When I taught middle school, motivation of students could sometimes be touch and go. There were many days when students came in class engaged and ready to learn. However, on Mondays, especially during my 1st and 2nd period classes, the mood was somber. I suspect, we adults are the same way on any given Monday, so I couldn’t be too hard on my young minds. Unfortunately, I did have a couple of students who initially came to school with NO intentions of learning. It took me a while to figure out why. After building relationships with those students, I learned that many of them didn’t see the value of an education. They were only concerned with what those streets had to offer. The sad part about it was that my unmotivated students had so much potential. I knew I had to meet them where they were. I accepted the challenge because I was motivated to help my students learn.
I’ve decided to dedicate a couple of posts on motivating students. Children have to be engaged in order to learn. Most importantly, students have to understand why it is important to learn. I believe if they understand the “why”, motivation should be simpler to tap into.
According to Cognifit, motivation internally brings us to complete an action. I found that my students fell into one of two categories: intrinsic motivation or extrinsic motivation. Intrinsically motivated students find learning as a challenge that is fun and exciting. Extrinsically motivated students want to learn due to an external circumstance like a punishment or a reward.
Why is Motivation Important?
At this point, you may be trying to decide which category best describes your child or student. Either way, it is so important that we as stakeholders do what we can to motivate our youth. Why is motivation so important? Cognifit suggests that motivation can do the following:
- Improve persistence and effort
- Improve initiative
- Improve cognitive processing skills (reasoning)
- Improve overall performance
It will take teachers and parents to work collaboratively to promote motivation in our students/children. Today, I would like to focus on how teachers can motivate their students. Parents, you are on deck tomorrow. I would still encourage my non-educators to keep reading because teachers love parents who take time to reinforce learning at home.
How Do I Motivate My Students?
I don’t claim to have the conclusive answer, but I’ve done a lot of reading on this subject, and I’ve narrowed it down to a few suggestions and strategies that may benefit the most. So, let’s get started.
- Display a positive attitude. Even on your worst day, a teacher has to show positivity and excitement about learning. Your students have to know that you care about them and their success. Be slow to criticize what they don’t understand, but quick in helping them understand what they don’t know.
- Use creativity. There is nothing more boring to students than a teacher becoming “the sage on the stage”. Let’s be honest, we teachers like to hear ourselves talk. We like control. In contrast, that teaching style doesn’t promote motivation in all students. Teachers will need to learn how to use activities (e.g. games, debates, group work) that will foster interaction among students. The goal is to create a student-centered learning environment where the teacher is merely the facilitator.
- Real-world application. When I was in high school, none of my teachers could explain to me why I had to learn World History, Algebra 2, or British Literature. The only answer I could get was “because we have to teach it to you”. Okay, well that still didn’t answer my question, and it didn’t motivate me to learn the material. However, I was an intrinsically motivated student. I liked and strived to make good grades. So, I did what I was supposed to do to earn that ‘A’ whether I liked that content or not. Today, learning is different, especially with the aid of technology. Teachers should be encouraged to foster student motivation by illustrating to students why contents are important. Can you imagine how excited I would have been to video conference with a civil engineer to learn how algebra is used to determine how much weight bridges around my hometown could safely hold? How powerful would that have been?
- Praise the effort. Sometimes, it’s not about the destination, but the journey. There will be occasions when your students will miss the mark. Thus, it will be important to praise the effort that they made. Remember, nothing is wrong with failing. Failing is a part of life. It’s how one handles those moments of failure that counts. We as teachers must cultivate and build up our students even when they fail. That means, celebrating the small victories of their learning. You will be surprised to see how motivated students become when they learn that their teacher acknowledges their effort.
I chose these four strategies because in my various roles in education, these four seemed to be most difficult for teachers, to include myself. These four strategies will force some teachers to completely transform their way of thinking and/or teaching. Additionally, these strategies may strike a nerve with some teachers as these exact comments were placed on their evaluation. In regards to student motivation, all I ask, is that teachers self-reflect. Ask yourself if you are truly doing everything you can do to motivate your students? In some instances, students who struggle with motivation may need to be referred for additional student support. Overall, are teachers truly motivating students to be their very best in class?
Some Additional Resources
Before closing, please allow me to share two great resources about motivation that I felt were beneficial to teachers. The first is a presentation created by GADOE (Georgia Department of Education) on motivating the unmotivated student. The second resource is an article that pinpoints the biggest motivation killers as identified by students. It’s a good, honest read. It may make some teachers uncomfortable, but it is out of the mouth of babes.
To all of my wonderful parents, the next post will focus on how you can help motivate your child. Stay tuned.