Motivation Formula

Posted by Stephanie Lawless on 4/20/2018 7:00:00 AM

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Consistently over the years I have heard parents and educators lament about a child’s lack of motivation. At the moment I am in the painful process of attempting to toilet train my almost three year-old. Our first son was easy.  He got one fruit snack every time he successfully used the restroom. My second son, not so much. I tried fruit snacks and he said, “I am good”.  I tried marshmallows, and he went once then was over it. We tired high fives, songs, clapping, giving him pennies, toy cars, access to prefered items (like tablet time), having his brother take him, having his dad take him, having the cat take him… I couldn’t get something to work once then he was over it.  I often come to a point with my sons where I feel like a total failure as a parent. Then I stop and ask myself, what would I tell a teacher to try if they were in this same spot? When I got to this point with my son I reminded myself that change takes time, the same thing will not always work twice and to consider the Motivation Formula.  

The Motivation Formula was a concept I first learned of in Dr. Spricks’s book, CHAMPS: A Proactive & Positive Approach to Classroom Management.  I love the simplicity. It takes the abstract concept of motivation and makes it painfully simple. He states, “ A person’s level of motivation on any given task is a product of both how much the person wants the rewards that accompany success and how much he or she expects to be successful.” (CHAMPS: A Proactive & Positive Approach to Classroom Management, Randy Sprick, Ph.D. page 26) If that is not simple enough, he even provides a formula on page 28, Expectancy x Value= Motivation.   In his book he provides LOTS of detail on what this means and how we apply it, but very simply, expectancy is if you think you can be successful and value is if you care about the results. “The power of this theory is its recognition that a person’s level of motivation on any given task is a product of both how much the person wants the rewards that accompany success, and how much the person expects to be successful.” (CHAMPS: A Proactive & Positive Approach to Classroom Management, Randy Sprick, Ph.D. page 28)

So, if I have been told all my life I cannot do something I am likely to NOT EXPECT I can do it.
If I know I can do something but don’t care about the end result I have low VALUE.

My favorite example of this was a student in my old district who was wicked smart at math. He was flat out refusing to do his math timed tests which frustrated his teacher to no end because she knew he could do it easily.  When we asked why he didn’t do it he told us he had an A+ in the class and missing a few timed tests would not hurt his grades. Full disclosure, I did the same thing in college. So in his case we looked at the assignment and the teacher asked why he actually needed to do the timed test if they both knew he could do it.  She ended up assigning him a new task that pushed him academically. He gladly did this task to find out if he could do it or not. It was not even associated with his overall grade. She found something that motivated him by using the motivation formula. He had EXPECTANCY like crazy, but his VALUE was lacking. She changed the outcome and he did the work.

There are tons of strategies we can use to increase both expectancy and value. But really it depends on the student.  Basically, if they lack expectancy we need to do things to boost their confidence and competence levels. This could be assigning work below their frustration level, providing them extra help and encouragement… What we have to accept at this point is no amount of incentives is going to help. Like, if I told you I would give you $1,000,000 to recite the pledge of allegiance for me in German in the next three minutes and you didn’t speak German you would not be able to do it.  Now, if it is a problem with value the simplest option is to find something they DO value and apply that as a reinforcer. There are many other suggestions in CHAMPS including increasing non-contingent attention, ratios of interaction, identifying the students interests… I love PENTS Reinforcement Continuum to get ideas of what type of reinforcement a student might need. It is like Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs for reinforcement.  Choosing What I Like is a great place to start with a student when you are unsure of the type of reinforcement to start with.  If you are interested in more information on using social reinforcement in a school setting check out Dr. Gale’s article as well.  And most of all, remember, motivation is different for every person.  There is no “one size fits all” approach. If you really get stuck on how to motivate a student give us a call or shoot us an email.  At Earlywood we are happy to help!

Stephanie Lawless  Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Dir