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From the REL West Reference Desk: How an Ask-a-REL Memo Helped Teachers Understand Student Motivation

January 2020

All 10 RELs offer a free reference desk service called Ask a REL. Through this service, REL staff respond to stakeholders’ questions about various education topics with a list of abstracts of, and links to, relevant studies. Our goal is for every Ask A REL memo to help education stakeholders make research-informed decisions.

Stakeholders’ questions have ranged from teacher induction mentoring programs to the ideal classroom temperature for student learning. We welcome questions from parents, educators, administrators, policymakers—anyone who’s interested in what works for students and education systems.

Information about Ask a REL

Download Poster to learn how to submit your inquiry and what you can expect from an Ask A REL memo

We recently had the good fortune to follow up with Larry Ferlazzo about his request. He is an English and social studies teacher at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento and a blogger for Education Week.

Larry reached out to us with a question about student motivation:

“I was in a small meeting of district and school staff yesterday [in which some staff] mentioned that students’ grades tend to go down in the second semester compared to the first. After thinking about it, that also resonates with my experience. It’s prompting me to think about how to combat this issue, and plan for beginning of the second semester next year. Could you provide research on ways to encourage intrinsic motivation among students?”

He was not only interested in sharing the research with colleagues at his school, but also hoped to share the memo more widely on his “Websites of the Day” blog, which shares education news and resources with a readership of 19,000.

Larry Ferlazzo

“I don't really know of anybody else out there who is credible and who is willing to do research for teachers free of charge!”
—Larry Ferlazzo

In response to Larry’s question, we sent him a response memo with information about intrinsic motivation for learning and practices to support it. We also shared two earlier, related memos we had developed: one on reading motivation in middle school and one on instructional practices to improve motivation and engagement for writing in grades K–6.

Larry and his team plan to use these memos to support their schoolwide social-emotional learning lessons, which incorporate evidence-based practices to increase student engagement.

We are grateful to Larry for letting us know about how a memo can be useful for teachers. How can we help YOU? Submit your questions to us.