Interpreting motivational challenges in the science classroom: Understanding the relationship between preservice teachers’ beliefs, attributions, and practices



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Many U.S. students, especially females and members of underrepresented groups, express low interest in science courses and science-related careers. In the science classroom, teachers draw upon their beliefs and past experiences to find ways to motivate these disengaged students. Their causal explanations for the sources of students’ motivational struggles guide their instructional practices, which can affect students’ science-related values, interests, and persistence. Drawing from social psychological theory and science education research, this two-part study investigated how interactions between preservice teachers’ attributions, beliefs about the malleability of interest, and STEM-related gender biases affected their motivational strategies and academic recommendations. Interviews with in-service teachers revealed how school and classroom contexts influence the relationship between teachers’ expressed beliefs and instructional practices. Survey data from 250 preservice teachers found that male and female teachers made different attributions for the motivational struggles of boys versus girls. Gender differences also were observed for beliefs about student interest and instructional strategies. In particular, women were found to have stronger beliefs about the malleability of interest, and they were more likely than their male colleagues to recommend interest- and value-enhancing strategies to students. Qualitative data from the interviews with 11 in-service teachers revealed that their choices of motivational strategies were constrained by factors external to the classroom. These teachers also struggled to help students develop strategies to regulate their own interests and motivation. The results of the studies inform the development of future teacher preparation curricula and professional development opportunities.



Motivation, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), Attribution, Preservice