Motivating students to learn is not always an easy task, but it’s an incredibly important aspect of education. When students are motivated to learn, they’re engaged and ready to learn. Motivated students are also those who take risks and grow in skills and critical thinking. The big question, however, is HOW do we motivate our students?
First and foremost, a teacher’s behavior and attitude and the classroom environment are huge factors of student motivation. If a teacher is friendly, warm and inviting, students will generally be eager and ready to come to school each and every day to participate in learning. Likewise, a classroom must be inviting to students; it should be colorful, comfortable, and rich with resources and opportunities to learn. If students’ teachers and classrooms make them feel comfortable, they will be ready to go to school and motivated to learn.
There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. When students are intrinsically motivated, their desire to learn about a topic stems from their interests and desire to master a subject. Therefore, in order to encourage students who are intrinsically motivated, teachers must choose topics that students are interested in. Sometimes, the topics that teachers have to teach aren’t always of interest to students, but teachers must find ways to make these topics interesting. This can be done through hands-on projects, inquiry activities, reader’s theatre, etc. Another type of motivation is extrinsic motivation; when students are extrinsically motivated, they’re eager to succeed in order to obtain a specific goal or outcome, such as students who are very grade-conscious. As teachers, we can motivate students who are extrinsically motivated by providing them with rubrics that show the criteria for their work with a grade attached to each level of performance. Being able to motivate intrinsically and extrinsically motivated students requires teachers to know their students and how the work and perform.
Other ways to motivate students are as follows:
- Give frequent, early, positive feedback that supports students’ beliefs that they can do well.
- Ensure opportunities for students’ success by assigning tasks that are neither too easy nor too difficult.
- Help students find personal meaning and value in the material.
- Create an atmosphere that is open and positive.
- Help students feel that they are valued members of a learning community.
- Make it real: Create activities based on topics that apply to students’ lives
- Provide choices: Allowing students to be somewhat autonomous and giving them options helps students to feel that they are a part of the classroom community
- Balance the challenge: Don’t make tasks too easy or too difficult – the level of difficulty should be “just right”.
- Seek role models: Using peers and other adults (in the school and community) as role models can help students see the relevance of what is being taught, as well as seeking positive influences.
- Use peer models: Students can help one another by modeling or being a guiding friend, which will help other students succeed when working on a task
- Establish a sense of belonging: Students like to feel connected to others and often do better when they can relate to their peers. Therefore, a classroom and teacher that are inviting and warm are important.
- Adopt a supportive style: A supportive teaching style that allows for student independence while fostering student interest and engagement s important. Supporting teachers are those who listen and encourage students, as well as show empathy and are responsive to students’ needs.
- Strategize with struggling students: Some students may not know how to go about completing class activities, and therefore teachers must provide students with scaffolding tools to show them how to learn and how to go about completing their work.
All of these techniques are very useful when working with students that are motivated or when working with students who need to be motivated.
In class, we discussed the CASE (Curriculum, Assessment, Structures, Environment) Method. The curriculum and assessment used in the classroom, as well as the structures and environment of the classroom are all important factors in student motivation. It all comes back to STUDENT ENGAGEMENT! The following provides information about each of these topics:
- Engage students in lived experiences
- Aligned to a set of standards
- How teachers support student learning
- Assessment Cycle: Assess à Evaluate/Analyze à Feedback à Teach
- “Kid Watching” / Observe students
- Helps us, as teachers, learn about our students and their strengths, weaknesses, and needs
- How the teaching/learning is set up
- Routine – allows students to know what to do
- Centers/Stations – designed to be motivated and promote student autonomy
- Table set-up
- Accessibility of matierials to students
- Anchor charts/resources
- Classroom library – beanbags, pillows, rugs, BOOKS!
- Invitations to read, writer, and share
- Student work displayed and cherished
Author studies are wonderful literacy building activities that also foster student motivation. According to Cory Cooper Hansen, author of Teaching Tips – The art of author study: Leo Lionni in the primary classroom, “author studies are perennial favorites in early childhood classrooms to encourage intertextuality and to attach new skills and knowledge to familiar characters and settings” (276). As cited in Hansen’s article, “Jenkins…found that reading books by the same author brought children emotional sustenance, wisdom, delight with craft, and interest in the author as a writer and a person” (276). During an author study, students are able to respond to literature using a variety of methods, and art is one of the most powerful. According to Hansen, “…responding to literature through art becomes a tool for thinking and a way to make personal connections to a book” (276). Through a variety of interactions with the texts of one author, students are able to gain an interest in reading and are motivated to find out more about the author and the characters that the author writes about.
In the book The Girl with the Brown Crayon – How Children use Stories to Shape their Lives, Vivian Gussin Paley writes about how she motivated her students through a Leo Lionni author study. Many of the aforementioned ways to motivate students were used by Paley in her classroom and detailed in her book. Paley’s class was made up of a diverse population of students from all different backgrounds and ethnicities, as well as ability levels. Despite their differences, Paley treated them all equally while still attending to their individual needs. Paley often provided her students with positive feedback that supported their thoughts and ideas that they provided based on the books being read. Paley also helped her students find personal meaning and value in the material that was being taught; the students were able to make their own connections to each of Leo Lionni’s stories and the guest readers that came into the class also made connections to the stories as well, thus making Lionni’s books meaningful to each of her students. As for Paley’s use of peer models to increase her students’ success when completing tasks, Reeny naturally saw herself as a peer model and was the one who always answered Paley’s questions or created meaning through deep insights into Lionni’s books. Reeny’s peers were able to use her as a model for how to answer questions and expand their thinking, and because of the modeling that Reeny provided, the other students felt comfortable to be risk-takers and contribute to the class discussions. Most importantly, Paley’s teaching style was incredibly supportive and encouraging; she made all of her students feel special and comfortable, even if they weren’t so comfortable (such as Walter whose first language was Polish and Oliver who has special needs) with many of the classroom activities. Paley also allowed her students to be autonomous, as they were able to guide instruction and develop ideas for projects relating to Lionni’s books. Paley was an incredibly motivating teacher, and it showed in her students’ engagement and performance in her class; the Leo Lionni author study was a perfect way to incorporate all students regardless of their needs and abilities, as well as allow for autonomy and creative thinking. It was evident throughout Paley’s entire book that her students were motivated to learn and succeed.
Motivation isn’t always easily achieved in a classroom, and oftentimes teachers lack motivation due to the ever-changing world of education. However, it’s important that teachers try to stay positive and motivated because their feelings and actions are seen and emulated by their students. If teachers are motivated and provide enriching environments, both visually and academically, it is the hope that students will be motivated too.
Some other ways to motivate students are as follows:
Goal Setting/Daily Reflection: For students that are in the middle-upper elementary grades (as well as in middle- and high-school), goal setting can be a great motivator. It’s also important to have students reflect on their behavior and progress every day; this allows for students to monitor their behavior and work towards autonomy.
More information as to how goal setting and daily reflections can be used can be found here: http://lifeloveliteracy.blogspot.com/2013/11/motivate-students-with-daily.html
ClassDojo: This website and behavior system is a perfect motivator for students! ClassDojo uses a point system so teachers can add points to student names when they’re doing the right thing. The fun monsters and clever sounds that the site provides for each student, as well as the visual representation of each student’s positive behavior helps to motivate students to do the right thing.
To see how ClassDojo works, visit the following website: http://www.classdojo.com/
Resource for information in the entry:
Kirk, Karin. "Motivating Students." Motivating Students. On the Cutting Edge, n.d.
Web. 20 Nov. 2013. <http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/affective