How to motivate students? Use a dual process!

The dual process model provides insight into how teachers can support student motivation. Self-determination theory offers important clues for how teachers can improve student motivation. This article provides a summary of these types of interventions. When teachers apply these interventions, students are likely to feel better, become more engaged in lessons and learn and perform better. Jang, Kim & Reeve (2016) show that a two-track approach, or, as they call it, a "dual process model", is needed to achieve this.

Autonomy support predicts engagement, controlling teaching predicts disengagement

Learning and performing well at school starts with participating well in the lessons or being engaged. Disengaging, on the other hand, can trigger a negative spiral that undermines learning and performance. Jang, Kim & Reeve investigated in a longitudinal study which factors contribute to students getting engaged and which factors lead to disengagement. The researchers administered multiple questionnaires to students at a Korean school (N = 366) at 3 times during 17 weeks. 

First, they measured the extent to which students perceived their teachers as autonomy-supportive or controlling. Second, they measured the extent to which students experienced that their basic psychological needs (for autonomy, competence and relatedness) were supported during the lesson. Third, they measured how involved the students were during the lessons.

As results, they found, first, that perceived autonomy support predicted satisfaction of basic needs, which in turn predicted student engagement. In addition, a controlling style of teaching predicted needs frustration and disengagement. Once they dropped out, students began to experience their teachers as more controlling and less autonomy-supporting.

Dual process model: support autonomy and avoid controlling style

Furthermore, the study showed that autonomy support and controlled regulation were correlated (negatively), but that students did regard them as two separate things. The same is true of needs-fulfillment and needs-satisfaction: they were negatively correlated but distinct. On the basis of their research, Jang et al. conclude that the process of engaging comes about through autonomy support by the teacher, while the process of disengaging comes about through controlled regulation by the teacher. The implication is that for optimal student motivation it is necessary for the teacher to pursue a two-track policy. The first thing that is needed is autonomy support, the second is to avoid controlled regulation.

Effects of teacher styles on basic needs, engagement, homework and grades

Collie, Granziera, & Martin (2019) conducted research among Australian students (N = 771). They also investigated how students experienced the teaching style (autonomy-supported vs. controlling) and to what extent there was fulfillment of needs and commitment (engaged vs. disengaged). 

She also added two outcome variables: the degree to which students did their homework and school grades. As results, they found, firstly, that a controlling style of teaching predicted more needs-frustration, more self-handicapping and more disengagement. 

They also found that autonomy-supporting teaching predicted lower disengagement. Self-handicapping was associated with lower grades. Disengagement was associated with less homework. The figure below summarizes the results.

Four identified teacher styles

Furthermore, Collie et al identified 4 teacher profiles based on their data. 25% of the teachers had a style that was high in autonomy support and low in controlling (This is the optimal style). 2% of the teachers were both high in autonomy support and high controlling. 65% of the teachers scored on average, both on autonomy support and controlling teaching. 7% scored high on controlling teaching and low on autonomy support. I summarize these findings in the figure below.


Both the research of Jang et al. and the research of Collie et al. support the notion behind the dual process model. That notion is: for an optimal motivating climate in the classroom, it is necessary both to offer autonomy support (for example by offering choices) and to avoid a controlling teaching style (for example by avoiding an authoritarian tone).

Person-centered teacher analysis such as that performed by Collie et al. can be helpful. Teachers can gain insight into how they presently appear to students and how they can develop an optimal motivation style.