Motivating Students - 3 Misconceptions and 10 Strategies for Success

Posted by Erica Warren on

Motivation is purported to be a common obstacle that obstructs academic success, however this is a misconception. As Rick Lavoie said, "It is not that students become unmotivated, because all human behavior is motivated." Instead, other core factors such as depression, anxiety, a poor self concept, and learning disabilities are the source that affect learning and appear to impact motivation.
Motivated students with their thumbs up

Assisting Students that Appear Unmotivated?

To help students that appear unmotivated, first we must investigate the cause of the academic struggle or unwanted behavior. One can attempt to uncover these stumbling blocks through mindful discussions, but it may be best to pursue additional assistance from a therapist, educational therapist or learning specialist that has some training in psychology. In addition, if the student’s difficulties manifest as poor grades, a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation can help to uncover the core problem.
Once the underlying causes have been disclosed, an academic and/or behavioral action plan can be established. Additionally, if any diagnoses are revealed, a 504 or Individual Education Plan can define the needed structure, reasonable accommodations and support.

Executive Functioning Coaching

3 Common Misconceptions:

  1. Students are motivated by the same things: In fact, students can be motivated by a large selection of contrasting factors. One reason for this is because each learner comes to the classroom with different preferences, strengths, and weaknesses. But personality issues are also a key ingredient in the recipe for learning. For example, some students are motivated by challenging activities while others are motivated by manageable or easy activities. In addition, some students are motivated by competition, while others are motivated by cooperation.
  2. Punishments increase motivation: Punishments are dangerous, because they often create anger and resentment. What’s more, they present a negative association to the learning process. For example, if a student loses recess because they didn’t complete a math assignment, they may link these negative emotions to the academic content and learn to hate mathematical concepts. In addition, if a student is motivated to do well, but is struggling due to learning disabilities, punishments can result in anxiety, depression, and even learned helplessness.
  3. Rewards motivate students: Rewards can offer some external motivation, but what students really need is to be internally motivated. In other words, the motivation to engage in a behavior is best when it arises from within the individual because it is intrinsically rewarding. Intermittent rewards, however, can be helpful, particularly as a way to celebrate success.
Social Emotional Resources

    What Can Be Done to Motivate Students?

    1. Praise effort and improvement. If you praise students at times when they know that they did not deserve the recognition, your accolades often lose credibility. Instead, when effort and improvement are recognized, research suggests that this builds motivation and resilience. Click here to learn more.
    2. Hold onto your power by offering limited choices. Many young learners will challenge authority, but giving into fears and complaints reinforces protests and defiant behavior. However, when providing limited and reasonable choices, parents and teachers can maintain control and avoid disagreements and conflicts.
    3. Develop positive, supportive relationships. Try not to let a student's negativity or frustration impact your mood. Instead, stay calm, use a soft, soothing voice and maintain control.
    4. Offer intermittent or unexpected rewards that celebrate achievements. Recognizing student growth helps students feel pride in their accomplishments.
    5. Help students to uncover their "genius qualities" and integrate them into academics wherever possible. If students learn how to use their strengths to compensate for any weaknesses, this empowers them to be self directed and resilient.
    6. Replace tests with manageable projects. Providing a number of enticing and multisensory project options also gives students’ options and some power in the learning process.
    7. Move away from competition and create a cooperative learning environment. The only students that will be motivated by competition are the ones that know they will win. All the other students will feel discouraged and may even come to resent the teacher or their peers. Instead, provide all students equal recognition. For example, instead of recognizing and posting a single student's achievement, allow all students space to post their best work of the week.
    8. Instead of pointing out what is wrong - recognize what is correct. Also, encourage students to learn from their mistakes by allowing partial credit from test and assignment corrections.
    9. Replace negative feedback with words of encouragement. Instead of using discouraging words such as “no, wrong, mistake, and incorrect,” use guiding words such as “almost, getting there, and try again.” Additionally, when a student provides an incorrect answer, gently guide them to the correct answer, so they can experience the satisfaction of being correct and shed any fear of peer humiliation.
    Avoid negative labels such as careless, lazy, and unmotivated. Nobody is encouraged by deprecating remarks. Praise the good behavior and ignore the bad.

    Cheers, Dr. Erica Warren
    Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator, and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning. She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Learning Specialist Courses.

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