Self-Determination Theory and the ACT

Chalk Talk #35

“Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side.” *Ba dum tsh*

Here’s what we can gather from this joke: the chicken was motivated to get to the other side, so no matter the obstacles or dangers of crossing the road, it somehow did it.

Motivation is key to success, and understanding motivation is the key to a successful academic year.

A motivated student will work hard to do what it takes to score college-ready on the ACT, but as you know, many students often struggle staying motivated throughout the year. E.g., “senioritis.”

Self-Determination Theory (SDT) takes a needs-based approach to motivation. It refers to three innate psychological needs or drives. If you can align ACT score improvement to these drives, your students will be motivated to do well.

The three drives identified by self-determination are as follows:

  1. Autonomy. The need to be under one’s own control. Students want to control their own destiny.
  2. Competence. The need to feel confident and capable in one’s abilities.
  3. Relatedness. The need to feel connected in society and have relationships.

Unfortunately, the default is that students perceive the ACT foils all three drives. They’re forced to sit and take a test for three hours (anti-autonomy), they could earn a bad score (anti-competence), and that could make them feel embarrassed or outcast (anti-relatedness).

By using SDT to organize class activities, however, teachers can flip this on its head by connecting students’ needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness to scoring college-ready on the ACT.

Check out this video to learn how:

Additional ideas for harnessing SDT for score gains:

  • Autonomy: Have students set their own score goals. According to American Psychological Association, “Numerous studies have found that students who are more involved in setting educational goals are more likely to reach their goals.”
  • Competence: Show them they can do it. Give easy questions mixed with more challenging ones. Show how others just like them did it so they can do it too.
  • Relatedness: Do group work and open discussions during test prep.

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