Critical Thinking For Life: A Review of Total Motivation Math and Reading Resources

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Critical thinking is a form of thinking that is disciplined, clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence.  It is the mental process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information to reach an answer or conclusion.

In 1995, a meta-analysis of the literature on teaching effectiveness in higher education was undertaken.  The study noted concerns from higher education institutions (education beyond high school), politicians, and business that higher education was failing to meet society’s requirements for well-educated citizens.  It concluded that although faculty may aspire to develop student’s thinking skills, in practice, they have tended to aim at facts and concepts utilizing the lowest levels of cognition, rather than developing intellect, values, and thinking skills.  (Lion Gardiner, Redesigning Higher Education: Producing Dramatic Gains in Student Learning, in conjunction with: ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education, 1995)

One only has to review their Facebook timeline, Twitter feed, or many online forums to find evidence of lack of critical thinking:  links to the secret files for alien cover ups; viral images that were conceived in Photoshop; misinformation/disinformation in videos, and medical “breakthroughs” promoted by quacks abound.  In this era, where there is simply so much information available online, it’s more important than ever to develop critical thinking skills early in life.  How else can one be confident in their decisions and conclusions?

Considering the content of this site – which promotes science, reason, rationality, and of course, critical thinking – and combined with my family’s ties to the education system, I was eager to review the Mentoring Minds’ Total Motivation Math and Reading resources when asked (see disclosure at the end of this article).

Mentoring Minds is a national educational publisher that develops K-12 instructional materials that encourage critical thinking for life.  Their mission is to develop affordable, effective learning tools that help children think critically, giving them the skills to succeed not just in the classroom, but in life.

Mentoring Minds

Independent Study Supporting Efficacy

Before engaging the resources specifically, and as any critical thinker would do, I jumped immediately to the “research” page, where a list of efficacy studies and product research was presented.  Both the math and reading efficacy studies links pointed to a press release which from November 2014.  There, it’s explained that an independent efficacy study was conducted by SEG Measurement (an organization that evaluations product effectiveness, specializing in educational publishers) which revealed that:

“…students who learned with the supplemental program realized significant substantial improvement in their scores after just two semesters. Students who learned with Total Motivation Math curriculum saw 23 points in growth compared to peers who saw only a 14-point increase. Students who learned with Total Motivation Reading curriculum scored four times higher on assessments, increasing their scores by 18 points compared to other students who saw an increase of only four points.”

The study was designed to measure the impact of Total Motivation on math and reading achievement of students in grades three, four and five. It compared students who learned with Total Motivation to a similar group of students who were not learning with the tools.  The sample size was adequate (larger is usually better), and was broken down in the following manner:

  • Approximately 725 students in 46 classes in 12 schools across the country participated in the Total Motivation Reading study.
  • Approximately 740 students in 47 classes in 12 schools participated in the Total Motivation Math study.

There was no mention of blindness in the study, therefore it’s unknown if the teachers or students necessarily knew if they were using “regular” resources or Total Motivation (unbranded) resources.  It’s probably safe to assume that teachers knew which they were using.  Additionally, the location of the schools was not specified other than “across the country”.  One would hope that a school’s socio-economic status was controlled for during the study.

Results of Efficacy Study

All teachers who participated in the study said they would recommend Motivation Math to their peers, and 85 percent indicated the program very or extremely helpful in increasing overall math, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Nearly all of the teachers using Total Motivation agreed that it was well aligned to the (American) Common Core State Standards.  It wasn’t apparent if the same sentiment was shared for the Motivation Reading resources.

To fully understand the results and impact of the efficacy study, it would be interesting and helpful to review the full data set.

Research Supporting Program Development

The research supporting the development of math and reading materials is extensive.   I read through all of it, including delving deeper into the sources/bibliography listed at the bottom of the page.  The following paragraph is a sample from both the math and reading research pages, which describes the models and their integration in the resources:

“The models used to develop critical thinking throughout the Student and Teacher Editions are: Bloom’s Taxonomy(1956), Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy (Anderson et al, 2001), Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (2002a; 2002b), Hess’ Cognitive Rigor Matrix in Mathematics (2010; 2009; Hess & Petit, 2006), and the International Center for Leadership in Education (2012) Rigor/Relevance Framework®. These cognitive rigor and complexity models were used by the product developers to stimulate and develop students’ higher order thinking skills and make extensions to the real world. Critical thinking is integrated into each component of the unit through higher-order questions and complex problematic situations. Students are invited to shift to new levels of increased awareness when calculating, analyzing, problem solving, and evaluating. In the Student Edition, one page is dedicated to the component Critical Thinking. This opportunity is presented to entice students to think critically and move them beyond basic comprehension and rote memorization.  This page typically offers two open-ended questions that are coded to higher levels of Bloom’s and Revised Bloom’s Taxonomies. While students are applying and using higher order thinking skills in real-life situations, they are also learning to question the accuracy of their solutions.”

Bloom's Taxonomy for Critical Thinking

Bloom’s taxonomy is a way of distinguishing the fundamental questions within the education system.

Total Motivation Math and Reading:  Resources for Students and Teachers

Total Motivation Math and Reading is a rigorous and comprehensive supplemental set of resources that integrate critical thinking into math and reading instruction.  Each are broken down into three parts:  Instruct (Teacher Edition), Practice (Student Edition), and Evaluate (reporting for teachers).  Students receive both a print and online resources for the duration of the school year.

Total Motivation Math

Total Motivation Math provides kids with engaging activities that promote mathematical reasoning and problem solving, and opportunities to apply, analyze, connect, and reinforce real-world mathematical concepts.  Additionally, it helps build the student’s mathematics vocabulary.

The resources support STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and encourage students to think about questions and answers using a variety of methods.  For example, there may be questions on bridge construction (I couldn’t help but think of the many Bridge Constructor games available to play on tablets or PC), or running a pizza factory (useful to describe fractions), or even building a playground or yard to help students understand the concepts of perimeter and area.  These are only a few of the examples that provide kids with ways to relate to mathematical concepts and their importance in everyday use.

Students can work independently, but also in groups (pairs, more, or whole class).  Group activities are further enforced by encouraging family participation outside of the classroom.  Parents are provided with direction so that they can effectively support their children.

Teachers have the ability to mix, match, and optimize print and online resources to address different learning styles.  The resources are also flexible and can support any curricula.  Finally, real-time monitoring and evaluation is possible, which serves to help educators identify learning gaps, reveal opportunities to improve instruction and student skills, and then analyze the content by Core Curriculum Standards, Bloom’s Level, or more.

Student and Teacher samples for each of the grade levels are available on the website.

Total Motivation Reading

Total Motivation Reading provides students with resources that foster their ability to practice critical thinking, collaboration, and communication skills.  The texts are meaningful and related to real world (and interesting) examples which require students to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize the content.

For example, a story about animal survival in the arctic presents students with interesting information (in a “Survivor” theme), and then ensures student understand the content with a variety of question types.  Questions even cross disciplines, further enhancing the STEM integration.  For example, a Venn diagram is presented with the set of “Desert Animals” intersecting the set of “Water Animals” and asks students to identify similarities.  Questions also promote creativity and ingenuity with questions like, “What could you invent to help polar bears stay warm if they did not have thick fur?”  Students are prompted to explain their thinking and reasoning – how they came to a particular answer.  The questions aren’t completely open-ended:  they’re guided so that teachers can see if a student really understands key concepts.

Teachers – as in Total Motivation Math – have the ability to track students’ progress in real-time and adjust the content to meet their needs.  Student and Teacher samples for each of the grade levels are also available on the website.


Both the math and reading materials in Total Motivation Math and Total Motivation Reading were interesting and fun to work through, and I found myself looking forward to the working sessions with my daughter.  And though she is a bit too young to do the work on her own, in sitting and reading with her, asking the questions, and then asking how she came to conclusions proved to be fascinating.  In a classroom setting, I would imagine the results would be rewarding for teachers and educators.

There are hundreds of resources available in bookstores and online, and it’s difficult (and impossible) to sift through them all.  Many of them provide materials that no doubt improve a student’s performance with repetition and memorization.  But what’s special about Motivation Math and Reading is that it teaches students how to understand and learn – a valuable and necessary skill that can be carried throughout their lives.


Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored post.” The company who sponsored it compensated the site via a cash payment, gift, or something else of value to write it. Regardless, we only recommend products or services we either use ourselves and/or believe will be good for our readers/audience. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”