Learning's X factor

listen:
Associate Professor Richard Walker

AUDIO

Listen to homework and motivation expert Associate Professor Richard Walker chat with James O'Loghlin on the secret to your child's learning.

Download: right click and Save Link/Target As (4.4MB)


Views expressed in interviews may not be the views of the NSW Department of Education and Communities

TRANSCRIPT:

What's covered:

  • Motivation is fundamental to learning.
  • Kids who are motivated to learn are more likely to engage in school activities, have better learning skills and more positive attitudes to school.
  • Children are motivated by a desire to feel competent and parents need to focus on helping them understand what they're doing so they feel a sense of motivation.
  • Kids become motivated when they're personally interested in something, when they're given choice in what they do and when parents focus on their interests and their personal goals.
  • A warm friendly environment rather than a harsh authoritarian environment helps kids to be motivated.

James O'Loghlin
Hello James O'Loghlin here, welcome to School A to Z.

We're going to talk this time about motivation. Now motivation is one of the keys to learning isn't it? If you've got kids at school if you think about when they're doing their homework if they're interested in it, if they want to do it then everything is easy, if they don't want to do it everything is hard. So to talk about this we're joined by Associate Professor Richard Walker, he's from the University of Sydney, done a lot of work into what I'm told is a very complicated subject – motivation. G'day Richard.

Richard Walker
Hi James

James
How important is it for school-aged kids in learning?

Richard
Absolutely fundamental of course because motivation goes hand in hand with learning – kids who are motivated are more likely to engage in school activities, they have more knowledge, they have deeper knowledge, they are more interested in school, they have better learning skills, they have positive attitudes to school, and so on.

James
Then of course the question becomes, how do you create an environment that encourages motivation?

Richard
Both parents and teachers need to focus on understanding. So children are motivated by a desire to feel competent, to have a sense of mastery in the world – if we focus on understanding then they're more likely to be motivated.

James
So that means not setting the work ... well sometimes people get bored if it's too easy, we hear about that too

Richard
Yep, sure.

James
But if the work is too challenging then the temptation is just to throw your hands in the air.

Richard
Absolutely, I mean one of the things about motivation is that activities and tasks have to be matched to the child's level of ability and if it's not as you say it'll be too easy and they'll be bored or too difficult and they'll be anxious so that's just problematic.

James
And then you were going to mention some other factors?

Richard
Ok, so a focus on understanding, a focus on competence, so realistic tasks, generally speaking tasks that are of intermediate difficulty because that gives children maximum feedback about their own capabilities.  Autonomy – if we give kids choice, if we give them control over what they're doing, if we focus on their interests, on their own personal goals – then they're going to be much more likely to be motivated.

James
Is one way of looking at it if you feel you are doing an important task or a task that you are capable of doing you're more likely to be motivated than if you – what's the expression – you're working for the man – or you know doing what you're teachers told you.

Richard
Sure, if you're doing something that's not valued by other people then of course you're not going to be motivated. Another thing – the idea that you feel part of a group, that you're in a warm friendly environment, rather than say an authoritarian or harsh or unfriendly environment – that's absolutely critical as well in a school context, a family context or a work context.

James
Ok, I'm just wondering if any of that applies specifically to when you say "right, it's Thursday night, it's time to do your homework' and they all go ‘Errh'". Are there any tips you can give parents for encouraging that sort of motivation?

Richard
Yeah, as a matter of fact, I'm interested in homework and I'm currently writing a book on it.

James
You've got your own homework.

Richard

Absolutely. You know, we do want kids to do homework but we in fact don't want them to do too much. A reasonable amount of homework that's set to the child's capabilities as we've said is really essential and it should be something that focuses on the child's interests, too, particularly in the younger years. Obviously, when you get to the senior years of high school then people have to do things that they don't necessarily want to do, but in fact you can come to value something and see it as being important just because you see that it is going to be necessary for you in your life.

James
And are there any other specific things parents can do to create an environment in the home that encourages the creation of that motivation to do that homework?

Richard
I'd like to mention a couple of things that parents probably ought to try and avoid.

James

The don'ts.

Richard
Yeah, that's right. Most people would agree with what I'm saying but not necessarily everyone would agree, and that's the issue of competition. There's a very strong focus in motivational theory that we should try and avoid competition with other people. Essentially the aim is to have you in competition with yourself, to try and improve your understanding beyond what it was previously, so the whole idea of social comparison, of comparing your child with other children, particularly in relation to their abilities, you really ought to try and downplay that. You want to try and create an environment where there's a sense that children can make errors and that's ok – in other words, a warm friendly environment where kids are prepared to take some risks and not suffer too much by way of consequences from taking those risks.

James
Ok – anymore don'ts?

Richard
They're the main ones I'd focus on.

James
Anymore do's for encouraging motivation with homework or with sport or with anything else?

Richard

The issue of rewards is a really interesting issue. If people do things because they like it, they enjoy it and they want to do it then of course they're going to be highly motivated and they do well, but we know from a lot of research, about 30 years of research, that if people enjoy doing something and you give them rewards for it you actually undermine their enjoyment and you actually reduce their motivation. If people are not motivated then giving them rewards will actually improve their motivation, so incentives can be useful but if they initially enjoy it and want to do it then rewards are not beneficial.

James
So sometimes rewards might be a good way of getting someone through the gate, and then when they discover their own satisfaction from doing the thing you can phase the rewards out?

Richard
Yeah, so for instance, a child might start to think of themselves as a writer or a reader or a mathematician. When they start to identify with whatever it is they're doing it becomes personally important to them, and then they're going to be more motivated.

James
Richard thank you very much.

Richard
Pleasure.

James
Thanks for listening. For more information check out the School A to Z website at www.schoolatoz.com.au


Associate Professor Richard Walker
Associate Professor Richard Walker

Richard Walker teaches educational psychology at the University of Sydney. He has been awarded several Excellence in Teaching Awards for his work in this field.

Richard's research interests centre on ways of enhancing the learning, motivation and academic achievement of students at all levels of education. He has also investigated ways kids can learn together in electronic environments; the use of textbooks and other learning resources; after-school homework support; and how kids develop their own identity. His most recent research focuses on understanding motivation, identity formation, and learning through homework activities.

 


 


Translate

This site uses Google Translate, a free language translation service, as an aid. Please note translation accuracy will vary across languages.