Support Materials

12. Expectations for Success - Motivation and Learning


Linda Darling-Hammond: Motivation is critical to learning. In order to learn difficult material, students must first become engaged and then persevere when they encounter challenges.

Although many people seem to think that motivation is something that students either have or they don't have, their participation and interest varies dramatically from one situation to another.

What makes the difference? And how can we manage our classrooms so that students want to learn and are willing to put forth the effort to do so?

I'm Linda Darling Hammond, and that's our challenge for this session of The Learning Classroom.

Three major factors have been found to influence motivation.

The first is what we call "expectancies of success" - what the learner thinks about herself and her abilities. If she's in a classroom that enables her to feel competent, she'll likely answer "yes" to the question, "Can I do this?"

Tthe second factor relates to the kind of task the teacher creates. Is it interesting, engaging, challenging, and well-organized to get students involved and keep them involved? If the task is genuinely interesting, students are likely to say "yes" to the question, "Do I want to do this?" The third factor relates to the classroom environment - does it support students in the process of learning and taking risks?

If students know they will get the assistance they need to succeed and they can try without fear of ridicule, they're more likely to say "yes" to the question, "Will I be supported in learning this?"

Deborah Stipek, whose research focuses on motivation theory, explains:

Deborah Stipek, Ph.D., Dean, School of Education, Stanford University: Expecting success is absolutely critical. Children need to feel confident and they need to feel competent. Nobody likes to engage in an activity that makes them feel incompetent. And there's no reason to try on something when you don't believe that you are going to succeed on it. So it's probably one of the most critical variables in motivation. And there are a number of ways you can promote expectations for success in your children and there's a number of ways you can make them feel confident and competent about their ability to learn.

Linda Darling-Hammond: In this session we're going to take a look at some classroom scenes we've seen before. Only this time, we're going to look at them through this new lens of motivation.

Daryl Robbins motivates her 5th and 6th grade students in a classroom atmosphere where each member's contribution is valued and respected. She skillfully uses peer teaching and group work to support every student's success.

(classroom scene)
Daryl: Would this be sharing? "I'll find Egypt and then I'll tell you?"
Daryl: What would take place if you were sharing…

Daryl Robbins: Expert jigsaw equalizes learning a little bit, because regardless of your ability level, you're still contributing to whatever the task was as a whole. So you know that without you we couldn't have gotten there. Whether you're more advanced and you did a huge chunk or you're struggling and you just did a small piece, it was a piece.

(classroom scene)
Steven: Libyan desert, I found it! It's right by Egypt.

Daryl Robbins: Kids are quick to thank each other for contributions. And kids know that everyone played a role regardless of ability level or, or other factors. Everybody helped us get to the point where we are now. And definitely I think that, that is a community.

(classroom scene)
Daryl: Israel. Give her a clue, in relationship to?
Boy: It's west, it's the country exactly west of Jordan, north of Egypt, south of Syria, southwest of Lebanon.

Daryl Robbins: It would definitely be faster if I just answered their question. But part of what I'm doing is not only helping that child to engage in dialogue with another child, but I'm also hoping that the child who answers their question will be kind of validating what he or she knows. In repeating something or explaining it, I think you're solidifying what you know. So I'm hoping it will help both kids involved in that process.

I think when kids discover something on their own or with a friend, they feel like they own it. They are very proud of themselves. They're proud of the group. They're proud of the partnership. They're proud of the process. And they can talk about the process in terms of how they got to where, where they are now. They can say, you know, at the beginning of the hour I thought this, but then I talked with a friend, and now I think this. I can't believe I've totally changed what I thought. Or I'm, I'm different than I was an hour ago. If I tell them something, it's, you know, are we gonna be tested on this. It's, it's more that kind of thing.

Deborah Stipek: It's important that children be able to have opportunities to use their own learning styles, to use their skills, and if you have tasks that are so narrowly defined that you have to do it exactly one way, then kids who don't have that particular skill and that particular way down very well, they're gonna have difficulty with it. But if there's some room for them to change the task around a bit to make it work for them, then they can succeed and they can have a sense of competence and expect to succeed in the future.

And you really got a sense that these classrooms were, had a culture of community of, of learners – really wonderful communities of learners where kids were sharing, collaborating, helping each other, using, being used as a resource for each other.

Linda Darling-Hammond: We can see how Daryl Robbins motivated her students by creating an activity where learning was the focus and everyone could succeed. Like Daryl, Mary Edmunds does not give her 10th grade students the answers either. Instead, her students must discover the answers for themselves, and they do so in a context where they can safely make mistakes and learn from them.

(classroom scene)
Mary: So since we are scientists ourselves, right?  We want to find out if it's true that the cellular membrane is permeable. Means that it lets things in and out, right?  So we're gonna use an egg, okay everyone?  We're going to use an egg.

Mary Edmunds: You see in the classroom when I ask the students how would you get the membrane initially, that a lot of them thought, well I'll boil the egg – because they took their past experiences. They boil the egg, they peel it off, the membrane's right there. But I had to get them to understand that this is a living cell, and a living cell has cyto-cell…it has cytoplasm that surrounds the nucleus, so you can't do that, so what are you going to do?

(classroom scene)
Group 1
It'll start cracking and it'll start peeling off. You ain't never boiled no egg have you?
Girl: Hard-boiled eggs, like what you do for Easter, like hard-boiled eggs.
Nichole: And after awhile it'll start to crack.
Group 2
It could be like, maybe lemon juice.
Boy: I say vinegar.
Girl: Vinegar, not lemon juice?

Mary Edmunds: And see, I had the students decide how to dissolve it. And then that made them interested. If I would've just said, "Okay, today you are going to dissolve the membrane of an, of an egg in vinegar," they would've said, "Okay," today….And if I would've asked them two days later what did you dissolve?  What, what acid did you use?  They would say, "I don't know. Whatever you told us to." But see, now if I asked them, they would say vinegar. And I would say why?  Because the pH is low enough to dissolve the membrane, to dissolve the eggshell without effecting the membrane. That's why I did that.

A couple of the groups broke their egg accidentally, and they thought, "Oh, the experiment is now a disaster." But that's, I wanted them to understand that that happens to scientists. That there's limitations in life, but the scientific word is a limitation..

(classroom scene)
Mary: What's the problem?  What happened, what is this, you're a scientist.
It's a limitation.
Mary: Why is it a limitation?
Nichole: Because it was…
Girl: All the membrane of, the shell was gone for the…
Nichole: The membrane dissolved.
Okay, exactly, what is this?
The membrane.
Okay, let's look at it. Can you describe the membrane?
It's rubbery, almost like a balloon.
Mary: So if it's rubbery, do you think it's, it's got pores in it?
Boy: Yes.
Mary: But we can't see them, how can we prove there are pores in this?
Nichole: With a microscope.
Mary: Without a microscope. How could you prove in your scientific investigation…
Because the vinegar got in…

Mary Edmunds: It was a perfect opportunity for them to see the consistency of the membrane and to see, they can't see the pores. They cannot see the pores, but they're microscopic.

Well, they, they read that, or they learned that in some past experience that we've done, because I didn't lecture to that. So that, that was a learning experience for them.

(classroom scene)
Mary: What happened?
Girl: It broke.
Nichole: It um, it weighed more.
Mary: It weighed more. There you go it weigh…
So it blew up like a balloon…oh!
Mary: You got it!

Mary Edmunds: They have to feel secure in making a mistake and not thinking that they're gonna be ridiculed by me or the other students in the classroom, and they have to be able to take chances. I, I don't know everything. And the kids can ask me something, and if I don't know it, and I tell them, you know, I'm gonna look it up, they feel more secure with me asking them questions, and them not knowing the answers. But the best thing to do is to go around and catch it. Catch them while they're doing it and get, get them to think about it.

Deborah Stipek: The children were working on the egg membrane activity and the teacher walked over to them and asked questions. She didn't tell. She asked. It's a very important distinction. She prompted and guided the children in exploring and, and inquiring on their own, so that when they got to the solution and they understood something, again, they had a sense of satisfaction because they brought themselves into it. So the teacher's role there was more of a coach, as a guide, not as someone who told them things that they wrote down.

Linda Darling-Hammond: Mary Edmunds' classroom supports students autonomy. Rather than controlling the lesson and its outcomes, Mary invited the students to investigate on their own.

She created a task that was interesting and engaging, that gave the students a genuine question to answer, and that was something they could, with assistance, accomplish.

Deborah Stipek: The main role of the teacher is to create activities and tasks that are engaging for kids; to create a situation that provides them some room, to give them some opportunity to have some autonomy, some control over how they engage in the, in the activity;  to provide some scaffolding.

So the teacher there is not really giving the answer and telling the child to learn it, but is giving questions, asking questions that guide the child to help prompt them, help them figure things out on their own with just a little bit of help.

Linda Darling-Hammond: As we can see from these classrooms, designing a task that stimulates students desire to learn is terrifically important. Let's look at another example.

In Don Johnson's engineering class, his students are organized into companies that must pull together what they've learned in order to design and build a bridge.

(classroom scene)
Don: Because of the events that you are aware of (shhhhhhh!) that have happened recently, you know we're at war, and a lot of planes aren't flying like they were, so due to, that its harder to get the materials in. Due to inflation I've had to raise the prices on a couple of the items that you use the most. The lumber, instead of being $10,000 apiece, is now $12,000 apiece.
(reacts in astonishment) Whoa!  WHAT?
How you gonna just raise the prices?  What if we won't have enough money to get it done? Then what?
I'm not giving anybody a loan. However, in the spirit of competition, everybody wants to see a good game, maybe one my companies that has a lot of money left might be willing to work out something with a company that doesn't have any money.
Boardwalk needs what?
That's out of the question. I think we should give them like 10,000. And I think, which team needs 6,000?
Um, the Eclipse.
The Eclipse company needs 6,000 dollars. Now, you think we can hassle that down to see how much money they really have right now to see if they're asking for too much?
Okay, I also need to know what is the span of the your bridge, which means how long it is. The span.

Donald Johnson: They can show me that they've learned everything that I've taught by creating something.

For example, in this particular project, everything that I want them to learn I'll know if they learned it, because I'll see a successful bridge that meets the specifications…it's not even important whether the bridge wins the contest or if it holds more than one gram. Just that visually I see proof that everybody understood. Now because there is a group of five of them, obviously I won't see a bridge unless there's been some cooperation. So again it's not something that is pencil and paper, and I'm going to mark off when they get 10% and 20%, it's more of an application in the real world, because in the real world, the proof is that you did it.

Linda Darling-Hammond: It is clear that the students in this classroom are motivated by this task. By connecting the lesson to a real world situation, and by introducing real world challenges, Don Johnson has made an engineering lesson relevant and engaging to his students. You may have noticed something else about this lesson: Don was able to use cooperation as well as friendly competition in a way that was motivating and non-threatening.

Deborah Stipek: Where competition can be used productively and effectively is in collaborations where you have groups of kids that are heterogeneously grouped, where everyone has a fair chance of winning and any child on a given day has an equal chance of winning or losing, and they're not always the loser or always the winner.

Whether they're the winner or the loser depends to some degree on the degree to which they collaborate with the, with each other and can teach each other and take responsibility for each other's learning.

Linda Darling-Hammond: Kendra Hearn also has her 12th grade English students working in groups, and she connects the lesson to a real world situation for them. In this case, her high school seniors are learning how to write and critique college essays. Writing is presented as a process of revising, reworking, and revising again. This allows the students to develop competence with support. Their learning is assisted, and they can focus on the work and their own improvement, not on the grade or their fear of failure.

(classroom scene)
Kendra: What I want to move into now is peer response, what we'll probably do is a two part session on peer response.
What I want you to focus your energy on, because what I've been noticing about peer response sessions is a lot of us are still focusing in on fixing the essay. The point of peer response is to think about it, talk about your thinking, share your thinking with each other, and have this communal discussion about it, let the author listen in and process it through their thought processes and then go back. You ready? Okay, go for it.

Kendra Hearn: Today, students presented their drafts of their reflective essays in what we call peer response sessions.

And the structure of it is quite interesting, because it's unlike other peer conferencing techniques.

(classroom scene)
Boy: Let's see, I connected with you're ah, improving over the year, on my writing. I also improved during this year, right. Um, all things that Mrs. Hearn taught us, the different stages that you use, and um, I actually disagreed with you on the pre-writing part. I actually, it actually helped me a lot. And…
Boy2: I just think it's cool that ah, you actually talk about what type of methods help you write your papers out.
Kendra: The next step is what? Gotten some peer feedback on our drafts….Revision. The purpose of revision is what? Not just to correct grammar and spelling errors, but what? Okay, say that again, Jared.
Jared: Think about what people said.
Kendra: Think about what people said. What does your thinking need to be about any changes you may want to make.

Deborah Stipek: If you want to focus children on learning, on, on mastering, then you have to give them opportunities to not get it right the first time and to continue to work to be able to develop their competencies. Usually that first draft is not great, and it's the second, sometimes the third, sometimes the fourth draft that you could really take pride in, that you can really feel like you've accomplished something.

The level of effort that a child puts into an activity influences the degree to which they have a sense of competence when they finish it.   And usually when an activity that requires a lot of effort, usually requires some revision, some changes, some, "Oh this isn't working let's try it a different way." It focuses students on learning, understanding, and ultimately mastering rather than on getting it right all the time.

Linda Darling-Hammond: You may have observed how working with others toward a clearly articulated standard motivated Kendra Hearn's students. What else motivated students in these examples?

Deborah Stipek: The children were not passively sitting at desks just listening, or even just reading. They were in…actively involved in exploring. They had problems to solve. They had materials sometimes. Or sometimes it was just their voices. They were exploring in conversation. But they were actively involved in the activities, and that's a critical quality of an engaging task.

Linda Darling-Hammond: It is not enough, of course, for a task just to be fun. It also has to lead to learning that's lasting. In Julie Helber's fourth grade classroom, she engages students in guided discovery, so that they explore what works and what doesn't in their investigations in science and mathematics. Because they have figured out the answers, they're more motivated to remember them.

(classroom scene)
Julie: You have a lot of knowledge right now about static electricity. What I'm going to be giving you are some materials that you will be working with a partner to use. How can we use these?  Because in a minute you're going to get to try these, but how are we going to use them? Matt?
Maybe try rubbing them together.
Julie: With that in mind, I need to create a chart that will show us our results.

Julie Helber: The students are constructing meaning by actually using these materials in a way that they have chosen, so I haven't determined how they are going to use the materials and told them exactly what to do. Um, because I want them to err in what they are doing. I want them to see that they've tested or tried something that doesn't work, because that's really when they learn. And they can apply that to other situations. I think that if you can make a connection to the real world with what they're doing, anytime that you are experimenting, if the students can construct meaning they are then able to apply that to a task that they may have, they may need to fix their bike, or they may need to do something with a toy at home, but they, if I tell them how to do it, it's not likely they're going to remember it later. But if they actually learned it while they were doing it, it is likely that they would remember it later.

When there are a variety of opinions regarding a particular topic, really, I think that's the meat of teaching. The students interacting with each other, or I disagree with another student is probably the best thing that can happen in my classroom. You need to create an environment in your classroom that the students accept that. So it's really important that the students feel comfortable enough in a classroom that they can go out on a limb and take a risk and make a statement. And then if somebody else disputes the statement and proves they're wrong, they are able to handle that.

(classroom scene)
Julie: Yes, Brian, you want to explain?
Brian: Here's, if you folded this they have too little. This one has too much, this one's right.
Girl: Yeah, this one's right, but these two are wrong.
Brian: Yes, this one has – they should take the half off of the eight… And put it on the seven and a half to make eight.
Okay, so if I did draw a line like this and gave that one, then would it all be divided in thirds?
Yeah, yes.
Take that line off, take that diagonal line off. So this line off and then we would have thirds.
Girl: Yeah.
Julie: Okay, good!

Deborah Stipek: I think another quality of the classrooms which was really outstanding, I thought, was the way students clearly had opportunities to learn from each other to get feedback that was critical from peers, and to feel comfortable with that. You don't know exactly what happened before, but the teacher had developed a culture of the classroom where if you, another peer could give suggestions and that was helpful. That wasn't failure, that was constructive feedback that could help you get it right the next time. Or there was dialogue; people could disagree with each other. And it wasn't a put-down – it was simply a natural process of learning and under…and developing understanding.

Linda Darling-Hammond: Finally, in a supportive classroom, both teachers and peers help students develop their understanding. In Avram Barlowe's social studies class, it's clear that students' ideas count - that they are important contributors to the process of learning for the entire group.

Avram Barlowe: They're looking at the question of the freed men after the war in the context of the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln's role, the slaves' self-emancipation.

(classroom scene)
Avram: What, what about the people who passed these laws?  What do you expect from these people, but what should have been done with the people who passed these laws?

Avram Barlowe: There may be times when a kid says something, and another kid wants to respond to it immediately, and, and, and it's, they're supposed to wait, but you sort of feel like the dialogue between the two kids has to happen.

You have to be able to, to, to, to let that, to sort of cast out the, the line a little bit and then reel it back in, so that not everybody's jumping in.

(classroom scene)
Jose: You shouldn't be able to reap the benefits of something you were trying to destroy a couple weeks ago. That's not right.
The whole, part of the war was keeping the Union together, you know. You can't, you can't have a country together when you're pushing away half of it, you know?
Matt: The black people?
Avram: No, I think she's talking about the southern white people.
Michelle: No, I'm talking about the…
Matt: …Black people.
But the black people weren't as important as, like, the white people were. It's a sad thing to say, but it's true, you know. You had to keep the Union together, you have to have the Congress and senators from, you know the other states, you had to have representatives, and even if they did not agree with what you wanted, or like what you want for the country, or whatever, you still have to have it, or else there would be no Union. What's the point of having a war over keeping them together if you're gonna push them out after when it's over?
(everybody talking over one another)
Go ahead Stephanie….SSHHH!
Stephanie: If you keep those same people in power, the same people that started the first succession, then you give them, you give them another chance to be in a place where they could start another war. Why would you do that?

Avram Barlowe: It works very differently for very, for different kids.  I think one of the real strengths of this, of what, of what we're doing methodologically with a diverse group of kids, is we're, is, is we're allowing kids to see that I can put out an idea and defend an idea in this classroom, even though I don't necessarily feel like I read as well as this kid or as much as this kid, or I write as well, or as I score as high on a test, because here's an issue that's being posed here, I'm looking at something that I'm reading, I uh…I think I understand what it means, and, gee, I have an opinion about this that's based on my experience, and I can sort of test my mettle here. And I think it's a very empowering experience for kids – very important.

The whole process is empowering to different kinds of kids, sensitizing to other kids, um you know, I think that really everybody in there can see that there's, that, that on any given day somebody can say something that makes you think about something in a way that you haven't thought about it before. And it doesn't matter who that kid is in the classroom. And that's good for every kid in that classroom.

Deborah Stipek: It's really important for children to have opportunities to develop their own passions, their own interests. And clearly we have a curriculum. There is a body of material, of, of knowledge that we want children to, to master. But to make school really engaging and exciting for kids, we also have to be alert to what those passions and, and enthusiasms and interests are.

Linda Darling-Hammond: Teachers don't need to be at the mercy of some mysterious moment when students will "become motivated." They can, in fact,  develop motivation in their classrooms by being conscious of how they help students feel competent, how they create tasks that are interesting, engaging, and accessible, and how they create the kinds of assistance with clear feedback and opportunities for revision that are necessary for students to succeed. Teachers can also increase students' motivation by letting them make mistakes and learn from them in a supportive environment.

In motivating classrooms like the ones we've seen, where students learn to persevere as they encounter challenges, they gain skills that will help them achieve their goals both in school and in life.

This is The Learning Classroom. Thanks for watching.

Return to the Support Materials for Session 12.

Contributors to this Session

Linda Darling-Hammond
Charles E. Ducommon Professor of Education, Stanford University

Deborah Stipek
Dean, School of Education, Stanford University

Daryl Robbins
fifth and sixth grade teacher, Birmingham Covington School, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

Mary Edmunds
tenth and twelfth grade biology teacher, Detroit High School for the Fine and Performing Arts, Detroit, Michigan

Don Johnson
eighth grade teacher, Columbus Middle School, Detroit, Michigan

Kendra Hearn
former teacher, West Bloomfield High School, West Bloomfield, Michigan. Currently professional development consultant, Macomb Intermediate School District, Michigan

Avram Barlowe
tenth through twelfth grade American history teacher, Urban Academy High School, New York, New York.