Thursday, December 9, 2010

How Do We Motivate Students in School?

I was recently speaking with some new teachers in our district and the topic of motivating students came up. One of the teachers is actually on a group at their school where they are trying to find ways to motivate students, and they were looking for help. 

Motivating students is not always easy. Some students have intrinsic motivation, while others need a push. Some students want to do well. They like competing with others to get the highest grades. They have a goal of attending a good college and getting a good job or are looking at a trade and know they need to do well in school first. Some are motivated by their culture or family and parents and have been pushed to do well since the start. Some students are taught from an early age that doing well in school is important. 

But how can we motivate students who don't seem to have any motivation or want to do work in school?

Some ideas on motivating students are based on rewards programs. If you do all of your work and behave you get points and then you trade those in for a prize. Behave and do all of your work now and you get a free pass on an assignment in the future. Do all of you work and behave and you get free time or time on the computer in the classroom. These rewards programs work for a while, but do they really change the students to become intrinsically motivated? How long can schools support these types of programs? Doesn't excusing a student from work as a reward show them that not all of the school work is important?

I think we need to find ways to show students why education is important and why they should do their work, put in full effort, and behave properly. If we can support students that don't seem motivated or aren't doing well in school so that they get a taste of success, they may want to keep going and get that great feeling of success more and more. Some students have been beaten down by failure and have just given up. We have to support them and give them the help they need so that they can do well. It's not easy to do with all students, but we have to try.

We need to show students why they should try their best in school. They need to see the benefits. It is sometimes hard for students to see into the future and they don't always like to wait for their reward. Telling a 9th grader that school will help him get into a good college and get a good job can work, but some of them won't respond because 4 years is a long time into the future. 

Some students don't see the point in education. They see their friends, siblings, and even parents having money and "toys" without an education. They don't see beyond their little world and that there is more than welfare or a minimum wage job in life. They need to be shown the possibilities that exist with education and we need to share this with them. We also need to address the students who see people selling drugs and having lots of money and think that is a good future for them. They need to be told that most of those people end up dead or in jail. Schools should bring in convicts and reformed criminals to speak to students and show them that is not a good life. 

The other way to motivate students is to make school interesting, engaging, and even fun. Educators (teachers and administrators) need to work to create a safe, fun environment where students want to be there and want to learn. Engaging lessons that actively involve the students. Projects, field trips, explorations of new things, can all help students find interest in school. Students should also have a wide range of choices in education. Offer a variety of courses so that they can explore what they like. Offer electives, alternative classes, internships, trades classes, and online programs. Let teachers come up with new courses for students. Encourage creativity among students. Let them pick the method to show their mastery of a topic. Go beyond written tests and let students create projects, web sites, videos, songs, skits, and mroe. Make school engaging and exciting instead of stifling and boring. 

We can also make school more engaging by being enthusiastic and positive in your teaching. Create a positive learning environment for them. Let students be active in class and discover things on their own. Use visual aids, videos, props, projects, demonstrations, skits, and more in your classroom to make it more interactive. Take a real or virtual field trip to show them what's out there in the world. Help them to succeed. Once they feel the joy of succeeding, they may get hooked on it. Give your students praise for doing well - they will want it more. Truly care about your students and their lives. When they see you care, they will respond to you and will more likely do better. Relate what you are teaching to them and their lives. Help them find some kind of personal meaning and value in what you are teaching them. Make your students feel valued. Acknowledge their contributions to the class. Make them feel like they are a part of the class. 

We can help students be motivated in school but it takes time and effort. Quick fixes and reward systems can only work so long. We must make school engaging, exciting, and relevant to them. 

What else can we do to motivate students?

Please share your ideas!

Some more resources:

Cross posted at Tech&Learning Magazine and via Twitter


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