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Running head: CASE STUDY IN MOTIVATION

Case Study in Motivation


Nora Jennings
University of New England

CASE STUDY IN MOTIVATION

Case Study in Motivation


Introduction
Gavin is a nine year old 3rd grade student in my combined 3rd/4th grade classroom. He is
the oldest of three children, and his younger sisters are both enrolled in our schools Montessori
program. He started at our school in first grade and was in the 1st/2nd grade Montessori classroom
for two years. His cumulative report card for 1st grade shows mostly S+ and E grades (S = Steady
progress; E = Exceeds expectations) with comments such as great improvement and good
progress. His 1st/2nd grade teacher notes focus was an issue for Gavin for the two years she
taught him, but she describes him as a bright and capable learner in her classroom.
This year, I have observed Gavin to be a bright student with a positive attitude. He is very
talkative in class and often needs multiple prompts to follow directions. His first trimester grades
were in the E and S range, with S grades attributed to not following directions on assignments or
missing work. Gavin often rushes through his classwork or does not follow the given directions
for an assignment. He most often loses points on work because of a lack of detail. On a recent
book group final project, students were asked to create a catalog to showcase important items
from their assigned novel, writing a description for each item and including a picture. He earned
a 4 out of 7 because his descriptions were not written in coherent sentences and lacked grammar
and punctuation, and his pictures were completed in pencil with very little detail or apparent
effort. He often needs reminders to show his work in math or draw models when directed.
Most of Gavins behavioral issues surround repeatedly talking with classmates during
lessons or work time and not focusing on his assignments, choosing instead to work on his own
personal free writing. Gavin often needs multiple prompts to follow directions. One afternoon I
called the class over to the carpet and Gavin continued to write at his seat. I asked him three

CASE STUDY IN MOTIVATION

times to come over and he refused to come. He came on my fourth prompt after I told him he
would earn a Behavioral Referral if he continued to ignore my directions. His behavior does not
appear to be motivated by malicious defiance, rather he seems unaware that his behavior is not
acceptable. Last year, he was sent to the principals office for pointing to a 2nd grade girl and
saying, Look, *** has breasts. The Music teacher has remarked that he often makes comments
to imply that he is smarter than she is, and I have given him several reminders about sighing in
the classroom after I have given directions. Unless he is working on his own writing, he seems
uninterested or occasionally bored with class activities. He also has a difficult time sitting still
and will often play with class materials at his seat or get up to walk around the room. During our
weekly school Mass, he is almost constantly moving and trying to engage other children in
conversation. My teaching assistant sits next to him in order to give him prompts and reminders
about his behavior.
In Gavins first trimester parent-teacher conference, his parents disclosed that he is
diagnosed with ADHD and takes medication for it. They are concerned about over-medicating
him, noting that it negatively affects his disposition and decreases his appetite, which is a
concern because he is already a small child. I shared my observations in the classroom and
school Mass in regards to his movement, and they said they would take it into account.
Observations
Many of my classroom observations about Gavin indicate that he is very bright but rushes
through his work or does not follow directions. One area I see this tendency is during Math.
Gavin is a competent problem solver and very proficient with addition and subtraction
operations. Often during lessons, however, he will preemptively write answers on his board
before listening to the full directions. For example, one day during lesson we were learning about

CASE STUDY IN MOTIVATION

the different strategies used to model multiplication problems such as arrays, area models, and
number lines. I wrote on the Smart Board and verbally instructed the students to complete the
following: Draw a number line and show what 3 x 5 looks like. Gavin wrote 3 x 5 = 15 on his
board with no model. In math, Gavin appears to be more oriented toward performance goals than
mastery goals. According to Anderman and Anderman (2014), students hold performance goals
when they are more concerned with looking smart or comparing themselves to others, as
opposed to truly mastering content. To Gavin, since he believes he already knows his math facts,
there is little reason to try during lessons; he just wants to show he knows the correct answer.
Another area in math in which I see a reluctance for Gavin to challenge himself is with
his independent work. I structure the independent practice portion of my math block with
between-task choices to promote the autonomy of my students (Anderman & Anderman, 2014).
Once students finish the must do portion of their independent work to demonstrate proficiency,
they have the option of several can do choices such as challenging enrichment work, standard
extra practice, or math fact practice on our classroom tablets. Gavin typically rushes through his
must do work and instead of choosing a can do option like challenging enrichment work or
math fact practice on the computer, he will wander around the classroom, play at his desk, and
try to engage other students in conversation.
For Reading, my students participate in book groups, which I have typically found to be
highly motivating. The students are given a choice of four novels and they vote for which they
would like to read. Based on their votes, I assign the students to groups of 6-7 and they are
assigned pages to read at home each week and response activities to complete in order to prepare
for an in-class small group discussion of the book. Groups are interest based, and I have found
that to be effective in motivating students to complete their assigned reading, even if a book may

CASE STUDY IN MOTIVATION

be more challenging to which they are accustomed (Anderman & Anderman, 2014). During our
first book group of the year, Gavin received his first choice book. I made sure to carefully
explain my expectations for group to the students, particularly third graders, and answered many
clarifying questions. I also cautioned the students not to read ahead in their books because it
would be difficult to participate in our weekly discussions. Gavins mother emailed me a week
into groups to ask me how groups worked because Gavin didnt know what to do. I replied to
her email with a detailed overview of his groups reading schedule and the homework
expectations.
During our first book group meeting, Gavin gave away the ending of the book after I
reminded the students not to spoil information later in the book than we had read. Other than that
piece of information, however, Gavin was unable to answer any questions about the story during
any of the four weeks our group met, indicating he had not completed the reading. He did not
complete his assigned responses each week and needed to complete his entire packet the week it
was due. He earned five out of eight points on that packet for lack of detail, not following
directions, and missing answers. Gavin displays grade-level or above reading comprehension
during class, so the issue appeared to be motivation as opposed to reading ability.
Writing is an area where Gavin shows interest, yet his interest lies mainly in writing of
his own choosing, as opposed to class-assigned prompts. At the beginning of the year, Gavin
would not write in complete sentences. When I would speak with him individually and ask him
how to make his writing a complete sentence, he was able to correctly form the sentence, he
would just need several prompts to write it down. When we were learning to create outlines and
turn them into paragraphs, he needed to redo an outline three times because he rushed each time
and did not follow the directions. On a worksheet about capitalization, he needed to redo his

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work twice because he did not fix the errors which were circled the first time, he just turned the
original worksheet in again. He spends the majority of his free time in the classroom writing in
his notebook but will typically not engage in class writing prompts. One exception, however, was
the spooky Halloween stories we wrote. He was incredibly engaged in that prompt and wrote a
story full of quality details, descriptive sentences, and dialog. That prompt helped Gavin come
out of his shell a bit, and his expository writing has been much improved since.
Overall, Gavin is a reluctant participant during lessons. He does not often initiate
answering a question, yet when called on randomly he can usually answer the question correctly.
Other times, he will raise his hand just to make a silly or off-task remark.
Effective Strategies
While Gavin seems to fit criteria for Goal orientation theory, such as a focus on
performance goals over mastery goals, I think the Expectancy-value theory would be most
beneficial in helping motivate him in the classroom. According to Anderman and Anderman
(2014), the expectancy-value theory holds that a students motivation is the result of both their
expectations for success on a task and their valuing of that task. Gavin is a very bright boy, so I
believe he thinks he is capable of being successful at classroom tasks, he just has a low value for
them. One aspect of expectancy-value theory the authors discuss is the perceived cost of a
task. Students compare the time and effort needed to complete a task with the potential benefits
and make a choice as to their engagement (Anderman & Anderman, 2014). For Gavin, the cost
of slowing down to read directions and complete his work slower, but correctly, the first time is
too high for tasks he deems uninteresting or which are not preferred.
I strive to offer many choices for students throughout the day, such as choices of where to
work around the room, the order in which students complete events, and early-finish work

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options. When confronted with open-ended options, Gavin typically chooses to write in his
notebook or will try to talk with peers. While Anderman and Anderman (2014) note that no one
task will ever be uniformly interesting for all students in a classroom, one strategy I have tried to
attempt with Gavin is to utilize more of his interests in his potential choices. Since he loves to
work on creative writing, and the Halloween stories were very motivating for him, a few times I
have offered him a math choice to write interesting word problems for the class to solve the next
day. That allows him the opportunity to complete an on-task and relevant activity while still
appealing to his creative side. In addition, it helps him enjoy and place higher value in math,
which could increase his long-term engagement, as well (Anderman & Anderman, 2014).
Another strategy I have tried with Gavin is the use of rewards. I am hesitant to rely solely
upon extrinsic motivational strategies because I think over the long-term Gavin would find such
attempts manipulative, but initially small rewards such as tablet time or time for creative writing
have proven effective. As Brophy (1987) notes, it is important to link the availability of valued
rewards to successful task completion. If Gavin believes he will earn a reward simply for
completing a task, it will not motivate him to improve his work quality. The use of informational
rewards, however, requires Gavin to slow down and put forth more effort into his work; he
receives a reward such as free writing time for demonstrating true understanding and producing
quality 3rd grade level work, not just finishing (Anderman & Anderman, 2014).
In order to encourage Gavins improved performance, a strategy I might try is to sit down
with Gavin with a current work sample and ask him how he thinks he can improve his work the
next time (Brophy, 1987). We might write down a few goals such as writing complete sentences,
including correct grammar and punctuation in sentences, and following all the directions in an
assignment. He can keep those goals on his desk as a reminder as he works on his assignment.

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When he finishes, I would sit down with him again and ask him to evaluate his performance in
relation to his goals and the previous piece of work. If he has demonstrated improvement and
met the criteria, he could earn time for a preferred activity. Offering a secondary reinforcer like
preferred activity time would help increase the frequency of specific behaviors like following
directions and task completion (Anderman & Anderman, 2014). As he becomes more adept at
self-monitoring his work quality, he can perhaps help create his own goals to further improve his
work.
Ultimately, I would like to help increase the intrinsic value Gavin places on classroom
tasks because he will not only be more likely to persevere with them, it will help him form more
mastery goals (Anderman & Anderman, 2014). I provide opportunities for math enrichment work
during our independent work time, but I could start to give Gavin challenging critical thinking
problems during lessons to challenge his belief that he already knows all of our content (Brophy,
1987). According to Chapman and King (2012), when a student feels unchallenged they often
miss important information and directions because their mind has disengaged and is unable to
signal them to meaningful events. When Gavin writes the answer to math problems on his board
during lessons without following specific directions such as showing work or drawing a model, it
might be because he does not feel challenged by the material. In addition to challenging critical
thinking problems, providing opportunities for hands-on math exploration or math games might
also stimulate his intrinsic motivation to learn (Brophy, 1987). One way I have tried to challenge
Gavin in the moment is to write down a challenge problem on a post-it and quietly hand it to him
during a lesson. Even if it is just a harder version of the same type of problem the whole class is
working on, I have found that strategy to be effective to reenergize Gavin during math and
stimulate his interest.

CASE STUDY IN MOTIVATION

Finally, a strategy which I think would be effective for Gavin, and all of my students, to
take more ownership over his learning is to explicitly state our lessons learning objective and
help him identify the components on which he needs to focus (Brophy, 1987). Dean, Hubbell,
Pitler, and Stone (2012) also stress the importance of identifying and communicating clear
learning objectives to students. Learning objectives help send a message to students that there is
a specific focus of our learning and also gives students a standard with which to measure their
work. For Gavin, he assumes he already knows our content or he does not find it interesting, so it
would be helpful to give him specific criteria he needs to meet and feedback as to whether he is
meeting it. I typically provide a rubric for my students at the beginning of a large final project as
a way for them to self-monitor their work throughout the project. Gavin might benefit from
rubrics for smaller assignments, too, to help him check in on his progress and assess the quality
of work he is completing. This strategy may prove effective for Gavin because it would help him
take ownership for checking the quality of his own work if he must meet specific standards I
have expressed.
Conclusion
One of the most important lessons I have learned about motivating all students is the
importance of individualized value for learning. Not all students will hold the same value for
academic tasks, but students must hold some form of value for learning in order to become lifelong learners (Anderman & Anderman, 2014). My goal is to help my students hold intrinsic
value for learning and to take joy in learning so they persevere even when a task is challenging.
However, for some students it may be more realistic to help them find utility value in a
classroom task and link that assignment to real-world situations or to their future goals
(Anderman & Anderman, 2014).

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10

Another strategy that I have learned to be important for all students is the use of
informational rewards. I have seen many of my students have a tendency to rush through work
just to get to a preferred activity like free reading or tablet time, instead of putting their best
effort into the assignment. When I set clear criteria for success, such as offering a rubric at the
start of a project or using student exemplars, I send the message to students that work quality is
important. In addition, I have started to return work to students to fix if it does not meet my
outlined criteria. I have found this helps students slow down the first time because they know I
am more concerned with work quality than merely completion.
Finally, I believe offering all students opportunities for challenging work is crucial for
motivation. Students like Gavin are prone to tune out or misbehave when they feel work is too
easy for them. By providing those enriching experiences, I help all students adopt an attitude of
growth and learning. For students like Gavin, cultivating a classroom of growth and personal
improvement may help him take ownership for his learning and develop a love of learning for his
entire life.

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References
Anderman, E. M., & Anderman, L. H. (2014). Classroom motivation (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle
River, NJ: Pearson.
Brophy, J. (1987). Synthesis of research on strategies for motivating students to learn.
Educational Leadership, 45(2), 40-48.
Chapman, C., & King, R. (2012). Differentiated assessment strategies: One tool doesn't fit all
(2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press.
Dean, C., Hubbell, E., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom instruction that works:
Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA:
ASCD.