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Theory-Based Interventions with Middle-School Teachers to Support Student Motivation and Engagement

Motivational Interventions

ISBN: 978-1-78350-555-5

Publication date: 14 November 2014



I address the question, Is theory useful when collaborating with teachers to improve student engagement?


We based our work on four principles of motivation drawn from the research literature: students are more likely to engage in learning if teachers support their perceptions of competence, autonomy, belongingness, and make learning meaningful. To bridge the gap between theory and practice, we suggested that teachers use certain instructional strategies, like open-ended questions, related to supporting student engagement. These strategies were both more complex than the standard practices and more challenging to implement, given the current U.S. emphasis on standardized testing. In two longitudinal studies, we provided rationales for engagement principles and instructional strategies related to student engagement and encouraged teachers to use new practices. Mixed methodology included online observation measures and video of classroom instruction, retrospective interviews with teachers, and student interviews and experience sampling self-reports.


Short case studies of teachers change illustrate the examples of implementation. In both studies, about half the teachers made significant instructional changes, which were related both to teacher perceptions of student engagement and to student self-reports.


Insights gained from the studies may offer researchers practical information about how to work with teachers to improve engagement in the classroom. They include whether teachers can understand abstract motivation terminology, consider students’ “basic needs” when planning instruction, and implement strategies so that they are likely to support student engagement. Other learnings include the strong impact of teacher culture on change efforts and the need to consider teachers’ “basic needs” if we are to support them in instructional change. Long-term collaboration and establishing mutual trust may be the best way for both researchers and teachers to develop common understandings for supporting student motivation in the classroom.



Turner, J.C. (2014), "Theory-Based Interventions with Middle-School Teachers to Support Student Motivation and Engagement", Motivational Interventions (Advances in Motivation and Achievement, Vol. 18), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 341-378.



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