Motivating Students To Learn

Motivating students to learn: understanding the concept of motivation and what parents and teachers can do to increase their children's motivation to do well academically.

Parents and teachers all around the globe are pulling their hair out trying to understand why students seem less and less interested in school and school work. It used to be that the parent's job was simply to outfit the child for school and get him there and ensure that homework was neatly done. The teacher's job was to present the information and guide the students through the exercises. Those do not seem to work anymore. Both teachers and parents have to constantly come up with new strategies to ensure good academic performance of the students. It seems that they even have to resort to bribes sometimes.

Perhaps part of the problem is the lack of understanding of what really motivates students. Motivation is a difficult concept to define or explain. Motivation is generally understood as what arouses and sustains a particular behaviour. However, it is agreed that, for school purposes at least, there are two types of motivation- the extrinsic motivation and the intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation usually derives from external rewards- prizes, grades, tokens and wanting to do better than others. This leads to students performing solely for these rewards or to avoid shame or embarrassment. Intrinsic motivation comes from within. When a student is driven to do well for his own self-satisfaction in developing a skill, then the learning is more meaningful and long-lasting.

Motivation is optimized when :

· The person engages in the task for his own reason rather than in response to external pressure.

· The task is of appropriate level of challenge.

· There is sufficient choice.

How can parents and teachers set up learning environments to optimize these conditions? The answer to this question is wide and varied. Specific strategies could depend on various cultures and environments. But the following general principles must be applied:

1. The pressure on the student must be minimized, for example, remove the competition or social comparison; revise the grading system.

2. Ensure that the task is of an appropriate level of challenge for the student's age and ability level. If it is too easy the student will be bored and un-motivated. A level of difficulty above the student's ability could lead to frustration and giving up.

3. The task should also be meaningful and relevant to the learner. Students often comment "Why do I have to learn about"¦.. I'll never use this when I grow up!" The aim of the task should be to improve or gain some skill rather than rote memorization of irrelevant facts.

4. Appropriate use of rewards. Use praise liberally. Reward for effort and improvement and not just for performance.

5. Provide choice. Students will be more motivated to engage in a task if they have some say in what the task is, how it is to be carried out and presented. The more controlling the teacher is the less motivated the learner will be.

6. The structure of the learning exercise affects the level of motivation. There must be clear instructions given . The student must be sure of what is expected of him. Guidelines on how the task is to be performed must be specific and well understood. Immediate and useful feedback are crucial. A promptly returned assignment with comments indicating where the student went wrong and how he could improve is much more useful than a paper with only a B or C grade on it.

7. A supportive environment is a must. Students,( or anyone for that matter) do not perform or think well when they feel invalidated or threatened. The rapport that parents and teachers develop with the student must be one of ease and comfort-an encouraging word or tone of voice, a hand on the shoulder. These may seem to be trivial but the impact on the learning is great.

In short, when students are treated well, respected, encouraged and the work has meaning high levels of motivation will automatically develop.

© High Speed Ventures 2011