CogSciSci Book Review: Motivated Teaching by Peps Mccrea

Reviewed by Jo Castelino

Have you ever told your classes that focussing more in lessons will help them do better? If you have, you probably had a few students nod their heads or the majority listen seemingly attentively to every word you’ve uttered. Why then does this alone not work? Why is it so easy for a student to fully focus on playing FIFA, analyse their gameplay and choices there but then cannot apply the same principles to their lesson on Electrolysis?

Peps Mccrea’s latest book Motivated Teaching explores why this is the case and provides a very handy Motivation for Learning framework. The beauty of this book (like Mccrea’s others) is how every thought and idea is presented succinctly and clearly. At 125 pages, using larger than usual font and large margins, Mccrea deftly applies the principles of his framework in delivering the content. The chapters are laid out perfectly for busy teachers to dip in and out of, taking away the key messages that can help improve their practice. 

Book structure

Each chapter focuses on a main thought that is dissected and explained with clarity followed by a summary sentence to take away, with all the key messages listed at the end together with suggestions for further reading.

The book starts off with a few chapters dedicated to answering the question of why motivation is key in teaching and why it is so hard to get right and develop in the classroom. These initial chapters give us 9 key ideas (with a 10th mentioned later in the book) that summarise the research on motivation and are a useful list to refer to when thinking about encouraging motivated learning. 

The 5 drivers of motivation

The book then moves on to describing 5 drivers that can be used to build and sustain motivation. I find it enlightening that the book does not just focus on short term, immediately applicable strategies but also on things we can do to benefit students in the long run, even going so far as to prepare them for regulating self-motivation that can make them better learners for life.

The ideas are simple and most have made their way into discourse on cognitive science and its applications in the classroom. This does not take away from the sheer importance of thinking about each element and how we can effectively apply them or how Mccrea makes the case for each idea followed by practical examples of their application.

The book discusses how we can help students secure success, which can lead to proficiency, which in turn can lead to motivation. Practical suggestions include pitching content well and chunking information into manageable pieces that can be mastered prior to introducing the next chunk. 

Consistent and simple routines are described as key to keeping the process of learning simple while maintaining challenging content. The book provides clear suggestions for what makes a good routine and how we can automate them.

In order to encourage students to follow instructions and achieve success, the book suggests we praise positive behaviours, making the expected norms more visible. Just as we would model how to tackle a question on lesson content, it would be equally important to model and show behaviours we expect in the classroom. One strategy that struck me because of its simplicity but also because of its power in changing the atmosphere in a classroom, is to emphasise and narrate what we want to see rather than what we do not see. 

Schools form an important part of our students’ lives and I think it is significant that the book discusses ways to help students feel belonging and become part of the classroom community. This can be encouraged by something as simple as framing your language to use pronouns such as we and us instead of I or you. For students to feel part of your community, they also need to trust you as their teacher. The book suggests this can be achieved by the teacher being credible, caring and consistent. 

The final core driver is, in my opinion, the most important of all. Everything you do in the classroom as a teacher to boost motivation can be rendered useless if students do not buy-in to your standards, expectations and choices you make for your novice learners, the latter of which can seemingly take away autonomy from students. The book advocates framing the benefits from the students’ perspectives and using inclusive language to boost buy-in. 

The discussion on the key drivers ends with a description of metamotivation, which is where students regulate their own motivation. I think it is important that the book promotes developing metamotivation as part of lessons rather than as a separate entity wheeled out at an assembly, never to be thought of by students again. 

My only criticism is that some suggestions of strategies (such as getting students to perform a mini-applause when one of their peers is praised by the teacher for doing something well) can lead to problems or a lack of control over a class where all the strategies are not already automated and the classroom culture is not already fine-tuned to fit your desired norms. This is something novice teachers will need to be wary of prior to attempting them in the classroom.

Tying it all together

As with any ideas in education that teachers who want to be research-informed in their classroom practice aim to apply immediately, Mccrea rightly cautions that the ideas he presents need to be understood well prior to application or they may run the risk of becoming lethal mutations.

I love how the book then moves on to summarise how the steps are additive in nature and not necessarily a list to be followed sequentially. Mccrea presents two case studies at either extreme of teachers who either use or do not use the 5 core drivers of motivation. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that the negative attitude of the student whose teacher does not drive motivation effectively, is something I have come across a number of times. The book has certainly challenged me to think about the small things I can change such as how I frame my language to develop and sustain motivated learners. 

The book ends with a brilliant chapter on how we can apply these principles to ourselves, something that many educational books fail to do. At the end of this review, I am presenting my own plans to improve the motivation of my students at writing better sentences (see below). 

Is Motivated Teaching worth getting?

I cannot say this with any more conviction that I believe Motivated Teaching should be required reading for all teachers. It is presented in an attractive format with easy to follow chapters and key ideas summarised at regular intervals to maintain your focus and importantly, it is full of practical ideas that we can use in our classrooms. 

Indeed, Peps Mccrea has clearly applied all the key ideas and core drivers, that he discusses in the book so eloquently and succinctly, to the book itself- a kind of meta-format for improving motivation in the classroom. 

I know I will be returning to this book often.

Further reading

Kathryn Morgan has collated 115 links to each of the further reading suggestions in Motivated Teaching. This impressive list can be found here.

My plan to encourage students to be better motivated at writing good sentences in Science

CogSciSci note: A big thank you to Jo for taking the time to write down her thoughts. We are always eager to host reviews and blogs which will help inform the science teaching community. If you are interested please get in touch via twitter.

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