Simple Ideas to Improve Student Motivation

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One of the most difficult aspects of teaching students is how to motivate them. It is also one of the most important. Students who are not motivated will not learn effectively. They won’t retain information, they won’t participate and some of them may even become disruptive. A student may be unmotivated for a variety of reasons. They may feel that they have no interest in the subject, find the teacher’s methods unengaging, or be distracted by external forces. It may even come to light that a student who appeared unmotivated actually has difficulty learning and is in need of special attention.

Types of Motivation

There are two generally accepted forms of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic.

Extrinsic motivators refer to behaviour that is driven by external rewards. This includes things like grades, scholarships, or parent praise. These motivators are often more time-effective. You create a reward, offer it up, and see results.

However, extrinsic motivators aren’t particularly sustainable and research has shown that rewards often negatively impact intrinsic motivation. i.e. when you take away the reward, students don’t see the point of doing the work.

Intrinsic motivators refer to behaviour that is driven by internal rewards. From interest in a subject to its long-term relevance, the drive comes from an innate desire to improve or learn. Intrinsic motivation is not a quick fix but once you introduce it does tend to sustain itself.

Ideas to Improve Student Motivation

Every student is different so pinpointing what will spark motivation will take time. You’ll need to invest time in getting to know your students and building a plan in line with their interests.

Both have their pros and cons. The good news is that they can both be used to spark some life back into the classroom. Here’s a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators to get things going.

Ideas to Improve Student  Motivation

Here’s a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators to get things going.

1. Give Students Sense of Control

Getting students to take control of their learning starts with seeing them as individuals and understanding each of them has different motives, beliefs, and goals. Below are a few ideas to consider to help them start:

  • Give Them Choices. According to a study “Student choice makes students active participants in their educations, thereby increasing levels of engagement. Notably, researchers highlight the fact that such autonomy is generally associated with greater personal well‐being and satisfaction in educational environments as well as in terms of academic performance.”
  • Self-Assessment. Introducing self-assessment to students early on instills a baseline for them to build off in the future. Through self-assessment students are able to analyze their own strengths and weaknesses.
  • Student-Led Discussions. It has been found that simply telling learners that they would later teach another student changes their mindset enough so that they engage in more effective approaches to learning than did their peers who simply expected a test. With student-led discussions, students gained confidence and became accustomed to addressing, building on, and challenging others’ ideas.
  • Flipped Classroom. The flipped classroom intentionally shifts instruction to a learner-centered model in which class time explores topics in greater depth and creates meaningful learning opportunities, while educational technologies such as online videos are used to “deliver content” outside of the classroom. A flipped classroom gives students more control over their learning. By watching lectures online at home they are able to rewind, write questions, and learn at their own pace.

2. Create a Threat Free Environment

The importance of building safe learning environments for your learners is something that cannot be ignored. While it’s true that every student learns differently from the next, the environment itself plays a significant role in their learning and development. Safe learning environments translate into comfortable learning environments. The key to achieving this goal will require you to keep a few important things in mind.

  • It’s About Students: In your quest to foster safe learning environments, the biggest factor will be your students themselves. See whether your students feeling uneasy about the environment that you’ve already created. The first step should be to ask them what you could do to help them:
    • Are you moving from one lesson to another too quickly? Too slowly?
    • Are they disengaged from one particular topic? 
    • Do they like to work by themselves or are they more comfortable breaking down into teams?

No question is too small to ask and no topic should be off the table. Take steps to change yourself to fit in with how they want to learn first and foremost.

  • Work on Yourself as a Teacher: You can create safe learning environments for your students if you lead by example. If you show kids how important kindness is by taking every opportunity to be kind yourself, they will follow. The reverse is also true. Show your students that you yourself are comfortable in the environment that you’ve created. Then before you know it they will begin to grow more at ease themselves.
  • Celebrate Achievements: One of the major benefits of safe learning environments is that students will begin to take pride in their work and in themselves. One of the best ways to help your kids along on this goal is to skip right to the end result and celebrate their achievements as they are happening. 
  • Build a Judgment-Free Zone: If you ask most adults why they’re afraid of public speaking, one of the most common answers that you will get is that they’re afraid of being judged. The same concept is true for young students. To combat this, you need to go out of your way to create an environment free from judgment. Let them know that differing opinions are a great thing and that being “wrong” isn’t a bad thing. Remind them that failure is a learning experience.

3. Use Positive Competition

Staying motivated to learn can be a challenge for many students, especially those who are below grade level. Some students are motivated to keep working for external, competitive reasons—they want to earn a good grade, win a contest, etc. 

Although education is far more important than either “winning” or “losing,” but competition can be a great motivator for students in certain circumstances. There are several benefits of teaching healthy competition, and while the motivation of winning and being the “best” in a competition, but also the experience of losing is important for students. When failure occurs, they can identify the problems, remedy the deficiencies, reset their goals, and grow from their experiences This is an important talking point for educators because even though the main focus is on helping students feel successful, it’s also necessary for students to feel—and learn from—loss.

4. Give Students Responsibility

Motivation is impaired when students feel they have no control over a situation. Giving students choices and empowering student initiative enhances motivation, effort, interest, positive emotions, and perceptions of personal control and competence, as well as achievement. Most students perform better on self-adapted tests in which they can select test items from various options. Providing choices can also increase risk-taking and help students develop an interest in particular activities. 

It is important to carefully plan how to make choices available to students, basing them on your students’ ability to understand and make choices. Some students may need scaffolding to help them make appropriate choices. Choices must be appropriate for student’s abilities and needs and be a good match with student interests. 

Being able to choose how to apportion their time, as well as among several different versions of a task, might be most motivational for students with skills in self-regulation. However, it is important that all students, not just the highest-performing students, get to choose activities and resources.

Some choices are more effective than others. The best type of choices:

  • allow students to reflect their personal interests, values, and goals
  • are unrestricted choices, with no indication of which option to choose, rather than controlled choices
  • offer choice between 2–4 options: more than 5 options increase thinking effort and therefore decreases motivation, and less than 2 options undermine the perception of choice
  • allow students to repeatedly return to a list of options to make another choice rather than making single or multiple choices at one time only

5. Allow Students Work Together

Students need a classroom environment that is safe, where they are willing to take risks and struggle. To achieve this goal, the students and teacher must work together towards common collective goals. Students must be willing to work with and assist other students in class. The struggle should be acceptable and encouraged as a part of the learning process.

Traditional teaching consists of teachers lecturing and learners taking notes, followed by the learners doing independent work to check for understanding. Transforming this outdated model to include more time where students are talking to students brings about true community. Collaborative group work should be the activity between the teacher lecture and the independent work.

This is the time when students can digest information and ask questions collectively. Learners participate in what could be considered the “problem solving” phase of their development with new ideas, and together they come to new learnings. This gradual release of responsibility from teacher to student encourages a deeper understanding of the lesson rather than rote memorization; thus the students are participants in their own learning, rather than witnesses to the instructor’s knowledge.

Ideas to Improve Student Motivation

Student work should be proudly displayed throughout the classroom. This sends a message to students that they are active participants in creating knowledge in the classroom. The teacher is not the sole holder of knowledge. Additionally, teachers can use language that promotes the community of learners – including the teacher – rather than a room full of individual learners. Using the words “we” and “our” rather than “I” and “you” have a significant impact on classroom culture, and how students function as interdependent learners.

6. Track Progress

Progress monitoring refers to the process of frequently gathering student achievement data, analyzing the data in a timely, repeatable manner, and making sound instructional and intervention decisions based on the data. Progress monitoring data can be used to estimate students’ rates of improvement, which allows for comparison to peers or identify students who are not demonstrating or making adequate progress so that instructional changes can be made.

To support the frequency and intensity of progress monitoring, assessments should be brief, repeatable, reliable, valid, and highly sensitive to even small changes in proficiency.

Assessments should enable the presentation of data in visual representations that are quickly and easily understood by stakeholders to facilitate agile instructional decisions. They should also use readily available materials, feature standardized administration and scoring techniques, and be easy to implement in order to promote fidelity.

It’s important that assessments are short and timely in order to ensure a learning plan keeps up with their progress. With embedded, continual assessment, student progress can be captured on-demand at any point. In addition, the frequency of data collection and analysis can be customized for each student and based on each school’s specific staff and schedule limitations.

Another critical factor in progress monitoring is that data collected clearly illustrate student performance at its actual level—not at the level where the core curriculum is being taught.

That is, assessments must illustrate the student’s actual level of performance within and across academic subjects and domains within a subject—be it one or more levels below grade level, at grade level, or one or more levels above grade level.

7. Harness Student Interest

The term interest can describe two distinct (though often co-occurring) experiences: an individual’s momentary experience of being captivated by an object as well as more lasting feelings that the object is enjoyable and worth further exploration. Interest is, therefore, both a psychological state characterized by increased attention, effort, and affect, experienced in a particular moment (situational interest), as well as an enduring predisposition to reengage with a particular object or topic over time. This duality not only highlights the richness of the interest concept but also contributes to the complexity of defining interest precisely. 

Cultivating interest should not be an afterthought to the typical learning situation: Interest is essential to academic success. Interventions to develop students’ interest matter in any educational context, but maybe most needed in academic domains that many students do not find initially interesting or those domains in which interest typically declines over time. 

There is no silver-bullet motivational intervention, and what works for one type of student or classroom context may not generalize (we return to this point later). With that said, interest theory informs two intervention approaches:

  • Trigger and maintain situational interest: Provide activities that use structural features (i.e., problems, challenges, surprise) to stimulate attention and engagement for all students.
  • Build on emerging and well-developed individual interest: Provide content and academic tasks that facilitate connecting academic topics with existing interests.

8. Make Goals High But Attainable

Setting goals is a vital practice that can benefit anyone with a dream or a vision for their future. Young people who are just starting out on the grand journey of life are at a particularly opportune time to start building their goal-setting skills—not only will these skills serve them throughout their lives, but building them now will help them mold their future into one that they desire.

Parents can encourage goal setting in their children—and absolutely should do so—but the importance of this skill justifies its inclusion in their schools’ curriculum. The world of education is an excellent place to introduce children to goal setting, lay the foundations for effective goal setting, and begin to practice setting and striving towards personally meaningful goals.

These are generic benefits of goal setting that anyone who engages in smart goal setting and striving can attain, but a few of them can be particularly effective for children; for example, the benefits of goal setting for youth include:

  • Provides direction, which most youths are either seeking or trying to nail down.
  • Helps children clarify what is important to them and focus on it.
  • Facilitates more effective decision-making through better self-knowledge, direction, and focus.
  • Allows children to take a more active role in building their own future.
  • Acts as a powerful motivator by giving children something to hope for and aspire towards.
  • Gives children a positive experience of achievement and personal satisfaction when they reach a goal.
  • Assists children in finding a sense of purpose in their lives.

9. Give Learning Feedback and Offer Chances to Improve

Students who struggle with class work can sometimes feel frustrated and get down on themselves, draining motivation. In these situations, it’s critical that teachers provide effective learning feedback to help students to learn exactly where they went wrong and how they can improve next time. Figuring out a method to get where students want to be can also help them to stay motivated to work hard.

The teacher should make sure to give effective feedback that will encourage students to do much better.

  • Feedback should be educative in nature
  • Feedback should be given in a timely manner
  • Be sensitive to the individual needs of the students
  • Give feedback to keep students ‘on target’ for achievement
  • Feedback should concentrate on one ability or skill
  • Provide a model or example

Also, read 25 Scientists and Mathematicians to Inspire Your Child!

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