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Motivation Matters: Ten Motivation Strategies for Health and Physical Education.

"There are three things to remember about education. The first one is motivation. The second one is motivation. The third one is motivation."--Terrell Bell, U.S. Secretary of Education, 19811984


Student motivation is a well-known topic of interest in education. Motivation is derived from the Latin word, movere, which means to move. Motivation explains how behaviors are started, directed, sustained, and stopped, especially goal-directed behavior (Maehr & Meyer, 1997). Motivation, goals, and strategies are topics often used in tandem. Motivation, or motives, are broad needs or aspirations that energize individuals to purposefully start an action, whereas goals and strategies are more specific (Thrash & Elliot, 2001). Motivation research indicates the teacher plays a key role in student motivation, coining the phrase, motivation to learn, which calls for clear student understanding of the meaning, worth, and intended benefits of the learning activities (Ames & Archer, 1989; Brophy, 2010; Cremin, 1961; Elliot & Dweck, 1988). Wlodkowski (1999) called attention to the common practice of blaming students for their lack of motivation, pointing out that ineffective and unmotivated learning is often a result of poorly designed or implemented instruction. He called for the practice of motivational planning on the part of the teacher. Motivation is a vital topic in physical education, as teachers seek best practice strategies in supporting student motivation to learn (Johnson, Moore, & Thornton, 2014; Lieberman, Arndt, & Daggett, 2007; Martin, Kulinna, & Cothran, 2002; Martin, Melnyk, & Zimmerman; 2015; Valentini, Rudisill, & Goodway; 1999). Motivating students to value and take part in physical activity requires innovation, creativity, and strategy. Physical education teachers often encounter students who dislike physical activity, who struggle with feelings of success related to physical activity, and who are not interested in participating in physical activity during or after school. The focus of this article is to offer strategies to increase motivation in physical education, supporting meaningful and worthwhile learning for ALL students, and empowering a commitment to and enjoyment of physical activity for a lifetime.

Motivational Strategies

Strategy One: Cultivate a Caring Classroom

The gymnasium in the physical educator's classroom, and a caring classroom is a precondition for student motivation (Brophy, 2010). Students should feel comfortable, valued, and secure in your gymnasium, and should trust that you are for them, believe in them, and that you have their best interests in mind. Get to know your students as individuals, incorporate their back grounds and talents into your teaching, and allow them to get to know you and appreciate you, and one another, as unique and amazing individuals (Brophy, 2010).

Strategy Two: Identify the Motivation Challenge

Teachers can address a motivation challenge by identifying the root problem as expectancy, value, or cost: (a) an expectancy problem, where students do not think they can do the task; (b) a value problem, where students do not want to do the task; or (c) a cost problem, where students have additional barriers preventing them from doing the task (Barron, 2014; Eccles & Wigfield, 2000; Wigfield & Cambria, 2010). Once the challenge has been identified, teaching interventions and strategies to promote improvement within the challenge area can be implemented.

Strategy Three: Teach and Practice Leadership

Leadership development is a natural motivation tool, and creates a sense of meaning, belonging, and empowerment. Opportunities to lead should be available to ALL students who walk into the gymnasium. Often teachers make the natural leaders or the high-skilled athletic students the examples, the captains, the role takers, the equipment managers, or squad leaders. Those who are less athletic or have a disability may rarely be invited or challenged to lead the way. Leadership cannot be left to chance but must be taught and practiced (Lieberman, Arndt, & Daggett, 2007).

Strategy Four: Instructional Adaptations

Instructional adaptations and modifications can increase student participation, success, and motivation. Planning for differentiation in three areas: task, equipment, and assessment, is key (Tingstrom, 2015). For example, differentiate the task by increasing the number of practice opportunities whenever possible, and incorporating different challenge levels within each activity. Invite and challenge students by providing a variety of equipment options that accommodate students of all shapes and sizes, and allow them to choose what's best. In the assessment realm, complete assessment in a manner that emphasizes personal improvement and growth, and that avoids spotlighting (Tingstrom, 2015).

Strategy Five: AMP it up!

The "AMP" acronym is introduced in the motivation book titled, Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us (Pink, 2009). According to Pink, "AMP" stands for autonomy, mastery, and purpose. These three concepts are key additions to any physical educator's motivational toolbox. Autonomy provides students with some say in the content, skill practice time, and in selecting partners or teams when appropriate. Mastery learning involves a mentality switch from primarily emphasizing grades and product, to emphasizing the quality of instruction and the learning process. Lastly, sharing the "why" behind every activity done in class will add relevance and purpose, increasing motivation to accomplish the meaningful learning outcomes (Pink, 2009).

Strategy Six: SMART Goal Setting

Many students believe that they cannot improve certain skills, leading to a lack of effort. Using the SMART goal setting technique is a good way for students to see success and improvements within their skill development, which in turn will increase their motivation to practice these skills more often. This technique can increase the effort of students and decrease the number of distractions from the task (Johnson, Moore, & Thornton, 2014). In order for this technique to be effective, the goals must be introduced at the beginning of the unit, and must follow the SMART acronym: (a) specific, (b) measureable, (c) attainable, (d) relevant, and (e) time-bound.

Strategy Seven: Schoolwide Activity Programs

Mohor (2004) made it clear that we live in a "couch potato" society and that physical education teachers hold the responsibility of motivating students to become physically active. There are many ways to motivate students to be active, starting with motivating students to be active during the school day. Schoolwide activity programs are an exceptional way to do this, as they create a whole school focus, permeating every hallway and classroom with physical activity. Examples include miles across America, steps to the moon, tracking miles to the Olympics, and steps to the final four. Mohor (1997) implemented a "Fitness Counts" program where homeroom teachers would keep track of the different physical activities a student did the day before, with the school total being announced at the end of each day. For many of the above examples, students were given the opportunity to accumulate steps and miles during recess, during before and after school fitness clubs, and during physical activity breaks in the classroom.

Strategy Eight: Outside of School Activity

The Physical Education Standards Committee for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) requires that, "accomplished physical education teachers recognize the multiple benefits for a physically active lifestyle and promote purposeful daily activities for all students that will encourage them to become lifelong adherents of physical activity" (NBPTS, 1999). In order to do this, we must motivate students to not only be active during school, but to also be active outside of school. This can be as simple as rewarding students for their physical activity outside of school, or giving homework to be physically active outside of school. Another idea is to use "jingles". Mohor (2004) used the jingle "be active every day, be active healthy stay". The jingle would be sent home, attached to a calendar, and students would have their parents sign off on each day they were active outside of school. The jingle needs to be switched every month to add novelty, and students can also be rewarded for their accomplishments.

Strategy Nine: Circle of Assessments

How will we know if students learned without assessing? The more assessments you give, the more your students will be held accountable for learning (Martin, Kulinna, & Cothran, 2002). Continuous, developmentally appropriate formative assessment can motivate positively, rather than negatively. There are 5 keys to offering motivating assessments: your assessments need to be meaningful, focus on improvement, provide a mastery atmosphere, focus on self-regulation, and promote optimism and confidence. To be meaningful, provide authentic assessments and novelty. For improvement, focus on each individual student's improvement through using charts or goal setting. To promote a mastery atmosphere, allow goal setting, practicing of assessments, and tracking progress of improvements, which will result in avoiding evaluation anxiety. For self-regulation, start with teacher centered strategies and move to student-centered, such as allowing them to choose assessments and set their own goals. Lastly, to promote optimism and confidence, teach students that skills can improve with effort, practice, and persistence.

Strategy Ten: Technology is the Way of the Future

Using apps is an excellent way to motivate students to be physically active in your programs, leading to increased skills levels. Martin, Melnyk, and Zimmerman (2015) believe that since students already spend a majority of time using and enjoying technology, it can be used as an innovative way to motivate students to be physically active. Four, easy to use, free apps that you can download are Hudl, Seven, Fitocracy, and Zombies Run. Hudl allows you to record and offer visual feedback, as well as give verbal feedback during the video, with a comparison component to highlight fundamentals. Seven consists of full body and body-specific workouts that students can use, including the name and description of each move to allow for less instruction and more activity time. Fitocracy allows you to record and track physical activity, and offers a large database of exercise and workout programs. Zombies Run includes 40 running missions that gives students a story based on a post-apocalyptic world and allows each user to track the distance, pace, time, and heart rate. Motivating students to value and take part in physical activity is a vital topic in physical education, which requires innovation, creativity, and strategy. This article offered ten creative strategies to increase motivation in physical education, supporting meaningful and worthwhile learning for ALL students.


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Cathy McKay, Ed.D., CAPE, Assistant Professor, Department of Kinesiology, James Madison University

J. Tyler Settle, MAT, Graduate, Department of Kinesiology (PHETE) Graduate Program, James Madison University

Stacey Powdress, M.Ed., MAT, CAPE, Graduate, Department of Kinesiology (PHETE) Graduate program, James Madison University and Graduate of the University of Virginia Adapted Physical Education (APE) graduate program
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Author:McKay, Cathy; Settle, J. Tyler; Powdress, Stacey
Publication:VAHPERD Journal
Date:Mar 22, 2017
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