By Teachers, For Teachers
We all know the struggle. We teach and teach and reteach and work with individuals or small-groups and, despite our efforts, that one student just doesn’t get it. Or we try one behavior management or modification technique after another and just can’t get the desired behavior from that student. Learning difficulties or emotional trauma are unfortunately the cause of issues like these all too often. However, many times the root of the problem may simply be that we are not adequately motivating our students. Effectively motivating your students cannot erase every problem, but it can be a solution or preventative to many problems that students and teachers experience in the classroom.
Of course, what motivates one student might not motivate another. Some students are intrinsically motivated. These are students that are motivated from something within. Intrinsically motivated students might simply have a deep desire to succeed and are, therefore, motivated to do well in all that they do. In some cases, intrinsic motivation comes from utilizing a topic that a student is particularly interested in. If students are interested in the topic, then they are intrinsically motivated to listen and learn. Other students are extrinsically motivated. These students need some outside factor to boost motivation. Grades are extrinsic motivators for some students. Rewards and praise can also be effective extrinsic motivators. Regardless of the kind of motivator that students respond to, there are techniques that can be used to increase motivation for both intrinsically and extrinsically motivated students.
First of all, we cannot expect high motivation if students do not fully understand the ultimate goal. Therefore, it is critically important that at the beginning of every lesson or unit teachers let students know exactly what they will be expected to do or know at the end. It also helps if there is a life application involved. For example, at the end of a money unit, you would expect students to be able to add various amounts of money. By providing a class store with small items to buy if they are able to accurately add the amounts of money, they are provided the opportunity to display that knowledge, and the goal/expectation provided motivation for their learning.
Another way to provide motivation for students is to establish and maintain a growth mindset. The ultimate level for the student’s grade-level or age may be too overwhelming and seem unachievable. If you set small, achievable goals for the students and focus on whether or not the student has made strides toward that goal, students see more successes and are able to stay motivated throughout the process. Celebrate the growth along the way, no matter how small!
Some students are greatly motivated by rewards and/or recognition. One very commonly used method is to set up a reward system in your room. You can set rewards for the whole class, but students tend to stay more motivated if the rewards are based on individual growth and/or achievement. Types of rewards will vary based on the age of the students, but students can be rewarded for consistently good behavior, high achievement, or growth. A small chart can be placed on each student’s desk to keep track of the positive behaviors you would like to reward. Again, this could be for all students or you can target the ones that are really struggling with motivation.
While tangible rewards can be effective, I find that recognition and praise may be even more so. Many students long for and respond to praise and recognition. By simply acknowledging accomplishments, some students are greatly motivated to keep up the good work.
This is a method that will dip into that goldmine of intrinsic motivation. When learning is centered on students’ interests, the motivation is already there. So maybe find out a favorite hobby of that student who struggles with motivation, and teach a unit incorporating that somehow. Of course, this may not always be possible, but you might be surprised at how far a little peak of interest can go. If you are teaching language arts, no problem. Find a book on the topic and spark that interest. Other areas may not be quite as easy, but where there is a will, there is a way. I had a student a few years ago that struggled terribly in math. He also completely lacked motivation to improve. This same student, at a very young age, could repair car motors and even take some of the machinery apart and put it back together. So, I incorporated cars as much as possible. Every word problem was about a car, tractor, or engine. When we used manipulatives, we used cars. He looked forward to math every day!
All of the above listed ideas are great and can go a long way to motivate students. However, there is no substitute, when it comes to motivation, for developing meaningful relationships with your students. To motivate your students you must know what makes them tick. How can you know that without really getting to know and understand them?
Students can also be motivated simply by the fact that they know you care for them and want them to succeed. When they know they are loved, they love you in return. When they love you, they love school. When they love school, they want to be there. When they want to be there, they are motivated to do their best! Talk to your students. Invest in them. Love them. This is the greatest motivator of all!
Lori is an elementary school teacher and holds an Ed.D. in School Leadership/Administration.