Motivation from MARGE

Ironically, I’ve had a draft blog titled ‘Motivation’ since 30th August and just not been certain I had anything useful to add to the discussion. But after reading MARGE by Arthur Shimamura (with thanks to Tom Sherrington and Dan Willingham for summarising and bringing it to my attention), I was relieved it seemed to back up my own thoughts so I’ve decided to put it all together. I wont go into the full details of MARGE as the e-book is small and Tom’s summary is excellent. All I will say is MARGE stands for Motivate, Attend, Relate, Generate and Evaluate.

motivation marge

I think motivation might be the biggest challenge in secondary education. My daughters are in primary school and they have motivation out the wazoo. Year 7 also have but as the teenage years creep in motivation can wane. In challenging contexts with low aspirations and poor parental role models, this lack of motivation is a significant barrier to success.

The first thing that resonated was the role of curiosity in priming learning. The reward circuit, which I was familiar with from teaching A-level psychology, seems to be activated best by questions, not answers. In science we should be making the most of this, but I think it’s relevant to all subjects. In the past I have heard this called the ‘hook’ of the lesson, the key question that students will get answers to in the lesson/topic. This can work well with elaborative interrogation to activate prior knowledge or lay out potential schema the students can build on.

This is something that my own practice has lost over the last few years. I need to get back to my “aka’s”. Earlier in my career I used to provide a traditional title and then a question. For example Surface area and the rate of reaction aka why sugar factories can sometimes explode! or Kinetic theory aka explaining the magic ball and hoop. I can see this working well in history and geography as well. I expect it works well in aspects of literature, although I’m limited by my own experience as to suggest how. It should work in maths as maths is best when it mimics science in my opinion 🙂

The other way to set this level of motivation is to answer the eternal question, “Why do we need this information?” Making explicit links to the world around us and explaining how this information fits into the big picture is vital to motivation but I wonder how often this gets lost in the shuffle when teachers plan. Do we often fall into the ‘because it will be on the test’ trap? By providing context to the learning, students can build on pre-existing schema from their experience. Luckily this is easier in science than in any other subject, as we essentially teach the entire existence of everything ever and why it happened.

Storytelling also has a special place within the psychology of motivation. It can be argued that storytelling is in fact the most important step in the evolution of human learning. It’s the natural conclusion to the higher level skill of learning from others that only the most intelligent mammals and reptiles possess. So it shouldn’t be surprising that by having a pre-existing schema (beginning, middle and end), stories provide a great way of introducing concepts and building motivation to hear what happened next.

I was once told that all science teachers fall into two categories: Scietorians and Scienticians.

Scientorians love to tell the stories of how things were discovered or the lives of the people that discovered them. You can extend this further to ideas like ‘journey of a cheese sandwich’ to explain digestion.

Scienticians love to show the phenomena first hand, re-enacting the experiment or another investigation to let the students experience it first hand. This is not me, but I’ve worked with very effective teachers who prefer this way.

Looking at MARGE it would appear the best advice is to try to find time for story elements when delivering instructional aspects of the lesson.

Overall, it seems that a lot of what is considered successful teaching fits well with MARGE. When applying it to disengaged students there is an even greater need to motivate, captivate and enthuse. It is worth remembering that if we can not secure this buy-in there is another way to motivate: relationships. These can build a level of trust and be used by teacher as a lever for discretionary effort. MARGE would suggest that even for those with strong relationships the motivational aspect of learning requires the right framing to allow the ‘ARGE’ aspects to be taken advantage of.

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