Monday, April 21, 2014


I have noticed my math students fit into four different categories.

I should carefully define how I use the diagram's four words.
Proactive people approach tasks like a swing dance lead: they supply the energy and momentum, and organize what will happen.  They make very specific plans.  They focus on schedules and effort.

Reactive people approach tasks like a swing dance follow: they react to external energy and momentum and fill it with their personal style.  They make vague plans.  They focus on emotion and bargains.

Eudaimonic people think most about overall wellbeing.  They often make choices that arrange their life to have stable happiness.

Hedonic people think about specific comfort and discomfort.  They often make choices to enjoy immediate pleasures or avoid immediate anxiety.
Let's consider what students of each type might say to themselves to help motivate themselves to do math homework.

(Obviously, most real-life students will be motivated by a blend of these types.  Yet some types will be more strongly influential than others.  Students reading this essay will think, "Yeah, I am mostly that one with some of this and that.")

The proactive, eudaimonic student 

I will set aside specific times and places to study each week.  I will make myself do the homework.  I know that if I arrange my week in a way that makes homework a priority then I will not fall behind in class.  Falling behind causes trouble.  I believe I can pass any class if I never fall behind.

I will keep aware of my potential resources: office hours, tutoring, the library's collection of the textbook publisher's videos for each section, online math videos, my roommate's friend who is great at math, etc.  If I ever start falling behind I will pick one more resource to start using.

I will compare my notes with those of some classmates.  That will help me learn what kind of math notes help me most.  If someone else seems to be a much better note taker than I am, I will ask if they can teach me their way.

The proactive, hedonic student 

I will set aside specific times and places to study each week.  After each study time I will schedule getting together with friends.

I will make myself do the homework.  It will be easier to get the homework done while I am looking forward to having fun afterwards.

I recognize that discouragement is normal and temporary.  I will push through any discouragement.  If I need to bribe myself by eating a chocolate chip after each homework problem, so be it.

I am afraid to ask questions during class.  I'll ask one each week.  If I don't then I will go up to my teacher after class on Friday and apologize for not asking my questions.  That would be horrible, so I know I'll ask one question.  Probably on Mondays to get it done with.

I believe I can succeed.   I can reach my goals.

The reactive, eudaimonic student

This homework intimidates me but I will show it who is boss!  When I finish a homework assignment I will celebrate using social media so my friends can say 'good job!' and I will feel happy.

I will join a study group so the expectation of attending it will keep me from procrastinating.  Also, in the study group I will sometimes be the person who give hints and help to others and that will make me feel good.

After a test I will get some tutoring from my friend who is great at math.  If I do well her congratulations will make feel good.  Knowing she will be looking at my tests' scratch work will motivate me to write my step-by-step answers nicely, which will itself help my test scores.

I will take great notes.  If there is someone in my class who needs a copy of someone's notes (I know disability services sometimes recommends this to people) I will volunteer.  That will make me feel useful and happy.  And I'll have good notes!

I realize I am afraid to ask questions during math class.  I made a bargain with my roommate: whichever of us asks the more questions in our math classes each week buys the other a fancy coffee during the weekend.

The reactive, hedonic student

This homework intimidates me but I will show it who is boss!  Each day I will not eat deserts until my homework is done.

I know that listening to music slows me down, but after I complete three-quarters of the problems I will turn on my music anyway so I finish in a better mood.

I will mark the tests on my calendar with the big red words "math test!".  A little fear helps prevent procrastination.  I am going to worry about the tests anyway.  I might as well use that worry to help get my homework done on time.

I know I have some strengths.  I am organized.  I can focus when studying.  I passed the previous math class.  I like going to class.  I want to do well.  When I feel discouraged I will think about these strengths.

I realize I am afraid to ask questions during math class.  When I do ask questions I will applaud my bravery.  I might even do a little dance after class.

All four types of students can motivate themselves, complete the homework, and succeed in math.  But how they do it is very different!

LCC has a nice flyer about study tips.  The LCC Testing Office has online study tips.  My own math website has study tips.

The majority of these study tips seem to assume students can be proactive and eudaimonic.  But sociologists are learning more about how these motivation types are a deep part of us, and geneticists are learning more about how they are more inherent than learnable.

Perhaps I should go through all of these study tips to see how well they sort by motivation type?

Or perhaps I should offer that as a small extra-credit assignment to my math students the first week of each term?

Does anyone have other tips or advice for helping students of different motivations?

UPDATE - I started an e-mail discussion of this with LCC faculty, and someone said my reactive category was a lot like the Feeling Learners from Skip Downing's book On Course used by the SAGA program at LCC.  There is a lot of overlap.

UPDATE - April 23rd, 2014 - During a discussion about this blog post today, a friend said, "In classes I enjoy I am proactive and eudaimonic.  I set aside time to do the work and get enough reward from the happy feeling that the work is done well.  But in classes I do not enjoy I am definitely reactive and hedonic."  The plot thickens.

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