Robyn Jackson


Washington, DC

Interests: Professional...

  • Posted 1 Year ago
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The Difference between a Motivation Problem and a Discipline Problem

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Lately, I’ve been receiving a lot of questions about classroom management and discipline. I am the first to admit that this is not my specific area of expertise, however I do want to point out something I’ve been thinking about a lot. There is a big difference between a motivation problem and a discipline problem.

There are many student behaviors that are annoying – heads on the desk during a discussion, not bringing a pen to class, starting out the window instead of getting started on the assignment – but while these indicate a lack of motivation, none of these is a discipline problem.

In fact, if we treat these motivation problems as discipline problems and attempt to address them as such, we could actually become a discipline problem ourselves.

So it’s really important to understand the difference.

According to my favorite definition of a discipline problem by Levin and Nolan (1996) a discipline problem in any behavior that:

Interferes with the teaching act

  • Interferes with students right or ability to learn
  • Is psychologically or physically unsafe

  • Destroys or damages property

A motivation problem on the other hand is much more complex. It has more to do with students who exhibit:

  • Low self confidence
  • Low expectations for success
  • Lack of interest in the subject matter or academics altogether
  • Achievement Anxieties
  • Fears of success or failure

Discipline problems typically require preventative strategies as well as short-term interventions. Motivation problems on the other hand, require long-term, individualized interventions. Discipline problems need to be addressed so that others can learn. Motivation problems need to be addressed so that the individual student can learn.

Since motivation problems generally do not interfere with other students’ learning, some strategies we may use to manage them may end up interfering with other students’ learning. Therefore, motivation problems should be managed individually after the rest of the class has gotten to work.

Below are some examples of discipline problems versus motivation problems.

It is important to know the difference between a discipline problem and a motivation problem because each requires a different strategy. Often, if we treat a motivation problem as if it were a discipline problem, we can actually create a discipline problem.

Now that you’ve seen my examples, what are your thoughts? What are some other examples of discipline problems versus motivation problems? How can you tell the difference?



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