“…it isn’t smart kids who do well in school, it’s the kids who do well in school who get smarter” (Fisher, 2012).
Bryan Goodwin of McREL feels motivation is “tied to five key areas: intrinsic rewards, engaging content, student self-regulation, growth-minded perspectives, and mastery experiences” (Fisher). However, Goodwin gives a warning about using intrinsic rewards since a student’s motivation can disappear once the rewards are no longer available. In other words, the motivation is somewhat artificial and may not be sustainable. Instead of rewards, Goodwin recommends making lessons personal, using mystery, and “incorporating imaginative play…[because] imaginative play is critical in developing self-regulation” (Fisher). Goodwin also states that it’s imperative for students to develop a growth-minded perspective. “Students who believe that hard work [not purely intelligence] leads to success are more likely to believe they can control their own fate” (Fisher).
Douglas B. Reeves (founder of the Leadership and Learning Center in Salem, Massachusetts) also gives “five practical techniques to motivate the unmotivated student: give them challenge, choice, significance, feedback, and competence” (2012). So many teachers think students are incapable of more challenging work, so less challenging work is assigned. The downward spiral begins as the students become less motivated and outwardly appear to be less capable. The teachers simplify the work and so the cycle continues. My campus conducted a survey in which students and teachers were asked if they felt assignments given were challenging. Teachers felt the assignments were sufficiently challenging; students felt the assignments were too easy. Another strategy Reeves provides is choice. He uses the word “choice” to describe one aspect of differentiation. This one is hugely important for every student from the highest to the lowest of abilities and knowledge. The teachers on my campus have been provided massive amounts of professional development in an effort to give them a toolbox full of differentiation strategies such as Kagan structures, CRISS strategies, and QTEL. Another of Reeves’s suggestions is feedback. I have become a huge fan of feedback and its value when given in an efficient manner. Research shows that feedback has greater impact on student learning and progress than any other single effort. Coaches and fine arts teachers are great models of the use of feedback for improving performance. Classroom teachers need to apply feedback in a similar manner. This feedback can help students feel more competent (much like Goodwin’s mastery experiences). Terry Heaney (a Learning Strategies teacher at Calgary Academy in Calgary, Alberta, Canada) works with students who have learning challenges. Based on his experience, Heaney says that as students struggle and have more negative experiences, they will be less likely to respond to motivational efforts. However, feedback “can motivate our students more directly with a thoughtful approach to providing feedback on assignments and tests” (Heaney, 2012).
Bob Sullo (2009) incorporates many of Goodwin’s and Reeves’s ideas in Motivated Student: Unlocking the Enthusiasm for Learning. He, too, believes teachers should stop giving intrinsic rewards and instead help students develop internal motivation. Also similarly, Sullo believes it’s important to teach students how to self-evaluate (or self-regulate). The other things he suggests reflect best practices in any classroom. They include making the classroom a safe environment in which students can ask questions, receive feedback, and maintain trusting relationships with the teacher and classmates. Additionally, Sullo stresses the importance of a good classroom management system that provides routines and expectations.
There are many ways a teacher can help motivate students. None are easy, but I believe they are worth the effort if they help students achieve success. I would not want to be responsible for a student’s feeling of failure if I can make a difference. After all, “it isn’t smart kids who do well in school, it’s the kids who do well in school who get smarter” (Fisher).
Fisher, C. (2012). What matters most when it comes to motivating students? Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Retrieved from: http://www.ascd.org/conferences/conference-daily/ac12/student-motivation.aspx
Heaney, T. (2012). Motivating through feedback. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Retrieved from: http://www.ascd.org/ascd-express/vol5/504-heaney.aspx
Reeves, D. (2012). Motivating unmotivated students. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Retrieved from: http://www.ascd.org/ascd-express/vol5/504-reeves.aspx
Sullo, B. (2009). Motivated student: Unlocking the enthusiasm for learning. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Retrieved from: http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/109028.aspx