Mastery Motivation

By Jessica Young and Kristen Reed

What is Mastery Motivation?
Mastery motivation is persistence at mastering challenging tasks or activities.
Two preschoolers are attempting to solve a challenging puzzle task. One child makes a mistake but continues to attempt to solve the problem; the other child makes a mistake and gives up. In early childhood, persistence at mastering challenging tasks is known as mastery motivation, and plays a key role in promoting learning and mathematics achievement (Turner & Johnson, 2003), particularly for young children at risk (Berhenke, et al., 2011). Early childhood educators and families can promote children’s mastery motivation and persistence at challenging tasks.
There are specific strategies that teachers can use to promote children’s mastery motivation. For example, children have greater mastery motivation when they:
  • are exposed to challenging materials (such as math games)
  • receive positive feedback
  • are allowed autonomy (the freedom to direct their learning)
  • and receive scaffolded support (or one step-ahead help) as they engage with you during challenging activities
On the other hand, children who are not provided with challenging materials, who receive negative feedback, and whose environment is overly controlling, tend to demonstrate less mastery motivation. Math games are great examples of challenging tasks that encourage children to solve problems in a goal-directed way. They can be used repeatedly and the level of challenge can be varied as children learn. The game structure engages children and allows autonomy in their choices or “moves” within a game. Teachers play an important role in helping to promote mastery motivation by choosing challenging games, scaffolding support for children as they learn to play the game, and providing positive feedback.

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