One Way to Look at Student Motivation

I am sure at one point or another all of us have had to deal with students with an attitude like this?


How often do we wonder why some students don’t seem to care?

While reading Discipline in the Secondary Classroom by Randy Sprick, I came across an interesting theory on motivation. It’s called the Expectancy Value Theory and looks like this:

Expectancy x Value = Motivation

Expectancy – degree to which an individual expects to be successful.

Value – the degree to which an individual values the intrinsic or extrinsic rewards that accompany success.

If we apply basic math skills to this formula is that if either variable (Expectancy or Value) is a zero, regardless how high the other component is, motivation is also zero.

Implications for the classroom:

When students seem unmotivated teachers can try to determine whether the student has low expectancy, value, or both and make adjustments accordingly.

Teachers can find ways to adjust difficult tasks to help students experience more success.

Teachers can add value by spending more time discussing how the content can benefit students.


How can I increase parent involvement at the high school level?

Recently I was fortunate to witness a glimpse of the talent in my school as our teachers presented some of their best practices.   I was inspired by the staff at how committed they are to building strong relationships with students and making an effort to connect with them.  It is great to be a part of a staff so dedicated to making school a positive experience for kids.

The presentations led me to ask myself a few questions.

What are some other ways teachers can find out even more about kids in order to build those strong relationships?

How can these teachers get more support from parents?

How can teachers open a line of communication with parents that may last throughout the year?

Above is a link to something I used to do the first week of every school year.  As students grow older, many parents become less involved in their children’s academic life.  I will explain the process briefly and list the benefits I have experienced using this letter.



1. Near the beginning of school send home the above letter (making any changes you feel may be more suited to your classroom).

2. Ask that parents/guardians reply back using email if possible; if not accept anything.

3. Consider some type of an incentive to insure students do have parents write these letters (if you assign this – it should not be optional)

4. When emails begin to come in add parents to address book and add them to a group email list. ( This will help you communicate important info to parents – like important dates, assignments, notes…)



1. Your first communication with parents will be a positive one; they will appreciate your desire to get to know their child as an individual.  This is a massive benefit when you may have to contact that parent later for a negative reason; the chances that they will be on “your side” and help you resolve problem will be much higher.

2. You learn a ton about your students! (sometimes too much) Parents will give you information about your students from a unique perspectives.  They often have very astute advice regarding the best ways to teach them.

3. Most parents appreciate being kept in the loop and will use your emails to remind students to study or complete projects.

4. It is more likely for parents to be involved if we take the initiative and open that line of communication; many parents may be intimidated or just plain uncomfortable with schools.

5. Students become aware that there is a line of communication between you and their parents; sometimes that is enough to keep them motivated and focused in your class.



Please comment on this if you have tried anything like this and can add any insights or changes you might make to this process. Also, please let me know if you have questions of how to implement this strategy.



* I have to give credit to one of my education mentors, Claudia Swisher, for introducing me to this idea.





Assessment, grading and rigor: toward common sense and predictable outcomes on tests

Granted, and...

Over the last few months I have worked with a number of high schools and middle schools where the grading and assessment practices simply do not work in a world of standards. The schools are not making local assessment rigorous enough in their concern with demoralizing students through low grades. The solution is straightforward: don’t thoughtlessly translate scores into grades.

The problem. Schools have to meet standards, and local assessment should prepare kids to deal with the standards as tested by PARCC and SB. But the new tests are harder and more rigorously scored than most local tests. So, test scores will have to be low. (Anyone following NAEP results has known this for years, alas.) This seems to run headlong into a long tradition of grading whereby we do not want to punish kids with low grades (akin to the outrage over sharply-lower school scores on accountability measures this…

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