BOOK REVIEW: 150 Ways to Increase Intrinsic Motivation in the Classroom by James Raffini (Allyn & Bacon, 1996)

The purpose of 150 Ways to Increase Intrinsic Motivation in the Classroom is to provide teachers with specific strategies and ideas that will enhance students’ motivation to learn. The author, James Raffini, contrasts extrinsic motivators (rewards and punishment) with intrinsic motivators (desire to seek and conquer challenges) and makes a strong argument that intrinsic motivators work much more effectively in the long-term. He then breaks intrinsic motivators into five psycho-academic needs: 1) to control one’s own decisions (autonomy);  2) to do things that help one feel successful (competence);  3) to feel part of something larger than oneself (belonging and relatedness);  4) to feel good about oneself (self-esteem); and  5) to find pleasure in what one does (involvement and stimulation).  The book is written for K-12 teachers, but the majority of the strategies are readily adaptable to college level students.

Raffini’s book offers a wealth of ideas for college educators who complain that their students are unmotivated to learn. The author believes that the bulk of the responsibility for unmotivated learners lies with the instructor. It is the instructor, he argues, who needs to create the educational environment in which students will consistently choose to spend the effort necessary to achieve academic success. Blaming learners for being unresponsive to instruction that is actually poorly designed or implemented in terms of its motivational influence is a common reaction among many instructors, Raffini argues, but motivation planning by educators is required for motivated learning to occur.  If students are unmotivated, it is often because the environment is lacking one or more of the five psycho-academic needs of autonomy, competence, belonging, self-esteem, and involvement.  

The book is divided into sections based on these five psycho-academic needs.  Each section has a short description of the featured need along with ten recommendations for meeting that need in the classroom.  These are useful checklists to test whether you are doing these things in your teaching.  For example, in “Strategies for Enhancing Student Autonomy,” one of the general recommendations is:  When several learning activities meet the same objective, allow students to choose among them. A specific implementation of this recommendation that I liked is “Pick Your Points.” The teacher collects a variety of interesting articles about a particular topic and assigns each article a point value according to the reading level, length, and complexity of the article.  Students are required to accumulate a certain number of supplementary reading points.  Intrinsic motivation is increased because students have a choice in what they read.  I really liked this simple idea and thought it would be an improvement over assigned readings that offer no choice.  I appreciated the fact that many ideas in this book are easy to incorporate, such as the strategy of providing each student with one “No Questions Asked” coupon that permits one late assignment (with no questions asked) or earns extra points if not used.

I teach “College Success” and “Career Exploration” at my community college, and understanding the five psycho-academic needs of my students has given me new criteria by which to evaluate the way I teach.  I think that all college educators will find something useful in this book to improve their teaching, especially by creating the conditions that increase intrinsic motivation.

Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)

–Reviewed by Marianne Auten, Counselor, Paradise Valley Community College, AZ

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