Motivation, Transformative Experiences, and Conceptual Change

Mentorship and Role Modeling: Why We Do It 11/24/22

Sit back and take a minute or two to think about those in your life who have guided, inspired, encouraged, advised, and mentored you. They can be anyone, a professor, colleague, friend, family, etc. Reflect on how they have impacted your life, who you are, your career choices, your goals. Would anything be different in your life without them? This self-reflection brings me to the topic of today’s blog, the importance of mentorship and role modeling.

It is probable that your self- reflection agrees with current and prior research that shows, educators should be involved in mentoring their students and be strong role models, as there are positive effects on students’ motivations and interests when they are mentored and are given knowledge about career opportunities (Barber et al., 2010; Huntoon & Lane, 2007). Mentors motivate and inspire their mentees by helping them visualize themselves as belonging to their field of study. Mentors help students gain the skills they need to be successful in their field and guidance in how to cope and break through barriers that may present themselves, e.g., due to stereotypes (Hernandez et al., 2020).

Baber et al. (2010), discuss the importance of role modeling. Good role modeling can help students build skills, confidence, and can influence students career choices. This can be particularly relevant for higher education, as good mentors can help increase the number of majors in a department by getting students involved and excited about the program (Barber et al., 2010; Huntoon & Lane, 2007).  In Barber et al (2010), students were quoted describing how grateful they were that their instructor and/or advisor encouraged them to do research and helped them increase their professional network by introducing them to experts in their chosen field. The students were appreciative that they and their mentors discussed classes and research, but also career goals and what would be expected of the students in their selected professions (Barber et al., 2010). 

Forming a relationship with faculty members can help students create and take ownership of their educational and career goals, which are important factors in increasing students’ motivation and involvement in the classroom (Huntoon & Lane, 2007). From personal experience a question a student will ask me is, how will I use this information in my life? When mentors know their students’ goals and aspirations they can show and discuss with their mentees the relevancy of the material they are learning. Students’ motivation to learn and succeed will increase as they make connections with their classwork and their lives outside the classroom (Huntoon & Lane, 2007).

Different research has endeavored to gauge what makes a good mentor, whether the students are in secondary school (Batty et al., 1999) or graduate school (Lechuga, 2011), women in science (Hernandez et al., 2020) or preservice teachers (Heeralal, 2014).  There are consistent qualities that emerge for what makes a good mentor, to list a few:

  • Knowledgeable: the mentor can help students make connections between theory and practice.
  • Experienced: mentors have experience with the topic, issue, etc. that the student wishes to discuss.
  • Interest: mentors show interest in students’ interest, even when their interests differ.
  • Approachable: mentors are accessible and good listeners.
  • Respectful: students are treated with respect, they do not feel belittled, or their dignity threatened.
  • Inspiring: mentors are inspiring and encouraging but are not domineering or pushy.
  • Flexible: students are given room to express themselves.
  • Understanding: the mentor acknowledges how students learn, students can have different levels of competency and transitions (schools, majors, etc.) can be taxing on a student.

As potential current and future mentors we can use the list above as a mentorship guide to support and encourage our students throughout their education. Also, in the end, many mentors learn from and find these relationships just as enriching as do their mentees.



Baber, L. D., Pifer, M. J., Colbeck, C., & Furman, T. (2010). Increasing diversity in the geosciences: Recruitment Programs and student self-efficacy. Journal of Geoscience Education, 58(1), 32–42.

Batty, J., Rudduck, J., & Wilson, E. (1999). What makes a good mentor? who makes a good mentor? the views of Year 8 mentees. Educational Action Research, 7(3), 365–374.

Heeralal, P. J. (2014). Student teachers’ perspectives of qualities of good mentor teachers. The Anthropologist, 17(1), 243–249.

Hernandez, P. R., Adams, A. S., Barnes, R. T., Bloodhart, B., Burt, M., Clinton, S. M., Du, W., Henderson, H., Pollack, I., & Fischer, E. V. (2020). Inspiration, inoculation, and introductions are all critical to successful mentorship for undergraduate women pursuing Geoscience Careers. Communications Earth & Environment, 1(1).

Huntoon, J. E., & Lane, M. J. (2007). Diversity in the geosciences and successful strategies for increasing diversity. Journal of Geoscience Education, 55(6), 447–457. Lechuga, V. M. (2011). Faculty-graduate student mentoring relationships: Mentors’ perceived roles and responsibilities. Higher Education, 62(6), 757–771.

Goals and Grades


I recently watched a Motivational Vloge concerning achievement goal theory by Dr. Kevin Pugh and Dr. Cassie Bergstrom. A topic Dr. Pugh and Dr. Bergstrom covered in their discussion about achievement goal theory was how grades and grading can both negatively and positively effect students and their classroom goals. This discussion re-sparked my own thoughts, ideas, and questions I have regarding the positive and negative aspects of grades.

In my previous educational psychology classes, my gut reaction to the relevancy of grades was, of course grades are important, grades are how educators and students assess students’ progress. However, grades are not just a letter, or a number and they can have a greater impact on students and their educational goals than I initially realized. Due to this realization, my thoughts about grades, grading, and their relationship with goals are more complicated and is the topic of today’s blog.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the achievement goal theory, and/or need a refresher, here is a summarization. According to the achievement goal theory, there are two main goal types that students can possess when partaking in achievement activities (Bergstrom & Pugh (2021) [Motivation]; Linnenbrink-Garcia et al., 2012; Senko et al., 2011). If students have mastery goals, they are more focused on learning and mastery of the material, while performance goals focus on outperforming others and appearing smart. Both these main goals can be divided into approach goals, performance-approach goals (wanting to outperform others) and mastery-approach goals (wanting to learn and improve your skills) (e.g., Bergstrom & Pugh (2021) [Motivation]). Mastery and performance goals can also be divided into performance-avoidance goals (wanting to avoid doing worse than others) and mastery-avoidance goals (averting skill deterioration). What do these goals have to do with grades? This question has me reflecting on my experiences as a student and teacher (e.g., Linnenbrink-Garcia et al., 2012; Senko et al., 2011).

As a student I struggle with math anxiety and this anxiety has hindered my achievement at times. When earning my undergraduate degree in geology, I remember approaching my Calculus I class with performance-approach goals and thinking, I just need/want to earn a good grade, then I have completed that requirement. The Calculus I class was very stressful as was the Calculus II class, which I avoided taking for a couple of years, because I did not want to do poorly (performance-avoidance goals). As a result of my performance goals, I also found doing math in my geology labs stressful. I felt overwhelmed with concern about what my professor would think about my work, comparing my work to my friends/classmates, and my resulting grade.

Although, with time and the help and patience of great tutors and instructors, I began to enjoy math. However, it was when I came to the realization that I would be using math often because of my career choice that I became determined to learn and master the material in my math classes (mastery-approach goal). When I came to that realization, I felt a burden was lifted. I view the math classes I need to take differently. I love to learn and so entering the classroom I think, I am here to learn today’s lesson. I feel more confidence in my ability to learn the material and learning the material is more enjoyable. A goal of mine is still to earn high grades, but a more prominent goal is to understand and learn the material. In the end the knowledge I acquire will help me perform better on assignments, and more than likely, good grades will be a result of my effort.

As an instructor, I think about my story and consider how I can change my students’ goals. From my educational experiences I feel that having both performance-approach and mastery-approach goals have been beneficial to my learning (dual approach goals) (e.g., Bergstrom & Pugh (2021) [Motivation]).  Therefore, I agree with Bergstrom & Pugh (2021) [Motivation]; Linnenbrink-Garcia et al. (2012); Senko et al. (2011) that instructors may want to utilize a strategy of encouraging their students to have a dual-approach goals. It is possible that like me, other students can reap the benefits of both mastery and performance goals: good grades, knowledge of the material, and confidence in their abilities.

So, these are now my thoughts on how grading could change students’ goals. While watching and listening to Dr. Pugh’s and Dr. Bergstrom’s Volg, I realized a possible issue with grades is that for too many students, grades are just letters: A, B, C, etc. or numbers: 90/100, 20/50, etc. Therefore, grades give students a superficial look at their learning. In other words, A= great, B= good, C= okay, D= bad, and F= fail. I agree with Dr. Pugh and Dr. Bergstrom that one of the best things I can do for my students is provide better feedback and clear grading rubrics. It is possible that by providing students with feedback that highlights how much they have learned, and not only what is incorrect, will inspire students to continue learning and improve upon their skills. Personally, when I receive in depth feedback or a good grading rubric, I tend to work harder to meet those standards. Grading rubrics also provide further meaning to my grade. I understand that I have not just earned an A, B, etc., but I have met certain learning goals that my instructor expects me to learn from taking the class. If I want to achieve a higher grade, I need to meet other learning goals as well.

 I advise myself and other instructors to be mindful that grades are much more than an assessment tool and can have favorable and adverse effects on the goals students adapt. I will continue to provide my students with in-depth feedback and continue to strive to create better grading rubrics.  I believe providing my students with these tools is a step I can take to help my students realize that education is not about the race to the finish and who wins gold. Instead, I want my students to be excited and interested in my course and to lead them to goals that will aid them in understanding and mastering the material. 


Bergstrom, C., & Pugh, K. (2021, January 4). Achievement Goal Theory. Motivation Vlog.

 Linnenbrink-Garcia, L., Middleton, M. J., Ciani, K. D., Easter, M. A., O’Keefe, P. A., & Zusho, A. (2012). The strength of the relation between performance-approach and performance-avoidance goal orientations: Theoretical, methodological, and instructional implications. Educational Psychologist, 47, 281–301.

Senko, C., Hulleman, C. S., & Harackiewicz, J. M. (2011). Achievement goal theory at the crossroads: Old controversies, current challenges, and new directions. Educational Psychologist, 46, 26 – 47.

Intrinsic or Extrinsic Motivation, That Is The Question


The title of today’s blog relates to a question that educators have and will continue to contemplate. How do we motivate our students to learn? As an educator I want my students to be intrinsically motivated when completing classroom activities and assignments. This means my students want to complete the assignments because they are excited and interested to do so and they do not need to be motivated by outside incentives/consequences, which would be extrinsic motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Incentives, such as rewards have been found to have negative impacts on learning, for example, if students continuously receive rewards for completing assignments, they may come to always expect a reward, and will only complete assignments if there is an inducement (Ryan & Deci, 2000). In contrast to extrinsic motivation, intrinsically motivated students do not require outside rewards. The satisfaction, enjoyment, and/or excitement of completing the activity is motivation enough for them. (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

So, does this mean we split these two types of motivation into two groups: intrinsic motivation is good and extrinsic motivation is bad? Educators would agree that intrinsic motivation is a good type of motivation as it is associated with positive cognative and affective factors, e.g., flow, value of the material, self-determination, and higher self-efficacy (Ryan & Deci, 2000; Wentzel & Brophy 2014). Do we dismiss extrinsic motivation and label it as bad motivation or is it possible to achieve or in ways work toward these feelings of achievement and value using extrinsic motivation? Ryan & Deci (2000) suggest that there are four stages (Figure 1) to extrinsic motivation and as educators, parents, guardians, peers we can help move students though these stages to intrinsic motivation.

Figure 1. Stages of motivation, (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

I agree with Ryan & Deci (2000) that when extrinsic motivation is used well and in a thoughtful manner it can lead to positive outcomes for students. For example, I wanted to teach my 1st grade students about glaciers and glacial movement. I told them we were going to make silly putty, which they got to take home, (incentive) and then we would race and test our glaciers out on different mountain slopes (trays covered in aluminum foil with toothpicks and rocks sticking out to simulate boulders and trees). At first their total focus was on the silly putty, but then I showed them how to set the silly putty on the mountain slope and how they could race. They followed my instructions and then their glaciers were off! Even though their glaciers were moving at a snail’s pace they stood transfixed encouraging their glaciers to move faster, exclaiming, “Mine is winning!” I encouraged them to take note of how the glaciers moved through the mountain valleys and what happened as it moved down the slope. Many students came to me showing how their glacier had picked up a boulder and/or broken trees. I explained that in real life glaciers can pick up boulders the size of houses and transport them miles away from where they were picked up initially. Hearing that their classmates’ glaciers had moved boulders other students asked if they could test their glaciers again. They all wanted to race their glaciers numerous times and watch their glacial powers at work (intrinsic motivation).

I will end with, I want my students to have intrinsic motivation, but I do not think we should dismiss extrinsic motivation out of hand. Extrinsic motivation can be beneficial to students learning, however, like most educational tools, we should be strategic when using extrinsic motivation to ignite our students’ curiosity and guide them to intrinsic motivation.


Ryan R.M., Deci E., (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Education Psychology, 25, 54–67

Wentzel, K., & J. Brophy (2014). Motivating students to learn (4th ed.). New York: Routledge.

Meeting the Standards of Standardized Testing


The topic of today’s blog is self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is defined as a person’s confidence in their abilities to learn and/or complete a task (Schunk & Meece, 2005; Wentzel & Brophy 2014). Self-efficacy is also characterized more as task specific rather than domain specific. This means you can feel confident in your ability to draw and specifically to draw landscapes but have a low self-efficacy in your ability to draw people (Schunk & Meece, 2005; Wentzel & Brophy 2014). To further explain the concept of self-efficacy I will tell you a story of how my self-efficacy regarding standardized tests has changed over the years.

Generally, I have a high self-efficacy when I take a test. My confidence that I will do well on a test relies on how well I studied and whether I think it will be a fair exam, however overall, I feel nervous but confident before I take a test. This was not true regarding standardized tests. I always hated standardized tests. The questions seemed out of place and unrelated to what we were learning in school and I could not get the timing down. More than anything the pressure was immense; I was told by many adults that my ACT and SAT scores alone were supposed to tell colleges if I should attend their school. What about the essays I had to write, all the work I put into school, and all the material I learned from pre-k through 12th grade, didn’t all this matter as well? Long story short I did not do well on my ACT or SAT exams. Nevertheless, I was accepted to a great college who looked beyond those scores and saw my potential. I did not do great on my first try of the GRE either, however they were not required where I applied to for my master’s degree and again, I was accepted on my merits. As fate would have it, while earning my M.A. my self-efficacy about standardized testing changed.

In the second year of earning my M.A. I took an assessment course. I learned different ways I could assess how my students were learning and what made a good test and a bad test. In class we discussed standardized tests, e.g., why they are used, who created them, and testwiseness, these are cues students use to answer questions correctly on an exam (Papenberg et al., 2017). I now understood certain tricks students have, can, and will use to quickly answer the multiple-choice questions that populate the SAT and beat the clock. My self-efficacy grew from my new understanding about assessments, tests, and I learned how to write my own assessments.  

To apply for my doctorate, I had to retake the GRE. I felt much more prepared. The test did not seem as daunting, now that I had a better understanding about the mechanics of test making. While studying, I looked for those cues I had learned about in class, like when reading the prewritten test questions, I focused on the specific vocabulary the authors preferred. I was still nervous when taking the test but not nearly as nervous as I had been in the past. I did quite well. I know I was accepted into my doctoral program because I am valued, qualified, and those who accepted me see my potential, at the same time I have pride in that fact that I was able to do well on a standardized test like the GRE.

A takeaway I glean from my story is that knowledge is good, it can help alleviate self-doubt and fear. Another example that comes to my mind is when a child gains the knowledge that witches, goblins, and vampires are not real and so these creatures no longer seem so scary. Well, I learned more about my ghoul, the standardized test, and although it might feel like it can haunt me at times, it is not as scary, and I feel more confident when facing it.


Papenberg, M., Willing, S., & Musch, J. (2017). Sequentially presented response options prevent the use of testwiseness cues in multiple-choice testing. Psychological Test and Assessment Modeling, 59(2), 245-266.

Schunk, D. H., & Meece, J. L. (2006). Self-efficacy development in adolescence. In F. Pajares & T. Urdan (Eds.), Self-efficacy beliefs of adolescents (pp. 71–96). Greenwich, CT: Information Age.

Wentzel, K., & J. Brophy (2014). Motivating students to learn (4th ed.). New York: Routledge.

Transforming the World and Motivating Students to Learn


We have all said and/or heard a friend, fellow student, your child, etc., say, “Why do I need to learn this, it is not like I will ever use (insert your chosen content here) in my life?” So, how do we, as educators and guardians, motivate our students to learn?

One method is to encourage students to have a transformative experience (Pugh, 2011; Pugh et al., 2017; Wentzel & Brophy 2014). Dewey and his pragmatist philosophy that meaningful experiences enrich our lives and provide the framework for future meaningful experiences inspired the theoretical grounding for the transformative experience construct. Transformative experience is defined in terms of three characteristics, the first is motivational use. Motivational use is when students use knowledge that they obtained in school to learn about their world outside of school, not because they are required but because they choose to do so (Pugh, 2011; Pugh et al., 2017; Wentzel & Brophy 2014).

The second is expansion of perception, which is related to engagement. It occurs when a person sees some aspect of the world in a new way and it is a possible result of motivational use (Pugh, 2011; Pugh et al., 2017; Wentzel & Brophy 2014). The third is experiential value, which refers to how students value the content depending upon the experience the knowledge provides. Experiential value has similarities with individual interest, includes both intrinsic values, a person’s sense of enjoyment and/or interest in a task, and utility value, the apparent usefulness in relation to a person’s goals.Regarding, individual interest, however, there is more focus on how feelings, e.g., enjoyment, and students’ value of the content are applied to their experiences outside of a classroom setting (Pugh, 2011; Pugh et al., 2017; Wentzel & Brophy 2014).

Okay, so now I will share how a transformative experience shaped my views about sedimentary geology. First, bit of background on me, I am a hard rock geologist, meaning I prefer to study and conduct research on igneous and metamorphic rocks and their processes instead of sedimentary rocks. A transformative experience I remember having was when I was an undergraduate and taking a sedimentology class. I found the class interesting at times, I liked my professor, but I knew if I could, I would rather be in a volcanology class.

One spring day in Wisconsin, my sedimentology class was taking a 10-minute break and I was standing by a large window watching a massive rainstorm outside. Our science building was newly constructed, and the builders were still working on landscaping. The ground was sloped from the landscaping and there were mounds of dirt around the building. I looked down (the geology department was on the 3rd floor) and the rainwater had created small streams in the soil. The streams weaved in and out, crossing each other back and forth. I felt a wave of excitement, I felt like this would be akin to an aerial view of watching braided streams form as a glacier melts! Granted there was no mantling ice, however, that did not matter, the streams looked beautiful to me and I was excited to see this small version of a geological process in action. In that instant my appreciation for sedimentology change, I found the material more valuable, I became more excited for class, and our next field trip.

I may still be a hard rock geologist, but I know that my transformative experience of watching the formation of those small braided streams was one of the first in many experiences that helped me appreciate and value many different geological fields and concepts.


Pugh, K. J. (2011). Transformative experience: An integrative construct in the spirit of Deweyan pragmatism. Educational Psychologist, 46(2), 107-121, DOI:10.1080/004 61520.2011.558817

Pugh, K. J., Bergstrom, C. R., Krob, K. E., & Heddy, B. C. (2017). Supporting deep engagement: The Teaching for Transformative Experience in Science (TTES) Model. Journal of Experimental Education, 85(4), 1-29, DOI:10.1080/00220973.2016.1277333

Wentzel, K., & J. Brophy (2014). Motivating students to learn (4th ed.). New York: Routledge.

Identity: How, “Who am I?”, relates to your education


How important is your identity and culture when it comes to learning? Research shows how social and cultural identity influences what activities and lessons we engage in school (Barron, 2006; Eckert, 1989; Kaplan et al., 2014; Wentzel & Brophy 2014). For example, to fit in with their peers’ students may ignore their studies, because it is not worth their time, the “too cool for school” mentality. In other cases, students’ may identify with their teacher and/or the subject matter, resulting in the students learning more about a subject. Previous studies indicate that when students relate to the information being taught and can envision themselves attending college, working in specific careers, living a particular lifestyle, etc. students are more motivated to set goals that will help them achieve their dreams (Barron, 2006; Eckert, 1989; Kaplan et al., 2014; Wentzel & Brophy 2014).

To consider the importance of identity, I will ask my readers a similar question that was recently asked of me. Can you think of a time when you identified with what you were learning and how did this change how you related to the material? For me one of my biggest moments of relating my identity to my education was during my freshman year of undergraduate school.

When I began undergraduate school I wanted to major in creative writing. However, the classes I took and the professors I had, turned me away from the department. During this time, I was also taking a geology class because two science courses were required to round off my undergraduate degree.

To be clear, I never saw myself as a scientist. I did not really enjoy science classes, I felt they were too hard, uninteresting, and I hated dissecting things in biology. With that said, I always loved collecting rocks, and a fun fact I have learned from my studies as a geologist, most of these “rocks” I was collecting were actually minerals. Also, as many kids do, I loved learning about dinosaurs and fossils. However, geology is not often taught in K-12 schools, and so I did not see my teachers role model a career in geology. I did have a great creative writing teacher and felt encouraged and excited to see myself earning my degrees in English and creative writing. I was lucky though, as I said geology is not often taught in K-12, but in my senior year a new specialty geology class was offered where my high school collaborated with my city’s Museum of Nature and Science. The seed that was connected to my interest in geology was being awakened, hence why I wanted to take geology classes for my science credit in college.

Therefore, as I felt pushed away from a degree in creative writing, I felt unsure of what I would do. My interest in geology was beginning to sprout and grow fast, but I feared everything that would be required of me and puzzled at how comfortable I felt in a science lab. During one of my many times spent studying the samples in the geology lab, my TA came in asking if I needed help. She began to prob me about what major I wanted to declare and encouraged me to think about declaring a geology major. I told her how I was unsure, and writing a thesis sounded daunting. She reassured me that by the time I reached my senior year I would be ready and that my professors would be there for guidance and support. I was still unsure, but I also responded by saying, I feel at home here. Basically, she answered me with, well there you go. That was it, the first real glimpse in seeing myself as a geologist. I could relate to my TA as she was also an undergraduate female student and successfully earning her degree in geology. However, for me what helped me envision myself as a geologist, was the sense of home. When I think about anything I am truly passionate about I feel like it is a part of me, a part of my identity. This is true, even if whatever I am doing e.g., research, classwork, presentations, etc. is challenging or stressful. This is because I identify with what I am doing and I am confident I can accomplish my goals and dreams, because I am a geologist, an educational psychologist, and a writer.


Barron, B. (2006). Interest and self-sustained learning as catalysts of development: A learning ecologies perspective. Human Development, 49, 193–224.

Eckert, P. (1989), Jocks and Burnouts: Social Categories and Identity in the High School. New York: Teachers College Press.

Kaplan, A., Sinai, M., & Flum, H. (2014). Design-based interventions for promoting students’ identity exploration within the school curriculum. In S. Karabenick & T. Urdan (Eds.),

Advances in motivation and achievement (Vol. 18, pp. 243–295). Bingley, UK: Emerald Group.

Wentzel, K., & J. Brophy (2014). Motivating students to learn (4th ed.). New York: Routledge.

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