivation?

“Education is mandatory, but learning is not.” Mary Kennedy

Motivation matters. Especially in school.

When pupils are motivated, they pay more attention, put in more effort, persist for longer, and are able to work more independently.

Motivated pupils bring care and commitment to the classroom. When combined with effective curriculum and instruction, they learn more and are a delight to teach.

When pupils lack motivation, they get distracted easily, do the bare minimum, require constant cajoling to stay on task, and retain little of what they learn.

Unmotivated pupils bring apathy and avoidance to the classroom. As a result, they often make slow progress and can be wearingly hard work to teach.

Motivation influences the behaviour, learning and life chances of our pupils. Further, it affects the satisfaction and wellbeing of teachers. It is something we should be striving to influence.

Key idea: Motivation influences behaviour, learning and wellbeing

Not cracked yet.

Motivation matters. However, it is not something we have cracked as a profession yet. It is not something we have a sufficiently strong and stable influence on. Yet.

Currently, levels of motivation vary widely within the system. At any one time, most schools have some pupils who are highly motivated, some who are not motivated at all, and many who would benefit from being even more motivated.

In addition to widespread variation, there is compelling evidence to suggest that for the average child, levels of motivation inexorably decline during compulsory education. Our pupils are leaving school with less drive than when they started.

Motivation for learning may be something we have not yet mastered, but this situation is not for want of trying. Teachers are some of the most dedicated professionals on the planet.

The reason we don’t yet have a sufficiently strong and stable influence on motivation is because we don’t yet have a sufficiently common and coherent understanding of what it is or how it works.

The root cause of our struggle to motivate is not a lack of commitment, but a lack of clarity.


Clarity doesn’t come easily

Motivation is something we should be striving to influence. However, it is not something that is easy to understand.

The machinery of motivation evolved over millennia, to help us survive and succeed in a world where resources were routinely scarce, competition and collaboration were a constant trade-off, and the outcomes of our actions were often uncertain.

As a consequence of these conditions, the mechanics of motivation are highly complex.

Furthermore, this machinery is nested deep in our brains and biology. It acts not just in our synapses, but in our genes and in our hormones. It is hard to isolate and often beyond the reach of our conscious awareness.

The mechanics of our motivation are not only highly complex, they are also largely invisible.

Key idea: Motivation is complex and invisible which makes it hard to understand

With this in mind, it is little surprise that clarity about motivation doesn’t come easily. We can’t just open up some heads and look inside, ‘trial and error’ is insufficient for accurate insight, and introspection alone doesn’t have the raw materials to yield enlightenment.

If we truly want to understand and influence motivation, we’ve got to look beyond our own experience. We need to look to the science of motivation.

Even then, clarity still doesn’t come easily. The knowledge we need is strewn across multiple fields, plagued by overlapping theories and crises of replication. Frankly, it’s a bit of a mess.

To gain any kind of actionable clarity from the science, we first need to tame this mess.

We need to tease out the most powerful insights that persist across fields, codify them in ways we can talk about in the staffroom, and translate them into practices we can deploy with Year 9 on a hot Friday afternoon.

Without this, motivation will forever remain a mystery for schools. An elusive art that some teachers serendipitously develop, but many don’t. And the potential of our impact will remain limited.

However, if we can achieve this, if we can harness and tame the science, we will begin to demystify motivation for schools. We will begin to turn it into a discipline that all teachers can master. And ultimately, we will begin to increase our impact.

Which is exactly what this book sets out to do.

Purchase Motivated Teaching by Peps Mccrea >

Go further. Our Expert Edits are a collection of the latest thinking around teaching and school leadership. Curated by experts and filled with reflective prompts.

Download all eight editions now.

Peps Mcrea
Peps Mccrea
Dean of Learning Design, Ambition Institute

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