In reflecting on a definition for Differentiated Instruction, I contemplate the relationship between student engagement and motivation. Are they the same? How are they dissimilar? Is one an antecedent to the other? Can a teacher motivate a student? Or is motivation entirely intrinsic? If they are not the same, what actor in the teaching-learning dynamic is “responsible” for engagement and whose job is motivation? Interesting questions all and teachers would be wise to give them some consideration. Following the reader will find my thoughts which I hope are worthy of his consideration.
Picture the legendary football coach, moments before the team takes the field for the biggest game of the year. He pounds his rolled-up program into his hand as he marches the length of the locker room, his voice rising and lowering in volume and intensity. He’s motivating his charges as they prepare for battle against an opponent for whom the team has been preparing for weeks. It is, as athletes tend to say, “Go-Time.”
Are this coaches words engaging or motivating? Are they both? I suggest that what the coach is attempting to do is to tap into the intrinsic motivation within each player – willing his players to take the field with a desire for peak performance, a willingness to do whatever-it-takes to win, a commitment to sustain the effort to win until the final buzzer sounds. I submit to you that a coach can do that. He can push the right buttons, pull the right strings, appeal to each player’s individual values (love of the game, love of the school he represents, love of his teammates, lust for a chance to play at the next level, fear of letting down the boosters, whatever it might be) to get the player to take the field fully motivated. What motivates No. 14 may not do the trick for No. 44. It’s often an individual response. Then, there’s this…
This motivation, however, is ephemeral and can not be sustained on most occasions.
The coach would be smart to have his assistant coaches, or even veteran players, also seeking to engage players by tapping into the preparations they have been making all week-long, refocusing their attention and interest on what they each, as individuals, must do in order for the team to function as a unit on each play. “Remember to hold that block on the sweep, Teddy.” “Don’t allow number 88 to use that swim move when he takes the inside path to our pocket, Ben.” “First guy tackles; second guy punches the ball loose, D-line. Remember that!”
It is the job of the teacher, I posit, to engage. Allow the student to motivate himself for the long-term.
Motivation, without the engagement, will only take the performer so far, I suggest. Let’s look at another example. Sorry, it’s another athletic one; but, it serves my purpose here, I think.
My buddy, Jeff, is about to play his weekly round of golf with Jerry. They are friends; but the competition is palpable with these two. They want to beat the other guy in the worst way. The motivation, then, is there for Jeff. He wants to win. He’s ready for Go-Time. And yet, he just got a text message from his daughter who’s getting married next month. She let’s him know that the wedding planner needs a deposit on some big ticket item for the reception. Jeff is worried about money.
How far will his motivation take him today? He’s also heard from his brother out in Tulsa within the past week. The brother’s been laid off. Thirty-four years he worked for this company and they just showed him the door. Jeff’s worried about his brother and he’s worried about the possibility that he could be laid off some day. I suggest to you that Jeff is not going to play his best, lessening his chances of besting Jerry today. He’s motivated. He can articulate to himself and to Jerry how badly he wants to win this round of golf. But he is not engaged.
He’s not thinking about his approach to the game, course management, keeping his head down, or following through – all those things he’ll need to do to beat his friend. Jeff’s level of engagement is a real impactor on whether his motivation will carry the day – or the water hazard on No. 8.
So, why must a teacher be so concerned with knowing about engagement and motivation? Two reasons:
First, the teacher knows that he/she can, on occasion, tap into those things he knows about his student(s) to motivate the student(s). But motivation is largely up to the student. The teacher’s real job is engaging the student(s).
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the teacher can teach his students that “motivation without engagement lessens their chances to achieve.” What a valuable lesson for the performer. He must be motivated AND engaged!
Engage a colleague (or two) in a conversation about engagement v. motivation. It might be interesting to have such a conversation with a coach, the band director or the teacher who directs the class play each year. They probably have some interesting insights into the engagement-motivation dynamic. Reflect on their efforts, and yours, to motivate, to engage, to allow engagement to assist intrinsic motivation to achieve.