How Learning Works Chapter 3: Motivation


Many researchers have found that motivation comes from two sources: Value- how much value a student thinks a course, or particular material has and expectancy- how likely the student thinks it is that he, or she learns. In a supportive classroom students who don’t see value may be evading, just trying to get by. These students need examples of how they might use the content. Students who see value in the material, but lack confidence may seem fragile. They may feign understanding and make excuses to explain poor results. These students need appropriate challenges and early successes.

The authors give a tremendous number of suggestions on how to do this. Many I already do. One easy suggestion that I think I have not done frequently enough is giving students an opportunity to reflect on what they have learned with an explicit question on the assessment. I’ll add that to the goals/strategies list for this winter.


  • Math 081 and Math 131: On the second day give a pre-assessment of required skills and start remediation immediately.


  • Write a concept map of my own thinking to see how an expert organizes the information and select tasks that help convey that organization.
  • Explicitly overview the lesson plan for a section so that students can see how each part fits in
  • Math 081: Use brainstorming more often to see what students know about a topic in the course the first time it is introduced. (The Math 081 curriculum is a lot like a “spiral”  where key topics like proportion are revisited several times.)
  • Math 081 and Math 131: Explicitly list the pre-requisite topics daily instead of less frequently


  • Math 131: Introduce several “Rules of Thumb” in the finance chapter so students will know when they are dealing with loans, when annuities, when saving for retirement .


  • Ask reflection “What did you learn?” questions on assignments.

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