Teaching to Emotions: An Overview of Marzano and Knight


The successful facilitation of learning for students in language arts courses can be difficult for teachers to achieve due to motivational and emotional factors that are influenced by differences in the socio-economic and educational background of individual students within a given class population. Understanding how theories of motivation relate to concepts associated with emotional interpretations and positive script expressions is important for teachers to consider when implementing individualized teaching instruction that emphasizes social learning activities. This article will examine the recommendations provided by Robert and Jana Marzano in the book Managing the Inner World of Teaching, in order to better understand and interpret the effect of emotions on classroom instruction. Marzano’s recommendations will then be expanded upon through the analysis of motivational theories in educational psychology and language learning. The motivational theories and emotional awareness recommendations will then be integrated with language arts pedagogical practices in order to improve application in a classroom environment.

Understanding the Inner World of Teaching

Robert and Jane Marzano’s work Managing the Inner World of Teaching argues that the thoughts and emotions of teachers and students directly affect the scripts that are expressed when addressing situations that occur in the classroom (4). When a teacher experiences a new situation, reactionary scripts that are influenced by background goals, needs, habits, and beliefs are expressed as a way to remedy the situation. Because these scripts are reactionary in nature, it is important to be aware of scripts that trigger negative emotions which then affect the classroom learning environment (6-9). Marzano explains that controlling the use of scripts that trigger negative emotions can be achieved through self-awareness, analysis of the possible script response outcomes, and actively choosing a script that elicits a positive response (10-12). Teachers should pay attentional specifically to behaviors that increases the risk of fear and anger, for these negative emotions cause fight or flight responses that increase stress hormones, which subsequently muddle interpretations of situations, and cause hasty generalization that are influenced by the mental categorization of the past events which compose a person’s world view (16-25). Awareness is key when addressing these negative emotions and can be attained through the development and examination of the goals and desired state of one’s self-guiding system, which is affected by a person’s level of fulfillment on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs seen in figure 1.1. Furthermore, a person’s internal expectations and subsequent actions are dependent upon where they lie on this hierarchy (28-31).

Figure 1.1 – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

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After an initial awareness of situational emotional responses are adequately considered by an educator, attention should be focused towards formulating a mental retrospective analysis of the people, tasks, and events that have the ability to elicit negative emotions in the classroom. Marzano recommends that educators analyze the deep cause of the negative emotions and the corresponding scripts that are normally used during difficult situations. Educators should then make a choice to change future experiences through a change in attitude and script to create a more favorable situational outcome (33-39). When addressing emotional events in real-time, Marzano suggests that teachers take the time to consider the problems that they need to address, think about solutions that can solve these problem, and then weigh the positive and negative outcomes that may arise from possible actions before implementation (40-41). Moreover, it is important that educators have a basic understanding of the connection between sensory memory, working memory, and permanent memory (see figure 1.2) and their effect on mindfulness, negative thinking, and positive thinking when deciding which actions to take when confronting difficult situations (47-50).

Figure 1.2 – Connections between the Three Types of Memory

Sensory Memory Working Memory Permanent Memory
Temporary storage center of sensory information obtained from the outside world. Processes and connects sensory memory and permanent memory. Storage center of memory learned through past experiences.

The permanent memory is coded primarily through imagery and language and can be used in current time through the connection of current events and past experiences being accessed by working or sensory memory. These permanent memories affect consciousness and can be controlled through the direct training of attention and focus to increase mindfulness and positive thinking, and to decrease mind wandering and negative thinking (50-56). Eliminating negative thinking patterns should be a major concern for educators since fear, anger, worry, and rumination are strongly associated with negative emotional responses that cloud judgment, degrade mood, and increase the risk of depression (56-66). Positive thinking and optimism can be improved through the realization that most negative situations are not permanent, are not pervasive, and are influenced by external environmental factors. Positive thinking rates can also be increased by having a clear sense of purpose, having inspiration and awareness that extends beyond the situation, realizing the situation may not be caused by internal factors of self, and having motivation based on the results of past experiences (66-76). Additionally, overall positive thinking can be improved by analyzing and rating emotional health levels as they relate to our strengths and weaknesses in daily life, and working to change areas of dissatisfaction through retrospective practice and mental control, increasing autonomy and community connectedness, and living up to our ideals, moral purpose, and expressions of altruism (79-94). Furthermore, having students complete exercises that relate to future imaging, setting realistic goal, and self-analysis can enhance students’ self-actualization levels. The key is rewiring fixed-mindsets into open-mindsets that are aware of growth opportunities, so that students can stay calm when faced with problems, and are motivated to challenge skills and knowledge in ways that correspond to making achievements for the greater good (95-121).

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Connecting Theories of Motivation to Emotional Awareness

In Marzano’s work, the understanding of emotional awareness relies heavily on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. However, it is necessary to examine additional theories regarding motivation in order to better understand the effect of positive emotional responses on the optimization of learning outcomes for students studying a second language. Below are a series of bullet points that explain the expectancy theory, achievement motivation theory, self-efficacy theory, attribution theory, self-worth theory, self-determination theory, and theory of planned behavior, with explanations about each theories relation to emotional awareness.

  • The expectancy theory states that motivation is influenced by believing that success is attainable for a certain task (Ozturk, 2012). If a person does not feel that they have the ability to be successful at a given task, they may lack the motivation that is necessary for its completion. This theory is important to consider when attempting to plan lessons that take students emotional responses to situations into account. If a student does not have the motivation to complete a task, the likelihood of a negative emotional experience may be increased due to increased stressed hormones responses linked to worry and anger.
  • Atkins achievement motivation theory states that motivation is influenced by the need for achievement, the probability of success, and the incentive value of achieving success at a task (Ozturk, 2012). This theory can be seen as an expansion of the expectancy theory in that the incentive value of achieving success is seen as a contributing factor towards motivation. This should be considered when designing lessons that promote emotional well-being in the classroom, since goal setting, having a clear sense of purpose, and having inspiration that extends beyond the situation are known to enhance positive thinking habits.
  • The self-efficacy theory states that motivation is influenced by a person’s confidence in their ability to control the outcomes of a situation or task. Self-efficacy is important for students to develop because it lessens the negative feelings associated with failure, and decreases feeling personally threatened by difficult tasks (Ozturk, 2012). A strong sense of self-efficacy can also help students improve their level of optimism, because it increases the chance that they realize that negative emotions caused by situations may not be caused by internal factors, or can be remedied through mental control and having actions based on informed choices.
  • The attribution theory says that our interpretation of our past experiences influences our motivation towards the completion of tasks (Ozturk, 2012). This is important to be aware of since experiences from our permanent memory affect how our working memory perceives sensory information. When students have low self-efficacy that is caused by negative feelings associated with past events, it is much more common for students to have negative emotional responses to situations. To remedy this problem, it is necessary to prepare lessons that emphasize future imaging and self-analysis, so that students can develop a more positive mindset.
  • The self-worth theory states that having a sense of personal worth is a vital human need that affects motivation when taking risks or experiencing failure. Covington found that students with low self-worth may develop face-saving strategies that place blame on outside factors in order to avoid risk or failure. These strategies include setting unrealistic goals that cannot be achieved, using self-handicapping techniques that avoid responsibility, and attributing personal failure to uncontrollable factors (Ozturk, 2012). These patterns are important to recognize when teaching, and should be addressed through the teaching of retrospective practice, positive thinking practice, goal setting exercises, mental control exercises, and individualizing instruction that challenges students based on their strengths and weaknesses. There should be a careful distinction between the appropriate circumstances of when to place blame on external factors as compared to internal factors when proposing positive thinking strategies to students.
  • Self-determination theory states that motivation is influenced by a person’s ability to choose and regulate their actions. In this theory motivation can be broken down into intrinsic motivation, the result of interest towards a subject, and extrinsic motivation, the desire for rewards or the avoidance of punishment (Ozturk, 2012). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are important to consider when trying to promote positive emotional health for students, since they can help teachers to better develop plans that address mind wandering and negative thinking. Telling stories that inspire, offering rewards based on the achievement of realistic goals, having clear behavioral regulations, allowing autonomy during group activities, and relating skill or knowledge based activities to their real-world application, are all ways that help to improve a student’s self-determination.
  • Theory of planned behavior states that behavioral motivation can be determined by a person’s attitude towards a task, the subjective norm, and their perception of behavioral control (Ozturk, 2012). Teachers should be aware of these factors when addressing situations that cause negative emotions, and create tasks that help to increase each students autonomy, community connectedness, feelings of moral purpose, and expressions of altruism. If a teacher notices that a student has a negative view of the tasks within a class, it is important to discuss the problem with the student through retrospective practice, and work with the student to find solutions that improve their attitude when completing tasks in the future.

Applying Motivation and Emotional Awareness to Language Education

Expressing scripts that are emotionally aware and aimed at increasing student motivation can be applied when planning lessons, asking thinking prompts, telling stories, conducting cooperative learning activities, creating a learner friendly classroom culture, and setting realistic expectations for students. When lesson planning Knight recommends that teachers emphasize the big picture of the content by formulating guiding questions that address curriculum guidelines, learning strategies, wording, importance of content, technology, and communication skills (2013). During the planning of each part of a lesson, teachers can consider which scripts can be used to help students to become more engaged in content knowledge and positive thinking habits. These scripts can be guided by the consideration of the motivational factors related to self-worth, self-determination, planned behavior, goals and achievement expectancy, and background attribution. Thinking prompts can also be used as a way to help students to make connections to class content, improve background knowledge on a subject, and increase student engagement, but should be chosen based on a class’s topic, pace, and goal (Knight, 2013). These thinking prompts can also be designed to reinforce positive thinking habits that build self-efficacy, since it is possible to ask students questions based on their behavioral and educational backgrounds. Moreover, each student’s intrinsic motivation and risk aversive behavior can be gradually increased as they successfully answer questions that are catered to their personal strengths. Telling stories about experiences related to the content is another method for building inspirations, intrinsic motivation, and positive attitudes towards reaching content objectives, especially when confronting negative reactionary behavior that is caused by stress responses.

Knight recommends that teachers prepare cooperative learning activities that increase engagement with content material, improve communication skills, and better develop relationships between students with different backgrounds in the classroom. When initiating these activities, it is important that the students understand the purpose or goals of the activity, that the directions and that behavioral expectations are clear (2013). Differentiated instruction can be designed to take into account each group member’s background behavior and knowledge, and make the activities challenging yet achievable. This can help the students to become better motivated as their need for achievement, probability of success, and the incentive value of achieving success is maximized through individualization. The improvement in communication and relationships between students in the class can help students increase their self-determination levels, self-worth, self-efficacy, and behavioral control, as their social needs described in Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs are continually met. Creating a learner friendly culture that emphasizes student-to-student praise, autonomy in decision making, and respectful and supportive class norms, is also very important as it can help students be more efficient when completing work, and can reduce the amount of negative behavioral situations that occur within the class. Knight suggests that teachers implement learner friendly culture by being empathetic and try to teach students about the content knowledge in ways that emphasize each student’s background, interests, and opinions towards learning. Teachers should also consider having one-on-one conversations with students at a personal level, and build relationships that are not authoritarian in nature (2013). Having learner friendly culture can help decrease the negative emotions of students that are influenced by past attributions, decrease the social risks involved in class participation, and create behavioral norms that stress altruism.


This article examined the importance of the awareness, analysis, and choice of scripts that are uttered when being confronted with difficult situations, people, or tasks, that may elicit negative reactionary responses. Next, we found that negative thinking patterns are deeply rooted in our students’ past experiences, but can be remedied integrating activities in class which promote optimism and positive thinking habits, and can help students to become more resilient when faced with difficult challenges. We then analyzed and compared the expectancy theory, achievement motivation theory, self-efficacy theory, attribution theory, self-worth theory, self-determination theory, and theory of planned behavior, to the emotional awareness principles presented by Marzano. Finally, we looked at how emotionally aware and motivating scripts can be applied when planning lessons, asking thinking prompts, telling stories, conducting cooperative learning activities, creating a learner friendly classroom culture, and setting realistic expectations for students. In the future, it is important that educators consider the recommendations presented in this article when planning and teaching classes that reflect on the motivational and emotional components of individual students.



Knight, J. (2013). High-impact instruction: a framework for great teaching. London, UK: Sage                              Publications.

Marzano, R. J., & Marzano, J. S. (2015). Managing the inner world of teaching: emotions,             interpretations, and actions. Bloomington, IN: Marzano Research.

Öztürk, E. Ö. Contemporary motivation theories in educational psychology and language learner:             an overview. The international journal of social sciences, 3(1). Retrieved April 1, 2016,          from http://www.tijoss.com/3rdVolume/elcin.pdf


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