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2.6 Motivation: What motivates students? | ED100

Clearly, students play an important role in their own destiny within the education system. While learning can be a difficult mountain to climb, what makes it work?

Children can get excited to learn when they feel interested in the subject matter before them and when they understand how it will help them in the real world. But learning takes effort, and the world is full of attention-seeking things. Excellent teachers are characterized by knowing how to make learning interesting and relevant, especially when they have captivating curricular material. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

There are usually two main strategies for motivating students to learn: engaging or compelling them. Researchers have written a lot regarding the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in education.

Intrinsic motivation comes from within the person. When a student encounters a fascinating topic, the motivation to learn more about it comes naturally. Children who memorize baseball statistics don’t do so to be tested later. Sugata Mitra, an education researcher, has documented some amazing achievements that children in India have made when they have come together to learn subjects that interest them. There are two main strategies for motivating students to learn: to interest them or to force them.

Extrinsic motivation (which comes from the outside) will always be the second option, but it is no less important. The classic extrinsic motivator in school is the grade: “Do your homework, whether you’re interested or not!” In the same category are bribes from parents. Sometimes, extrinsic motivators can help the student fake it until they get it. These manage to overcome the initial doubts that the student has when trying an activity, thus giving him the opportunity to find pleasure in learning it.

Extrinsic motivators can also set and maintain Community standards. For example, KIPP, a network of charter schools, uses an extrinsic reward system called paychecks> to set and reinforce clear expectations regarding student behavior.

Daniel H. Pink’s book Drive summarizes the studies done on motivation and makes very persuasive arguments about the risks of relying heavily on extrinsic motivation. Although it is mostly aimed at a business audience, his work has gained a large number of readers in the educational field. Prior to Pink’s book, the most notable work on this subject was the book Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn.

Of course, just because the student is interested in a topic doesn’t mean they’re going to learn it. The motivation to start may be different from the complex factors that drive you to continue.

Carol Dweck describes student motivation in education as a matter of attitude. When students believe they can learn anything by striving, they can keep their attention and energy to accomplish wonderful things. Dweck calls this an attitude of growth. But if they believe their learning ability is fixed, they limit themselves. Statements like “I’m bad at math” or “I’m not a good student” tend to come true. She points to evidence that teachers and parents can influence students’ attitudes through the way they present them with challenges. What interests students?

There is ample evidence that participation in sports or the arts engages young people with school, motivates them to perform better academically, and teaches them to develop important life skills.

One major reform that is garnering a lot of attention, given the success it has gained in motivating high school students, is linked learning. This approach to learning combines rigorous academic methods with vocational education to prepare students for college and career. Assessments have been conducted that show that students in these programs are much more involved with what they learn and greatly increase their chances of graduating.

As discussed in the lesson on education technology, schools are turning to technology to personalize learning. It can present each student with educational material that is neither too easy (therefore boring) nor too advanced (therefore frustrating). The research is promising: in the end, education is for learning, which is the work students do when they have the right motivation. Susan Sandler (founder of Justice Matters) has done a good job of describing a broad definition of what personalization means in education.

Students learn best when they feel motivated. Teachers can awaken motivation in students by presenting the material in an interesting way. But consider the competition! There are always countless distractions just a click away. What motivates students to choose to do the learning work when they could easily choose to do something else?

Part of the answer is relationships, as teacher educator Rita Pierson explains in this short video:

One of the reasons students choose to learn is that the work they do matters to someone they care about. Parents, peers, guardians, and teachers influence how students feel about learning.

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to implement distance learning, teachers faced an entirely new challenge: how to develop and maintain relationships with and with each other in ways that could foster learning. Connecting with a large class is quite difficult in person; through a screen, it feels like a lousy TV show. Most teachers and schools quickly realized that consecutive video speeches to a large class would be exhausting and ineffective, although virtual workgroups and tutoring have improved the process in some ways.

Updated may 2017, August 2020 and August 2021.


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