IS THERE SUCH A THING AS MOTIVATION BIAS?

The curse of knowledge, the notion that when you know something it’s hard to imagine others not knowing it, is certainly a factor that MUST be considered when designing a learning sequence. But I am wondering if there also exists another bias that we could add to the list below: the curse of motivation, the notion that it’s hard to imagine someone else not having the same motivation to achieve?

source is here

An enormous source of frustration for me as a teacher is the lack of drive of some of my students. I am mystified as to how some of them can’t organise their revision, or can’t complete a task with the same level of gusto that I would dedicate to it, or seem to care about the learning and opportunities they are afforded by the education they receive. But I think there are 2 factors at play here that possibly prevent students from exhibiting similar levels of motivation. 

The first is that what I insist upon as normal levels of application from students may in fact be based on expectations I have of myself. Such expectations may not yet be achievable for some students because they haven’t had the context or experience to build self-drive and motivation like I have. 

Over quite a few years now, I have become accustomed to working hard. In fact, the last 25 years seems to have been a constant succession of goals to achieve. Indubitably to my cost, at times I fail to acknowledge things I have succeeded in before the next mission becomes the central focus, but crucially, my levels of ambition seem to have increased as time has gone on. In terms of explaining such motivation, sometimes my insatiable drive may be because I want to master what is presented to me; I’m interested in it, and approach the task with a sense of pride. Sometimes I’m seriously not interested in what I’m doing, but know that I have to get the job done; there’s a family to feed after all. Either way, I am now in a position where it is inconceivable for me not to sustain effort if a task is presented to me, regardless of the energy it demands. Could I say the same of myself at 15? No way. I have a motivation bias. 

The second factor is whether I’ve facilitated a culture of improving motivation in my classes. Didau convincingly dismantles the theory of Growth Mindset as the solution to altering poor motivation in students, his précis that we can’t expect students to improve their motivation without assiduously designing incremental learning sequences that proffer opportunities for success before we introduce challenge. A mantra I often cite to my team is ‘success breeds success’, and this is particularly important for students with plenty of knowledge gaps. I’ve talked about incremental learning here, and for more comprehensive insight into such practice, Tom Needham’s blogs are outstanding, but the essence of such an approach is to build success, and by default, motivation, by eliminating gaps in knowledge.

Motivating students is a tricky business. Understanding what gaps students have is a priority in beginning the journey of increasing motivation, but maybe just as importantly, taking the foot off the pedal sometimes, in recognition that my expectations may be skewed by a form of motivation bias, may also improve the likelihood of student motivation increasing. 

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger, and follow this blog for more discussions about teaching and leanring, and English teaching resources.

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