Mccrea’s new offering is a pithy and powerful book that makes the slippery topic of motivation in the classroom accessible and achievable, says Sarah Barker
In 1953, Roald Dahl published Lamb to the Slaughter. It tells the tale of Mary Maloney, who kills her disloyal husband with a frozen leg of lamb, shoves it in the oven and calls the police. Believing the crime to have been committed by an intruder, the police search the premises for hours looking for a “blunt instrument”. Jack Noonan, the lead detective, declares, “It’s the old story. Get the weapon, and you’ve got the man.” He and his officers then tuck into roast lamb, generously provided by Mary Maloney, who giggles in the other room.
Aside from Dahl’s exercise in perfect irony, we can all identify with Noonan; we know exactly what we need to do to solve a problem, but getting hold of it is quite another matter. For teachers and school leaders alike, motivation is a similarly elusive weapon. In our discussions around raising achievement, we invariably include affective factors; along with motivation, we throw around words like confidence, self-esteem and resilience. Yet there is a disconnect between our understanding of these factors and ways in which we broach them with our students. We recognise motivation’s centrality to our core purpose but we don’t all truly understand how to go about it.
Peps Mccrea’s Motivated Teaching makes this slippery concept into one we can tackle. It is pithy – the whole book is contained in under 125 pages – but this succinct approach is welcome. The book is so well researched that we can read it with a sense of security that Mccrea has done the hard work for us and converted the findings into real and tangible approaches for our schools and classrooms.
It is pithy but this succinct approach is welcome
The format of Motivated Teaching follows Mccrea’s previous works; after an examination of the urgency of this issue, he identifies five “core drivers” and the book is organised around these: success, routines, norms, belonging and buy-in. Each chapter includes succinct summaries of research findings and summaries of key ideas.
The key idea check-points are crafted in such a way that we are guided through the reading process and the crucial take-aways are handed to us. This isn’t always necessary (Mccrea’s language is so clear and direct that I understood the key ideas without these regular summaries) but the simplicity is phenomenally powerful. Huge ideas and years of research are summarised into neat, compelling maxims.
Crucially, the core drivers and the key ideas are the cornerstones of Mccrea’s motivation for learning framework. It is in this framework that he presents structures I believe could be fundamental to the transformation of students’ outcomes, life chances and wellbeing.
One of the most appealing elements of Motivated Teaching is the fact that it is centred on real and possible approaches. Too often, educational guides offer strategies that would fall apart within seconds of being exposed to a real classroom environment. By contrast, this book is empowering because it calls on us to apply our own subject knowledge and adapt our pedagogy to bring about improved motivation in our students. The guidance is broad enough for us to own, and yet specific enough that we can take it away and make it work.
At times, it can feel as though we’re being given something obvious – for example, Mccrea’s suggestions include an explanation of “precise pitching”, which means that we should “provide learning experiences that are challenging yet achievable for as many pupils as possible”. I’m yet to meet a teacher who wouldn’t include this as a fundamental consideration to the planning process.
It is in reading the whole book, though, that we come to understand that it is the combination of all the elements that will bring about positive change in the motivation of our students. I also have to admit that while I may claim to be applying some of these principles to my practice, the reality is perhaps messier and less consistent than I’d like. Mccrea’s book has refocused and sharpened my understanding of what this could look like, and that is a very warming prospect.