Many educators struggle with ques- tions about student motivation in the classroom. It’s our premise that, despite how things may appear at times, all students are
motivated to learn.
Educators have described motivation in
many ways—and how they view it influences
both their beliefs about their students and their
approach to teaching. Two metaphors we commonly hear in our work as teacher educators
are motivation as a gas tank and motivation as a
The gas tank analogy compares motivation
to the amount of potential energy or drive a
student has. A student may have a full tank, an
empty tank, or something in between. From this
perspective, motivation is a fixed quality that
drives a student. This metaphor assumes that
motivation is a characteristic of an individual,
like height or intelligence, and that teachers are
powerless to influence a student who has little
motivation, or an empty tank. Our experience
suggests that this is not the case.
In contrast, the motivation-as-garden met-
aphor emphasizes the influence of the envi-
ronment on a student’s motivation. This point
of view encourages teachers to concentrate
on making elements of the classroom, such as
the curriculum, materials, and instructional
approaches, more motivating. The problem with
this metaphor is that it can set up an unrealistic
“field of dreams” mentality that assumes that
as long as we build the right motivational
Motivation ebbs and flows, but it’s ever present in the classroom.
Kevin Perks and Michael Middleton
Here’s how educators can harness its power.