How to Promote Student Learning through a Motivational Curriculum


How to Promote Student Learning through a Motivational Curriculum

What can educators do to help eradicate retention and social promotion of students since research presents argument that neither retention nor social promotion benefits students, positing that most retained students eventually drop out of school not being able to remain on the same grade level as their peers, and social promotion of students excuses the students from learning the skills they need in order to function in a society that would be beneficial for them. While student retention and social promotion are solutions to school problems in reducing the failure rate of students, it could also be considered a “cop out” of the necessary work it takes for educators to properly teach students, relying on a curriculum that will help all students learn rather than foisting a curriculum that seemingly benefits only certain students. The research is clear, and the people concerned with school issues, especially concerned with the issue of failing students, know very well the crisis they face with student failure. Instead of continuing the status quo of retaining or socially promoting struggling students, educators should create a new curriculum–a motivational curriculum that students would appreciate so that they will complete their class work satisfactorily and pass to the next grade on their own accord.

Ideas for a motivational curriculum are to increase student reading and critical thinking skills by introducing lessons that inspire students. For example, motivation through reading and thinking may happen by upgrading chunked reading passages that will promote students’ thinking and titillate their senses as well as challenge them to respond to complex ideas in feasible ways. The passages should be of a classic suite or of the level that is commensurate to writings of past savants such as Emerson and Thoreau and their equal. While these past thinkers are complex in their writings, their topics–“Self-Reliance” “Nature,” for examples, are excellent to promote mental growth in students. These types of topics are motivational and relevant to students, and these types of lessons should be a part of the motivational curriculum.

Research has raised the argument to “teach relevance” and continues to insist upon it, yet earnest documentation of educators teaching relevance is not plentiful nor easily found in archives. When students do not readily discern “How will this math help me in life?” they will easily tune out because some students are already not interested in learning, so it is imperative that educators be quick and matter-of-fact by relating–for example–math lessons to students’ personal interests. To help students appreciate math for numerical enhancement, students should partake in hands-on instruction, for understanding math is mastered by ‘doing.’  Moreover, expanding students’ knowledge of math should increase their understanding of science concepts because of the many formula probes that both math and science require for students to learn. More importantly, students need to know of specific jobs that are related to the math that they are learning. When students know better, they do better. Relevance is entry into students’ learning.

By increasing students’ learning through relevance, students that are failing will no longer indifferently fail. Instead, they will be motivated to learn and to pass to the next grade level because after learning lessons based on life skills they will try their best to succeed because they have been taught how to succeed.  Thus, students will have the opportunity to learn the courses required of them just by educators modifying the curriculum towards a motivational approach.

Thus, school retention and social promotion have been proven to be an ineffective curriculum approach to solving student failure problems and should be halted and renewed with a new curriculum to boost student learning and to inspire their passing upward between grades. Of course, much work has to be done than the ideas suggested herein, for the issue of debunking school retention and social promotion and for designing a motivational curriculum, are complicated. Yet, the ideas are feasible. The idea of creating a new curriculum, especially, should be deeply evaluated and understood. For support of a motivational curriculum, the book Cynthia Mathews on Curriculum and Instruction shares specific ideas for a motivational curriculum that will benefit all students.

Mathews’ book begins with a professional development opportunity, allowing educators to respond to questions based on curriculum. The book highlights the difference between curriculum and instruction, explaining that curriculum is the entire environment of a school while instruction is the style and reflection of a teacher’s delivery. Proceeding chapters provide instructional ideas on curriculum and teachers, curriculum and administrators, curriculum and counselors, curriculum and African-American Male Students, Curriculum and Gifted Students, and Curriculum and Leadership. The appendixes entail ready to use ideas for a motivational curriculum and provides steps for student learning; the book ends with a call for action to generate a motivational curriculum for student interests and learning. Mathews’ book is 5 x 7 in size, fewer than 200 pages and is easy to read because its linguistic register is personal and informal and instructional and is written in a style that educators will easily understand.










How to Read MATHEWS Way

Move finger across lines while reading
Activate attention span for newness
Think relatable personal experiences
Harness reasoning with “W” questions
Expand vocabulary through defining words
Withdraw reading to reflect on meaning
Simplify reading one chapter daily

Curriculum and Instruction: Reading Mathews Way.

According to United States Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, approximately 32 million adults in the United State cannot read, and those that can read on an eight-grade level.

In schools, research reports 3.54 percent of all students do not get enough of daily reading practice, reading a mere 30 minutes per day; to improve in reading comprehension, a student needs to read overall two hour a day for practice fluency.

Additionally, struggling readers need high quality instruction and intensive support in order to learn important reading skills. School data suggest a student needs to practice applying reading skills. To help a student practice, Dr. Cynthia Mathews generated a reading strategy based on the acronym M.A.T.H.E.W.S. The student can test his understanding of reading by following Mathews’s reading strategy. See below:

Move finger across lines while reading. Until the student becomes a proficient reader, the teacher should instruct the student to point his finger on the lines of reading so that he will remain with the text without inadvertently jumping from one line to another. Encourage student to read aloud words and to repeat words that he stumbles upon until he pronounces the words correctly. If student struggles with pronunciation, instruct him to access to listen to how words are pronounced and for him to say aloud the word-sounds. Instruct student to continue reading, pointing his finger under the reading lines; ask him to be patient with himself, explaining to him that good reading takes time and that using his finger across the words will help him connect to the passage and will help him understand it better.

Activate attention span when reading about new ideas. While reading may be easy to understand when a student is familiar with the topic, reading becomes challenging for the student when he is not familiar with the topic. In this case, the student must pay complete attention to his reading style. He must force himself to focus on every line, pointing his finger, articulating as best he can. If the student realizes that his mind is wandering, instruct him to force himself into paying attention by saying to himself, “Stop! Now, refocus.” He should continue in this manner for as long as he can concentrate. The student making himself focus can be a difficult skill to learn. Therefore, continue to motivate the student to read by applying the MATHEWS reading technique of activating one’s attention to focus.

Think relatable, personal experiences. As the student reads, ask him to think of times that he remembers a similar situation. If he has no personal experience, ask the student if he knows of someone else who may have experienced the journey of the character he is reading about. If the student cannot relate on any level about what he is reading, ask him to think about the reading’s scenario and to reread the passage to help himself remember and to understand better.

Harness reasoning with questions. Another method to help a student read reliably or understandably is to instruct him to ask questions about the passage: “Why did the boy follow the fox”? “What kind of person would obey a fox?” “What are traits of a fox?” “How may I learn more about foxes?” “Am I as brave as the boy in the story?” Questions bring about other questions, and more questions answered bring about understanding. Instruct the student to seek ways to locate information to answer questions he may have. The students may use a dictionary or Google for answers. The idea is to motivate the student to ask the right questions that will lead him to the right answers for enhanced reading comprehension.

Expand vocabulary. Vocabulary should be taught in isolation and in context. For maximum understanding, the teacher should instruct the student to preview the text before reading to spot unfamiliar terms and to define the terms. Or, the teacher, herself, may peruse the reading passage to extract vocabulary for student-learning. The teacher should provide a list of the words for the student to define. The student should study the meaning and spelling and pronunciation of each word. He should use or any other word source that would allow him to hear the word, to define the word, and to make sense of the word. After the student has met sufficient time to study the words, he should begin the process of reading as instructed. Learning vocabulary is critical to a student’s comprehension and should be instructed of the student in various ways, allowing him to practice learning of words directly or learning of words through context clues. Yet, a struggling reader may find reading difficult by applying context clues. Therefore, the student’s recognizing, defining, articulating, and spelling of words might be a better learning approach for him until he becomes a fluent reader and is able to understand how to apply the skill of context clues.

Withdraw reading to reflect on meaning. With all good works, a break in work must accompany it. After a student reads a full paragraph, he should withdraw from the passage to think about what he has read. He should withdraw to focus metacognition (thinking about his thinking) and to ask himself questions about what he has read; pointedly, he must withdraw (look away) from the passage until he can feel the learning taking place in the schema of his comprehension. After the student withdraws a few minutes from the passage, he should proceed with the reading, generating understanding of what he is learning.

Simplify reading one chapter daily. If a book has more than 200 pages, instruct the student to read one chapter a day. If the chapters are long in pages, instruct the student to divide the chapter’s pages by three. He should read a certain number of pages in the morning, again in the afternoon, and again in the evening. Yet, as instructor, aim to motivate the student to read one chapter daily regardless of the length of pages, reminding him to follow the MATHEWS reading strategy. The student should be able to finish reading a novella (book under 150 pages) within two weeks and a novel (book with 150 pages or more) within a month if he continues the practice of simplifying his reading by reading only one chapter daily.

Research argues that reading can be difficult for a student because of semantics: sentence structure, vocabulary, and the student’s prior knowledge of events. Yet, one of the best ways to help a student learn is to apply the MATHEWS technique. The teacher or coach or knowledgeable parent should be present with the student when he attempts to read. With continuous dedication to reading, the student will begin reading fluently before he can ask himself, “How did I learn to read so quickly?” It was easy. He followed the MATHEWS-method. 

Cynthia Mathews, Ed.D.

Curriculum and Instruction Consultant

Educational Leadership Consultant

Professional Development Presenter



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Published by cynthiamathews

I'm an innovative spirit, one who seeks new and practical ways to learn about life. I enjoy exploring innovative styles to motivate people to persevere in a challenging world. Having a doctorate in Educational Leadership and Curriculum & Instruction, I am inspired to maintain a life long learning experience that will allow me to share my knowledge with others. My expertise includes detecting apathy in individuals and prescribing ways to motivate them to be their best. To initiate this endeavor, I create and conduct personal and professional development programs. I write briefs and pamphlets and instructional guides to inspire, and I speak--upon request--to those who need a reminder of their inner excellence. My blog's main focus is to document my research on motivation and curriculum instruction and to share with subscribers the understanding, the ideas, and the strategies that result from my research. I am a native of Alabama, a teacher, and an author. I look forward to learning with you.