Special Education Classroom Engagement and Motivation: An Analytical Study

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In dealing with special education, one of the most important aspects to keep in mind is that each student has unique needs that must be addressed individually. There is no surefire umbrella approach to engaging and motivating all students at the same time. They must be treated as the individuals they are, and that requires specific attention to each one. However, there are specific techniques and concepts that may be studied and utilized in order to make the classroom experience much more enjoyable and productive for both the teacher and students.

In the given example, there is a classroom of twenty students, each with unique personalities and needs. The first step to greatly improving the overall classroom environment is to motivate the students. To do this, there are two tools at the teacher's disposal: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation, which essentially equates to offering the students a reward for accomplishing a goal (oftentimes that goal is something that is not done, such as talking or leaving their seat) is more immediately effective, as students are much more open to these immediate rewards. The principle behind extrinsic motivation is simple: a student sees something they want, and they will do as they are told to receive it. This extrinsic motivation could be used to help Joey, who talks out of turn and loudly, disrupting the classroom. By promising Joey certain rewards for good behavior, Joey himself could not only be appeased, but other students as well, who see and learn from Joey's positive example. Intrinsic motivation requires a bit more finesse, as the rewards for intrinsic motivation are less material. An example of applying the principle of intrinsic motivation might be telling the student how proud of him or her their parents will be when they are told of the child's success at, say, drawing a picture. This promise of recognition will be especially effective for students such as Bridgett, who requires constant confirmation of her good work and behavior.

Incorporating technology in this scenario is relatively easy, and can be used in a number of ways to improve the classroom experience. For teaching, technology may be used as a bridge between students and the teacher. For example, the teacher may use things like television programs to teach students about the African Savannah, or a computer to show them a slideshow about American History. As for learning, it does tend to overlap with teaching, but one effective method to use technology to further learning is to personalize the technology for the students. That is to say, allowing each student their own laptop to work on, for example, will allow them freedom and will make the learning experience more effective, provided they are under enough supervision to use these laptops. Perhaps the laptops could be used as a form of extrinsic motivation for good behavior for students. Next, incorporating technology for engagement would facilitate the use of specific technology. One article stresses this need by emphasizing three critical aspects in regards to engagement and technology in teaching: content, pedagogy, and technology (Koehler and Mishra, 2005). With this in mind, each subject within the classroom should have a particular piece of technology attached to it; such as an interactive globe for history and geography, for example. Finally, using technology for motivation and subsequent achievement is a simple matter of making the technology fun, and giving students something to look forward to (another example of extrinsic motivation). To do this, students should be allowed to play games on their laptops for a specific period at the end of each week, provided their behavior and other criteria are satisfactory. This way, technology may make the classroom a more productive and enjoyable place for both the students and the teacher.

The first struggling student that would require an instructional intervention is Sarah, who frequently leaves her seat and wanders around the room, distracting other students and setting a bad example for the other students, who oftentimes do the same thing. After research, the best course of action in terms of instructional intervention is simple: only allow Sarah to play with her friends and other students if she goes a specific length of time without leaving her seat without permission and disrupting the classroom. This particular intervention is based on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which states that humans will have an intrinsic desire for acceptance among their peers, and denying Sarah of that will provide incentive for her to behave herself in class, while also being harmless to her physiologically if she fails to do so (Simons et al, 1987). This will also function effectively as a deterrent for other students, who could face the same cold-shoulder treatment if they disrupt the classroom as well.

The second struggling student that requires instructional intervention is Walden. While Walden, who is normally quiet but becomes talkative when discussing a subject he finds interesting, is not especially disruptive or troublesome, he is, nevertheless, strongly in need of a way to keep him motivated and interested in the lesson. The best way to do this is to relate each lesson to Walden on a personal level. For example, when discussing a potentially boring subject such as mathematics to Walden, it is necessary to point out how mathematics is used within the solar system and within the context of physics itself. Of course, only the most basic of mathematics and physics concepts would be explained to Walden, as expecting anything more would be silly. This intervention method plays off of what is known as the "ARCS Motivational Theory," which utilizes four key elements: Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction, in order to keep students interested in the current lesson (Colakoglu et al, 2010). The first element, attention, is the most crucial for Walden, as acquiring his attention will allow him to pay attention to the lesson and allow himself to become engrossed in it, similar to how he is so engrossed and excited about the solar system. This same method could also be used for Nancy, who works much better when she is more personally interested in a topic. By capturing the attention of these students, they will be better able to focus on the lesson itself, while also enjoying the act of going to school, which brings with it positive implications for the rest of their lives.


Colakoglu, O., Akdemir, O., & Eregli, K. (2010). Motivational measure of the instruction compared: Instruction based on the ARCS motivation theory vs. traditional instruction in blended courses. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education, 11(1302-6488), 73- 89.

Koehler, M. J., & Mishra, P. (2005). Teachers learning technology by design. Journal of computing in teacher education, 21(3), 94-102.

Simons, J. A., Irwin, D. B., & Drinnien, B. A. (1987). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Retrieved October 9, 2009.