A third factor influencing individual motivation is control, which refers to the basic human tendency to seek to control one's environment. {This is an individual factor because a person can feel in control without involving other people. Of course interpersonal factors such as winning a competition or gaining recognition could contribute to the feeling of control.}

There are three elements that influence the contribution of control to intrinsic motivation.




The feeling of loss of control is one of the most powerful anti-motivating factors in education (Glasser, 1985; Kohn, 1993a, b). When students feel their teachers are using controlling techniques (rather than those that promote autonomous choice), they are likely to show reduced intrinsic motivation, and this has been shown to result in lower academic performance as well as substantial deterioration in other important characteristics (Flink et al., 1992, Amabile and Hennessey, 1992). This is a major factor behind the need for using natural rather than artificial reinforcement whenever possible.

In the ideal learning situation, learners will be most strongly motivated when they freely choose what they want to learn. Because of legitimate concerns about covering specified objectives and coordinating the activities of groups of students, teachers often resist giving complete control to learners. Nevertheless, the fact remains that learners are often most strongly motivated to learn when they themselves decide what to learn and how to learn it. At the very least, teachers can

  1. Be aware of what students would like to learn and match units of instruction to these learner choices whenever possible.

  2. Explain why subject matter is worth learning.

  3. Let the students choose how the subject matter will be studied.

To implement these strategies, teachers may often find it useful to spend some time discussing with their the reasons for studying a topic. This may superficially seem like a waste of academic learning time. However, by allocating some time to increasing student motivation, it is possible to increase the amount of time the students will actually spend productively engaged in studying the topic. In addition, even when it is necessary for the teacher to pursue a prescribed objective, it may be possible to allow the students to choose the manner in which they will study it.


The Quality School:

Motivation Through Management


In The Quality School William Glasser contends that the often reported drops in student performance are caused by the fact that our traditional system of managing students sends the clear message that low-quality work is acceptable. He states that while a manager cannot make workers (students) do high quality work, it is the job of the manager (teacher) to manage things so that it is easy for the workers to see a strong connection between what they are asked to do and what they believe to be worth doing. He urges teachers to stop being boss-managers and to become lead-managers. The key behind being a lead-manager is to empower workers. Lead-managers focus on persuasion and problem solving. They spend their time figuring out how to run the system so that the workers will see that it is to their benefit to produce high-quality work.

He believes that teaching is the hardest job there is, because it involves managing people rather than things and because the structure of the educational system is set up in such a way as to make lead-management difficult - because teachers must accept working conditions that practically guarantee that they will fail to persuade a large number of their students to do even low-quality work. It is unlikely that lead-management will succeed unless it is implemented at the building level (rather than the individual classroom level).

Glasser's Quality School is based on his previous work on control theory, which maintains that all human beings are born with five basic needs: survival, love, power, fun, and freedom. All human behavior - including that of students - is motivated by attempts to satisfy those needs. Schools fail because they often fail to let students feel important - to experience power and freedom. Instead, they often feel coerced and subjugated. Glasser contends that schools do sometimes succeed impressively at empowering students by enabling them to feel important while working toward important goals; but these successes occur far more often in extracurricular areas - athletics and school musicals, for example - rather than in academic areas.

Only when students and teachers perceive that outcomes are important and worthwhile will they devote significant effort to those goals. Schools and classrooms should be managed in such a way as to permit and promote high quality work.


Review Quiz 4

Which of the following teachers is appealing to control in order to enhance motivation?

  1. _____ In order to encourage her students to pay attention to her mathematics lesson, Miss Feldman convinces her students that estimation skills will enable them to avoid being cheated at the grocery store.

  2. _____ Mr. Freeman encourages his students to use a computer program with vivid animation to hold the attention of his students.


Online Links:
Motivating Through Control


Black Like Us by Grant Pick.

This article from the May 2000 issue of Teacher Magazine describes how some top-notch students worked to bridge the gap between whites and minorities in their school.


Click on a topic from the following list, or use your web browser to go where you want to go:

Intrinsic Motivation
Control <<You are here>>
Interpersonal Motivation
Summary of Intrinsic Motivation
Motivating Through Curriculum
Reinforcement and Punishment
Affective Aspects of Motivation
Physiological Aspects of Motivation
Cognitive Aspects of Motivation
Needs and Motivation
Attribution Theory
Development and Motivation
Motivation as a Personality Characteristic
Teacher Expectancy
Social Aspects of Motivation: Classroom Structure
What Teachers Can Do About Motivation
What Parents Can Do About Motivation
What Students Can Do About Motivation
Chapter Summary
Annotated Bibliography
Answers to Quizzes