How To Improve Student Motivation: For Teachers

Ten tips to help you increase student motivation in the classroom while building a positive classroom environment.

It can be difficult to be a teacher today. Teachers face increasing demands: standardized testing, large class sizes and a lack of student motivation. There is not much to be done about the first two aside from lobbying for a decrease in paperwork/testing and class size. However, as teachers, we do have the ability to motivate students in a positive way. Here are ten ways for you to keep your students motivated, regardless of student age or content area:

1. Ensure that your students can see how the subject matter is relevant to their lives. Think back to a time in school when you wondered why it was important to learn something. Did you wonder what it had to do with your life today, or wonder what use you could possibly make of it later on? Make certain to answer this question for your students. For example, if you are teaching the history of The Alamo, do your students understand how that event affects their lives to this very day?

2. Think about some of the courses you have taken in your life. Which ones did you like the best? Why? In many teacher workshops that I have attended, there have been a variety of activities to keep teachers engaged. In a good teacher workshop, participants should have an opportunity to move around the room, work in groups, share ideas, and so on. Not many adults will attend classes where they are expected to sit quietly and listen to a lecture for an hour. However, we often expect this of students, and they may be sitting in classes for an entire day. It is simply not possible to maintain the motivation to stay focused for that amount of time for most people, your students included! Make sure that you offer your students a variety of engaging activities.

3. Offer incentives for completed homework, completed class goals, etc. Let the class decide, within reason, what the incentive will be. A broad behavioral goal that I set for a challenging class of ADHD students that I once had was a popcorn and movie party at the end of every six weeks if no one in the class received a referral to the office. The reasoning behind this was that if students were not acting out, then I had more time to teach, as opposed to redirecting negative behavior. This increased student motivation to behave appropriately, and had the added bonus of giving students the incentive to ask their peers to behave in a pro-social manner as well.

4. Make sure that the rewards you give are varied. One caveat: teacher-given rewards are an extrinsic motivator, which has been shown to reduce intrinsic motivation if used too often. However, with certain children who have a very poorly developed intrinsic sense of motivation, these can be very useful, as well as fun. When giving rewards, make sure that some are immediate and that others are delayed. An example of an immediate reward is saying, "Tim, your writing has improved so much this past six weeks!" while handing back papers. A delayed reward is one that is only received after students have accomplished a specific goal, such as my previous example of a movie party for good behavior. Rewards can and should be given both to individuals and to the class.

5. Build good relationships with your students. The lengths that people will go to in order to please someone that they like is simply extraordinary. Beloved bosses often get superior work from their loyal employees. It works the same way with your students. Ask your students how their football game went, or comment positively on a new haircut. Give them positive feedback whenever they honestly deserve it. In short, be the best "boss" you can be to your students, and you will see their motivation in your class increase.

6. Create a positive classroom climate. Research shows that what educational scholars term "a positive affective environment" promotes student learning and motivation in a statistically significant way. If a student feels comfortable and safe in the environment that you have created, then they will feel more comfortable taking chances. This translates into a student who displays greater motivation to read out loud in class, write an essay without undue fear of criticism and participate openly in active learning activities.

7. Implement a curriculum that is challenging in a manner where students have to work hard to accomplish the task, but not so challenging that many students decide to give up. This can be a delicate balance to maintain, and may vary from class to class, depending on the individual class make-up. If the curriculum is too easy, students will dismiss it as not being worth their time. Likewise, if it is too hard, many students, particularly those who are older, will stop working in order to save face and to keep from admitting that they simply cannot accomplish the task.

8. Develop intrinsic motivation in students. This is the sort of motivation that comes from within; a genuine desire to learn and do well. This sort of motivation can be developed by providing an interesting, relevant curriculum, with projects incorporated that students genuinely want to do. Check out teacher-rated lesson plans online for some good ideas. It doesn't hurt to ask for student feedback as well. The more that students feel they have a voice in their own education; the more intrinsic motivation will develop.

9. Create an atmosphere of high expectations, both behaviorally and academically. If you expect greatness, often you will receive it. Student motivation will decline if the teacher's expectations are too low.

10. Keep your own energy level high. Motivation can be catching. If you are tired, and don't really feel up to teaching one day, it is a guarantee that your students will pick up on it, and reflect your own mood. When teaching, if need be, fake it till you make it! Keep going in a positive upbeat manner, and your students will begin to follow suit.

It's important not to give up when working with students who are motivationally challenged. You may not see results immediately. You may not even see results for a few weeks. However, if you implement these strategies and create the sort of environment that motivates students, you will ultimately be able to look back and be amazed at what your students were indeed capable of learning.

© High Speed Ventures 2011