Motivation Monday: Cultural Responsiveness

Motivation Monday: Cultural Responsiveness

Why we need to consider culture when assessing student motivation

As educators, we talk a lot about using research-based practices. However, data showsNorth East Arrow(link opens in new tab/window) that 96% of participants in educational psychology research are from WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic)North East Arrow(link opens in new tab/window) countries, even though only 12% of the world population live in WEIRD areas. In light of this stunning disparity, 21st-century researchers have begun investigating whether patterns of motivation vary across diverse populations.

So far, the answer to this question has been a resounding yes; it is inequitable to solely rely on models of motivation based on WEIRD research. The distinctions in motivational forces across Western and Non-Western, collectivist and individualisticNorth East Arrow(link opens in new tab/window), and even generational and community cultures call for student and family-centered adaptations of motivational theories to classrooms.


You may be wondering, what can I do if “research-based practices” might not apply to my students?

 The good news is that many motivation experts, administrators, and educators have suggestions for how to account for and embrace cultural diversity when addressing student motivation in the classroom. These suggestions include:

  • Reflect on your own biases and assumptions regarding whether and why some students are “inherently” motivated or unmotivated. How can you challenge any assumptions you identify?
  • Consider using a beginning-of-the-year questionnaireNorth East Arrow(link opens in new tab/window) to ask caregivers what motivates their children. You might be surprised by the variety of extrinsic, intrinsic, relational and aspirational motivators parents and guardians name.
  • Adopt culturally sustaining teaching practices. Culturally sustaining pedagogy extends beyond the reach of culturally relevant pedagogy by incorporating rather than simply complimenting students’ diverse wealth of cultural knowledge into classroom instruction.

Interested in more information about theories of learning and motivation? Take a look at our posts on Behaviorism, Goal Orientation Theory and Growth Mindset, Expectancy-Value Theory and Self-Determination Theory.

  • Taylor McKenna, M.A., SMARTS Intern

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

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The Institute for Learning and Development: