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In this era of distance learning, when we ask our fellow teachers, “How do you motivate your students?” we get a variety of answers. Some common ones are:
- “Make lessons fast-paced and fun.”
- “Tie in with their interests.”
- “Provide lots of colorful images.”
- “Give them choices.”
- “Reward their accomplishments.”
- “Use incentives.”
These are all workable classroom strategies. But they tend to be short-lived, and they can leave some students behind. Why don’t they succeed in motivating all students to achieve at their maximum potential?
Kids Are Smart, Even When at Home
The answer is that kids are smart. Most students have been in school long enough to recognize well-meaning strategies for what they are—attempts to manipulate their behavior.
So those students who are resistant, who don’t believe they are capable of achieving at a high level and are just doing school refuse to play this motivation game. They may do the work (at least some of the time), but they remain passive. They do only as much as they have to do to get by.
So what’s a teacher to do? Do you just accept that some students are motivated and some are not? If you believed that, you wouldn’t be reading this article.
How can we develop the real, intrinsic motivation that has an impact on the academic success for all students?
Can Motivation Be Taught?
So much has been written about the need for students to be more motivated—and how, if this singular goal can be achieved, motivation will lead to greater academic success. We, at Elevated Achievement, couldn’t agree more!
However, not much has been written about how students can be explicitly and directly taught to be more motivated.
In “Three Ways Students Interpret Their Role,” we wrote that motivation is not static, and it is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Motivation can change, and students can be taught to become more self-motivated.
The key lies in helping students build an ownership mindset—helping them become active participants, not just passengers in their learning. And this mindset is apparent when students are in the classroom, on-line, at home, or working independently.
How to Build Motivation through Student Ownership
Students with an ownership mindset know they have the authority, capacity, and responsibility to own their learning. Teachers are the key to helping students cultivate these three essential aspects of student ownership.
Teachers cultivate an ownership mindset when they give students the authority to make decisions based on what they know about their own learning—such as what they need to do to master a skill, how much or what types of practice they need, and how they will demonstrate what they have learned. If students are to take ownership of their learning, they must have some authority to influence how their learning takes place—whether in class, on-line, or at home.
But before students can take full ownership of their learning, they must also possess the necessary metacognitive skills of how to challenge themselves, how to reflect on their growth, and how to support their own learning. When teachers empower students with these essential skills, they give students the capacity to own their learning—whether in class, on-line, or at home.
Students must also understand that learning is their job—not the teacher’s job, but theirs. As students, they are responsible for their successes and for getting help when they need it. Teachers help students take responsibility for their own learning when they help them understand their role as students. Teachers must also make sure that students have the information they need to make responsible decisions about their own learning, including what they are learning, why they are learning it, how they will learn it, and how they will demonstrate their learning. And they need this information regardless if they are in class, on-line, or at home.
Out with the Old, in with the New
We started this article by talking about motivation—asking how we can avoid the traps of superficial motivation strategies and instead help students learn to be more self-motivated.
The best way to do this is by increasing student ownership. When we help students develop an ownership mindset, we no longer need to rely on those old motivational strategies that work for some, but not all students. We might keep them around because they are fun or because they help us get from point A to point B, but they stop being essential.
Instead, we can focus on modeling the thinking behind ownership, explicitly teaching the skills of ownership, and most importantly, being willing to delegate the authority, capacity, and responsibility for learning to our students.
The Learning Brief
In this article you learned…
- Many common strategies for motivating students can backfire.
- Motivation is a skill that can be taught.
- The best way to increase student motivation is by helping students develop an ownership mindset.
Can you imagine building an environment full of motivated, engaged, and eager students who own their learning?