Danny Swersky

Motivation In Education

The struggle to motivate students is as old as education itself. Teachers and students at all levels experience it.

But how does motivation work? And how can educators get students to motivate themselves? Danny Swersky discusses below.

Factors That Influence Motivation

Motivation is a state of mind influenced by many factors. Some key contributors for children are:

  • Family environment. A stable, healthy home environment with parents who help with homework and learning is vital. If kids are dealing with divorce, violence, or material want, they’re unlikely to be motivated at school.
  • Tests and assessments. Standardized testing often upends the routines of the classroom. The focus that schools place on these assessments can also cause worry in students, especially at a younger age.
  • Learning environment. The school itself influences students’ motivation. Is the building heated properly? Are students receiving meals? Do they have unstructured time for play? 

What Teachers Can Control

There are a lot of factors to motivation that teachers can’t control. They can’t stop violence at home or change state laws about standardized tests. It’s worth bringing them up, though.

When teachers understand what they can’t control, they can work harder to improve the things they can. And teachers can be informed by factors outside their control when they make changes to the classroom environment.

Offer Opportunities for All Students

Some children work better in silence, while others need a little noise. Some thrive with independent work, while others do better in group projects.

The classroom should have a mix of environments and assignments. By doing this, teachers allow students to work to their strengths and produce their best work. When students feel like they’re learning, their motivation increases.

Teachers can also give their classes time to think through a question. When they call on the first hand that’s up 100% of the time, they make the classroom feel like a game show more than anything.

Learning Is Never Easy

Real learning isn’t easy and doesn’t work linearly. This is one of the best lessons students can learn.

There should never be shame in asking for help. Students should feel empowered to ask for assistance from both teachers and peers. Teachers can also share their struggles learning certain topics in schools. 

Mastery-oriented goals based around verbs like “to learn” and “to understand” should be emphasized over assessment-oriented goals like “to get a good grade.” Ideally, students can set their own goals with the help of teachers.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

Mastery-oriented goals also help to build intrinsic motivation in students. Intrinsic motivation comes from the students themselves, as opposed to extrinsic motivation that comes from rewards and grades.

While occasional extrinsic motivation can help a class to get through a difficult unit, it also decreases the intrinsic motivation to learn something for its own sake.
Extrinsic motivation is always part of a teacher’s toolbox. However, it ought to be used sparingly and thoughtfully.

Motivation — The Secret Sauce

While students need to learn math, reading, and science, the most important thing they can get from school is how to learn and to love to learn.

While not everything is within the teacher’s control, teachers who can improve their students’ motivations will get better results.

By Danny Swersky

Danny Swersky