Curriculum and Motivation


This book is about educational psychology, not curriculum. But this chapter presents some good examples of how educational psychology interacts with other areas of education, including curriculum.

Simply stated, the curriculum is what students are expected to learn. Perkins (1992, 1993) has pointed out that the motivation of students is often influenced more by what students are expected to study than by the methods teachers employ in delivering the curriculum.

Curriculum designers should take into consideration such psychological components as the developmental level of the students and the factors of intrinsic motivation described in Table 5.1 when they decide what to include in the curriculum. For example, high school sophomores can become intrinsically motivated to learn about probability theory, because it is important to their lives in ways ranging from playing (or avoiding) state lotteries to understanding AIDS. On the other hand, sophomores rarely have a driving urge to memorize the theorems of Euclidean geometry. Curriculum designers, therefore, may consider allowing sophomores to study probability theory rather than Euclidean geometry. Likewise, although The Scarlet Letter and Hamlet are important parts of our literary heritage, it is possible that they are developmentally and motivationally inappropriate for most high school students who are required to read them. Students could perhaps develop reading and thinking skills more profitably by focusing on literary works of equally high value that are more developmentally appropriate and more intrinsically.

The preceding paragraph is not a demand that schools stop teaching Euclidean geometry or any particular literary works. It merely suggests that principles of educational psychology should be taken into consideration when determining what to teach as well as when deciding how to teach it. For example, Euclidean geometry should be taught to sophomores only if there is evidence that it is a developmentally appropriate subject for sophomores, that the study of geometry really is an effective way to learn thinking skills that can be generalized to other parts of the curriculum, and that students of that age can become intrinsically motivated to study it.

Perkins (1992) suggests that classroom teachers should occasionally ask themselves what new topic they could teach or what new spin they can give to a current topic in order to offer students more meaningful and motivating learning opportunities.




Although the focus of this chapter has been on motivation at the individual and classroom level, it is important to note that policies initiated at broader administrative levels also influence the motivation and academic performance of students. Administrative policies influence such factors as the ways students are grouped for instruction, the amount of peer interaction that is likely to occur, the motivational value of instructional materials, the emphasis given to normative as opposed to personal goals, the definition of success, and the criteria for recognition. Administrators and committees that determine these policies should be aware of the principles discussed in this chapter and of the impact of these policies on the motivation of individual students (Ames & Archer, 1988; Maehr, 1991; Maehr & Midgley, 1991).


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Motivating Through Curriculum



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Intrinsic Motivation
Interpersonal Motivation
Summary of Intrinsic Motivation
Motivating Through Curriculum <<You are here>>
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