Have you ever had that moment where you are going to do the dishes, happily and willingly, yet that is all ruined by just one casual exchange with another individual? ‘Hey, can you do the dishes?’ No. Now I cannot do the dishes because now I don’t want to do the dishes. Whether this has happened to you about doing a chore, completing an assignment, or really just any day-to-day action, then you have experienced the reactance theory. A psychological theory, reactance occurs when you believe your choice or free will, especially in making a decision, is taken away from you. Therefore, you feel a sudden reluctance to follow this now seemingly ‘order’ and may experience an ambition to rebel against it. So, when looking on the other hand, when being told not to do something or that you can’t do something, you will suddenly feel a strong ambition to do or get that thing. Again, an act of resistance. But how does this theory affect school settings, specifically in the way of provoking a further level of unmotivation? What are some solutions to this issue? I hope to answer both of these questions in my blog today, according to Rebecca Mirick’s research in “Reactance theory: A model for instructor communication in the classroom”.
Mirick bases a majority of her research on classroom incivility, meaning behaviors that tend to cause unrest and a more disorderly setting within the classroom. The behaviors include, “…more innocent behaviors such as tardiness or missing class, lack of participation, lack of preparation, cross talk, texting, sleeping, acting bored, not taking notes, or packing up things before class has ended, to more overt and difficult behaviors, including confrontation, verbal abuse of class-mates or instructor, sarcastic comments, challenge of the instructor or officially complaining about the instructor to administration” (Mirick 219). Mirick defines dissent and resistance as main elements in this behavior and thus classroom incivility, with dissent being the feeling of disagreement of a professor’s teaching methods or views, while resistance is acting on that opposition.
Mirick states a couple of reasons why students feel such a strong resistance to many educational decisions, but the one that standed out to me the most includes not seeing the information in a meaningful light. If a student feels their work is meaningless, of course they are going to experience large amounts of unmotivation when carrying out classwork or attending class. We see many examples of this in our current curriculum- both in high schools and universities nationwide. The push of a liberal arts education, believing an individual being well-rounded and a little bit good at everything produces the perfect worker, is actually pushing a lack of inclination to put forth an effort in the classroom. This honestly makes sense, for if I was a biology major I wouldn’t have a whole lot of understanding on why I have to learn about Shakespearen literature.
Another resistance reason Mirick has included that seemed very prevalent to me, involves student’s personal obligations. If a student has something going on in their personal life at the moment, whether that be a issue at home, a conflict in a friendship, or something connecting to illness, its an added stress that leads to behaviors of incivility like: “texting in class, chronic tardiness or absences, missed assignments or lack of participation in class” (Mirick 220). These interferences prevent the student from having their full attention and energy put into the instruction, rightfully so, and therefore can cause a lack of motivation when considering the importance between the two.
I think one important aspect of this incivility, that is not mentioned, is the teaching method. Without a proper teaching method that can keep students engaged and interested for a long period of time, many students will feel unwilling to carry out any further interest in the instruction overall. Many current-day students are not auditory learners, therefore shifting your system to one that includes more hands-on instruction that allows the students to truly see the material can help rid the classroom of incivility.
Mirick believes the best solution to move forward from here involves better communication methods between student and instructor. We know now that classroom incivility is provoked by the reactance theory, and you often feel the reluctance to carry out any action you feel revokes personal freedom or choice. But something linked with this is that students may feel a strong power- dynamic in the classroom and therefore a disconnection and a desire to resist. “Instructor communication around assignments, class policies or requirements may trigger reactance and therefore, classroom incivility, dissent, or resistance if requests or demands are perceived to impinge on free behaviors” (Mirick 222). If instructors are able to adapt the classroom dynamic to something that looks more like a democracy rather than a dictatorship, allowing the class to make more informed decisions and speak their mind during the instructional aspect, you are giving them back piece-by-piece their choice in the situation. Therefore their willingness will increase.
A couple of other ways to improve this instructor-student communication, include first of all a decrease in the amount of certain controlling terms used. By replacing words like ‘need’ or ‘must’ with ‘could’ or ‘might’ creates a further illusion of greater student control with the same great performance results. Next, adding an amount of friendly intimacy to the instructor-student relationship can boost attention spans by keeping it a more welcoming environment. If the instructor pays more attention to personal details by learning names, making eye contact, saying hello, smiling, it can also help rid the classroom of that power dynamic. Also, the instructor must ensure to lay it all out at the beginning, regarding expectations and requirements through the course, to establish an understanding of the instruction from the start. Students already have expectations of the class experience before instruction, so they are mentally prepared to handle assignments, essays, and presentations. However, when the student is caught off-guard by an unexpected task like a pop-quiz, group work, or online work, they are more likely to experience resistance. Lastly, if the instructor clarifies themselves and their credibility in the instruction, the boost in motivation and belief in the importance of the information will most likely increase. By establishing this credibility and going into an explanation of why the coursework is of importance, the instructor can balance out a more thorough sense of knowledge surrounding the classroom and its instruction.
All in all, if instructors are able to keep in mind that not everything must revolve around the demand chain, then maybe we can see motivation levels in the classroom rise. By implementing many of Mirick’s beliefs and the other strategies mentioned above in their own teaching styles, we could be taking our first step in changing the educational system in America forever. School doesn’t and shouldn’t need to feel like a chore or a requirement, it can still be a necessity while carrying-out a more laid back, student centered, structure.
Mirick, R. G. (2016). Reactance theory: A model for instructor communication in the classroom.
Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 2(3), 219–229. https://doi.org/10.1037/stl0000063
Steindl, Christina, et al. “Understanding Psychological Reactance: New Developments and
Findings.” Zeitschrift Fur Psychologie, Hogrefe Publishing, 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4675534/.