Mathematics Education Research Journal

, Volume 29, Issue 2, pp 163–181 | Cite as

Motivation and engagement in mathematics: a qualitative framework for teacher-student interactions

  • Tracy L. Durksen
  • Jennifer Way
  • Janette Bobis
  • Judy Anderson
  • Karen Skilling
  • Andrew J. Martin
Original Article


We started with a classic research question (How do teachers motivate and engage middle year students in mathematics?) that is solidly underpinned and guided by an integration of two theoretical and multidimensional models. In particular, the current study illustrates how theory is important for guiding qualitative analytical approaches to motivation and engagement in mathematics. With little research on how teachers of mathematics are able to maintain high levels of student motivation and engagement, we focused on developing a qualitative framework that highlights the influence of teacher-student interactions. Participants were six teachers (upper primary and secondary) that taught students with higher-than-average levels of motivation and engagement in mathematics. Data sources included one video-recorded lesson and associated transcripts from pre- and post-lesson interviews with each teacher. Overall, effective classroom organisation stood out as a priority when promoting motivation and engagement in mathematics. Results on classroom organisation revealed four key indicators within teacher-student interactions deemed important for motivation and engagement in mathematics—confidence, climate, contact, and connection. Since much of the effect of teachers on student learning relies on interactions, and given the universal trend of declining mathematical performance during the middle years of schooling, future research and intervention studies might be assisted by our qualitative framework.


Teacher-student relationship Mathematics education Student motivation Student engagement Teacher-student interactions 


  1. Anderson, J., Bobis, J., Martin, A. J., Skilling, K., & Way, J. (2016). The middle years transition, engagement, and achievement in mathematics (MYTEAM) project. Paper presented at the 13th International Congress on Mathematical Education. Hamburg, Germany.Google Scholar
  2. Askew, M., Denvir, H., Rhodes, V., & Brown, M. (2000). Numeracy practices in primary schools: towards a theoretical framework. Research in Mathematics Education, 2(1), 63–76. doi: 10.1080/14794800008520068.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Askew, M., Rhodes, V., Brown, M., Wiliam, D., & Johnson, D. (1997). Effective teachers of numeracy: report of a study carried out for the teacher training agency. London: King’s College, University of London Retrieved from Scholar
  4. Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman.Google Scholar
  5. Bobis, J., Anderson, J., Martin, A. J., & Way, J. (2011). A model for mathematics instruction to enhance student motivation and engagement. In D. Brahier (Ed.), Motivation and disposition: pathways to learning mathematics, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics seventy-third yearbook (pp. 31–42). Reston, VA: NCTM.Google Scholar
  6. Bobis, J., Way, J., Anderson, J., & Martin, A. J. (2016). Challenging teacher beliefs about student engagement in mathematics. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 19(1), 33–55. doi: 10.1007/s10857-015-9300-4
  7. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1986). Ecology of the family as a context for human development: Research perspectives. Developmental Psychology, 22(6), 723–742.Google Scholar
  8. Cheon, S. H., & Reeve, J. (2015). A classroom-based intervention to help teachers decrease students’ amotivation. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 40, 99–111. doi: 10.1016/j.cedpsych.2014.06.004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Confrey, J. (2006). Comparing and contrasting the National Research Council Report “On Evaluating Curricular Effectiveness” with the What Works Clearinghouse Approach. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 28(3), 195–213 Scholar
  10. Covington, M. V. (1992). Making the grade: a self-worth perspective on motivation and school reform. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2015). Self-determination theory. International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences , 21, 486–491. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-08-097086-8.26036-4.2nd edCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Durksen, T. L., Chu, M.-W., Ahmad, Z. F., Radil, A. I., & Daniels, L. M. (2016). Motivation in a MOOC: a probabilistic analysis of online learners’ basic psychological needs. Social Psychology of Education: An International Journal, 19(2), 241–260. doi: 10.1007/s11218-015-9331-9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Elliot, A. J., & McGregor, H. A. (2001). A 2 X 2 achievement goal framework. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80(3), 501–519. doi: 10.1037/10022-3514.80.3.501.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fredricks, J. A., Blumenfeld, P. C., & Paris, A. H. (2004). School engagement: potential of the concept, state of the evidence. Review of Educational Research, 74, 59–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gettinger, M., & Walter, M. (2012). Classroom strategies to enhance academic engaged time. In S. L. Christenson, A. L. Reschly, & C. Wylie (Eds.), Handbook of research on student engagement (pp. 653–673). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Goetz, T., Bieg, M., Lüdtke, O., Pekrun, R., & Hall, N. C. (2013). Do girls really experience more anxiety in mathematics? Psychological Science, 24(10), 2079–2087. doi: 10.1177/0956797613486989.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hackenberg, A. J. (2010). Mathematical caring relations. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 41(3), 236–273.Google Scholar
  18. Hamre, B. K., Pianta, R. C., Downer, J. T., DeCoster, J., Mashburn, A. J., Jones, S. M., et al. (2013). Teaching through interactions: testing a developmental framework of effectiveness in over 4,000 classrooms. The Elementary School Journal, 113(4), 461–487. doi: 10.1086/669616.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hanin, V., & Nieuwenhoven, C. V. (2016). The influence of motivational and emotional factors in mathematical learning in secondary education. Revue européenne de psychologie appliquée, 66, 127–138. doi: 10.1016/j.erap.2016.04.006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Klassen, R. M., Perry, N. E., & Frenzel, A. C. (2012). Teachers’ relatedness with students: an underemphasized aspect of teachers’ basic psychological needs. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104(1), 150–165. doi: 10.1037/a0026253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Korpershoek, H., Harms, T., de Boer, H., van Kuijk, M., & Doolaard, S. (2016). A meta-analysis of the effects of classroom management strategies and classroom management programs on students’ academic, behavioural, emotional, and motivational outcomes. Review of Educational Research, 86(3), 643–680. doi: 10.3102/0034654315626799.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Liem, G. A. D., & Martin, A. J. (2012). The motivation and engagement scale: theoretical framework, psychometric properties, and applied yields. Australian Psychologist, 47, 3–13. doi: 10.1111/j.1742-9544.2011.00049.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Marshall, J. C., Smart, J., & Alston, D. M. (2016). Development and validation of Teacher Intentionality of Practice Scale (TIPS): a measure to evaluate and scaffold teacher effectiveness. Teaching and Teacher Education, 59, 159–168. doi: 10.1016/j.tate.2016.05.007.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Martin, A. J. (2007). Examining a multidimensional model of student motivation and engagement using a construct validation approach. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 77, 413–440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Martin, A. J. (2008). The motivation and engagement scale. Sydney: Lifelong Achievement Group Scholar
  26. Martin, A. J., Anderson, J., Bobis, J., Way, J., & Vellar, R. (2012). Switching on and switching off in mathematics: an ecological study of future intent and disengagement amongst middle school students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104(1), 1–18. doi: 10.1037/a0025988.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Martin, A. J., & Dowson, M. (2009). Interpersonal relationships, motivation, engagement, and achievement: yields for theory, current issues, and educational practice. Review of Educational Research, 79(1), 327–365. doi: 10.3102/0034654308325583.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Martin, A. J., & Marsh, H. W. (2006). Academic resilience and its psychological and educational correlates: a construct validity approach. Psychology in the Schools, 43(3), 267–282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Martin, A. J., Marsh, H. W., McInerney, D. M., & Green, J. (2009). Young people’s interpersonal relationships and academic and nonacademic outcomes: scoping the relative salience of teachers, parents, same-sex peers and opposite-sex peers. Teachers College Record, 23 March. Retrieved from
  30. Martin, A. J., Way, J., Bobis, J., & Anderson, J. (2015). Exploring the ups and downs of mathematics engagement in the middle years of school. Journal of Early Adolescence, 35(2), 199–244. doi: 10.1177/0272431614529365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. MCEETYA. (2008). National Assessment Program, Literacy and Numeracy: NAPLAN Summary Report. Carlton South: Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs. Government of Australia.Google Scholar
  32. Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1994). An expanded sourcebook: qualitative data analysis (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc..Google Scholar
  33. OECD. (2010). Pisa 2009 results: what students know and can do—student performance in reading, mathematics and science, Vol 1. Retrieved from
  34. Pianta, R. C., & Hamre, B. K. (2009). Conceptualization, measurement, and improvement of classroom processes: standardized observation can leverage capacity. Educational Researcher, 38(2), 109–119. doi: 10.3102/0013189X093323374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Pianta, R. C., Hamre, B. K., & Mintz, S. (2012). Classroom assessment scoring system: secondary manual. Charlottesville, VA: Teachstone.Google Scholar
  36. Pietarinen, J., Pyhältö, K., & Soini, T. (2016). Teacher’s professional agency—a relational approach to teacher learning. Learning: Research and Practice, 2(2), 112–129. doi: 10.1080/23735082.2016.1181196.Google Scholar
  37. Pintrich, P. R., Smith, D. A. F., Garcia, T., & McKeachie, W. J. (1991). A manual for the use of the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ). Ann Arbor, MI: National Center for Research to Improve Postsecondary Teaching and Learning.Google Scholar
  38. QSR International. (2014). NVivo qualitative data analysis, version 10 [computer software]. Cambridge, MA: QSR International Pty Ltd..Google Scholar
  39. Reeve, J., & Tseng, C.-M. (2011). Agency as a fourth aspect of students’ engagement during learning activities. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 36(4), 257–267. doi: 10.1016/j.cedpsych.2011.05.002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Ross, J. A., McDougall, D., Hogaboam-Gray, A., & LeSage, A. (2003). A survey measuring elementary teachers’ implementation of standards-based mathematics teaching. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 34(4), 344–363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68–78. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Salmela-Aro, K., Kiuru, N., Pietikäinen, M., & Jokela, J. (2008). Does school matter: the role of school context in adolescents’ school-related burnout. European Psychologist, 13(1), 12–23. doi: 10.1027/1016-9040.13.1.12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Skilling, K. G. (2013). Factors that influence year 7 students’ engagement and achievement in mathematics [unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Sydney, Australia: The University of Sydney.Google Scholar
  44. Skilling, K. G., Bobis, J., & Martin, A. J. (2015). The engagement of students with high and low achievement levels in mathematics. In K. Beswick, T. Muir, & J. Wells (Eds.) Proceedings of 39th Psychology of Mathematics Education Conference, Volume 4 (pp. 185–192). Hobart, Australia: PMEGoogle Scholar
  45. Skilling, K., Bobis, J., Martin, A. J., Anderson, J., & Way, J. (2016). What secondary teachers think and do about student engagement in mathematics. Mathematics Education Research Journal, 28(4), 545–566. doi: 10.1007/s13394-016-0179-x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Skilling, K. G., & Stylianides, G. J. (2015). Promoting cognitive engagement in secondary mathematics classrooms. In Proceedings of the Ninth Conference of the European Society for Research in Mathematics Education (CERME9, 4–8 February 2015, pp. 1280–1286). Prague, Czech Republic: Ninth Conference of the European Society for Research in Mathematics Education (CERME9).Google Scholar
  47. Slavin, R. E., Lake, C., & Groff, C. (2009). Effective programs in middle and high school mathematics: a best-evidence synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 79(2), 839–911 Retrieved from Scholar
  48. Way, J., Reece, A., Bobis, J., Anderson, J., & Martin, A. J. (2015). Improving student motivation and engagement in mathematics through one-to-one interactions. In M. Marshman, V. Geiger, & A. Bennison (Eds.), Proceedings of 38th Annual Conference of the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia (pp. 627–655). Sunshine Coast, Australia: MERGA.Google Scholar
  49. Weiner, B. (1985). An attributional theory of achievement motivation and emotion. Psychological Review, 92(4), 548–573.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Wigfield, A., & Eccles, J. S. (2000). Expectancy-value theory of motivation. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 68–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Yik, M., Russell, J. A., & Steiger, J. H. (2011). A 12-point circumplex structure of core affect. Emotion, 11(4), 705–731. doi: 10.1037/a0023980.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Yin, R. K. (2003). Case study research design and methods (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc..Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia, Inc. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tracy L. Durksen
    • 1
  • Jennifer Way
    • 2
  • Janette Bobis
    • 2
  • Judy Anderson
    • 2
  • Karen Skilling
    • 3
  • Andrew J. Martin
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Education, Faculty of Arts and Social SciencesUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  2. 2.The University of SydneySydneyAustralia
  3. 3.King’s College LondonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations