Value, Expectancy, and Motivation

This formula for motivation caught my interest due to my work with tapping student effort:

Expectancy x Value = Motivation 

The relationship between expectation and value is “multiplicative” rather than additive because in order to be motivated, it is necessary for a person to have at least a modest expectation of success and to assign a task at least some positive value. If you have high expectations of success but do not value a task at all (mentally assign it a “0” value), then you will not feel motivated at all. Likewise, if you value a task highly but have no expectation of success about completing it (assign it a “0” expectancy), then you also will not feel motivated at all.

I frequently present the formula Effort times Ability focused on a Manageable Task = Success. Here effort and ability are “multiplicative”.  A zero for either wipes out change. For the effort formula to be motivating students must have a picture of success. The picture of success is a “goal one values”.  In order to muster effort the student also needs a belief that eventual the effort will payoff (expectancy).

So it’s critical that students develop a growth mindset and are mastery oriented.

Carol Dweck: Students who are mastery-oriented think about learning, not about proving how smart they are. When they experience a setback, they focus on effort and strategies instead of worrying that they are incompetent.

Dweck’s suggestions for what teachers can do to develop a growth mindset:

When students succeed teachers should praise their efforts or their strategies, not their intelligence.

When students fail teachers should also give feedback about effort or strategies — what the student did wrong and what he or she could do now. This is a key ingredient in creating mastery-oriented students.

Sustained effort over time is the key to outstanding achievement. Teachers should teach students to relish a challenge. They should transmit the joy of confronting a challenge and of struggling to find strategies that work.

Teachers can help students focus on and value learning. Too many students are hung up on grades and on proving their worth through grades.

The Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills  identified the following as evidence students were prepared in “ways of thinking.”

Students can:

Persevere with a task

Fail and regroup

Try new strategies

Think through alternative solutions

Demonstrate originality

Correct in midcourse


Use constructive feedback to move forward confidently

Evaluate their own thinking and set goals to improve

Apply learned success critical thinking processes to future endeavors

(Good to Great to Innovate: Recalculating the Route to Career Readiness, K-12+,     page 145)

Value, Expectancy, Effort, Success, Manageable Task, Master Orientation, and Ways of Thinking….can provide questions for teachers to guide their planning.

What do my students value? How can I use that to guide motivation?

What do my students believe about their capability to master the task?

How will I promote effort?

Where is there permission to fail?

Can I add choice to empower the learners?

How do I encourage students to improvise?

How will I arrange for students to receive feedback that motivates?

School leaders recognize that they need to be asking questions about their leadership that are similar to those teachers are asking about instruction.

What do teachers value? How can I use that to guide their motivation?

What do teachers believe about their capability to master the task of gaining student achievement?

How will I encourage, recognize, and celebrate teacher effort?

Where do teachers have permission to fail?

How can I build in choice to empower teachers?

How do I encourage teachers to improvise?

How will I arrange for teachers to receive feedback that motivates?


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