Home' Independence : Independence Vol 36 No 2 Oct 2011 Contents INTERVIEW
within a classroom that allow teachers to
activate individual students.
In terms of student achievement in, say,
maths or English, the research shows
a bit more variation from class to class
or school to school, but again there is
substantial variance between students.
This is something we really need to have a
frank and fearless look at. Often schools
are run on ‘top down’ approaches, yet the
substantial action in terms of motivation
and achievement resides at the other end
of the school hierarchy, where students
and teachers operate.
Is there any significant difference
between a single sex or coeducational
There are differences, but at the end of
the day I am so profoundly pragmatic I’m
comfortable with either context.
Rather than seeing those differences in
terms of what’s better or who does what
better, I tend to focus on the experiences
and opportunities each context allows.
There are narratives and anecdotes
and activities, and even language and
communication – and probably even
things such as discipline – which a
single sex boys’ school allows relative
to a coeducational environment. On
the other hand, for the boys (and girls)
in coeducational environments, there
are other opportunities – the social
opportunities with the opposite sex being
an obvious one – but also opportunities
in terms of learning how to balance
different interests that will often fall along
gender lines. So an effective school is one
that makes the most of its single sex or
How would you describe the development
in motivation theory?
We are now mindful of the centrality of
interpersonal relationships in our capacity to
motivate children and young people.
The first motivation studies were
undertaken in the 1930s. In the decades
since there has been enormous wisdom
emerge about the human condition.
While we are not today reinventing the
wheel, we are refining what is known.
For example, there was a phase when all
extrinsic reinforcement was considered
bad; don’t give tokens, don’t give rewards
and so on, or that will disrupt the
motivational process. Now we’re finding
that there is a place for extrinsic rewards.
There are young children who really do
need a reward as a short-term incentive,
or there are young people who aren’t
succeeding at the time, so they can’t yet
experience intrinsic rewards.
With any aspect of learning science, we
inch along. Sometimes we go a little too
far and we have to pull back. I think
a good example of that at the moment
is the pull back on the post-modernist
approaches of the 1990s and the early
2000s, when students were led to
construct all their own learning. Now
we realise (or have remembered!) that
students cannot effectively construct
their own learning until they first have
systematic, robust, direct, explicit and
expert input by the person who was
professionally trained to do so; that is, the
What are your thoughts around the
positive psychology movement?
I think the world is better for the positive
psychology movement and for the major
advocates of it. In the main, I endorse it.
I am mindful that much of my research
resides within a positive psychology
concept, and I think generally a glass half
full approach to our children and young
people is great.
The high quality of research in positive
psychology is providing some really
important insights, but there is also a
lot of opinion and poor quality research
that contributes too much noise and
distraction, and sometimes there can
be over-reach on implementing positive
psychology ideas before they have been
properly tested. The next five to 10 years
will, or should be, an exciting process
of teasing apart what aspects of positive
psychology have a clear evidence base and
what is no more effective than if we did
something else or nothing else.
What advice would you give to school
leaders about motivating students?
School leaders must be ever mindful that
the bulk of variance in motivation resides
with the individual student. I encourage
school leaders to really empower their
teachers and support staff – structurally,
organisationally and operationally – to
activate each student’s motivation. School
policy must be obviously and clearly and
validly relevant to the personal progress
of each individual student within that
Professor Martin was
interviewed by Garth Wynne,
Headmaster of Christ Church
Grammar School, Perth, WA.
Professor Andrew Martin is a Registered
Psychologist, Professorial Research Fellow in
the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Education
and Social Work and Honorary Senior Research
Fellow at the University of Oxford. His
research focuses on motivation, engagement
and achievement. Dr Martin’s interests also
cover boys’ and girls’ education, gifted and
talented, disengagement, academic buoyancy
and courage, pedagogy, parenting, teacher-
student relationships and Aboriginal education.
His latest book, Building classroom success:
Eliminating academic fear and failure was
published in early 2010. For more information
on this book and other student motivation
materials, visit www.lifelongachievement.com.
Independence Vol 36 No 2 Oct 11 27
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