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As nearly every teacher knows, a motivated student is much easier to teach than an unmotivated student.  Many students, however, may come to school unmotivated for a wide range of reasons.  They may not have parental support, have larger concerns than passing a science test, or simply are bored.  The reasons a student is unmotivated may never be fully understood. Luckily, there are strategies you can use to motivate the students in your classroom. So how do you motivate students?  Here are some proven and practical ideas.

Motivating vs. Entertaining

First, motivating your students is not the same as entertaining them.  Dressing up like George Washington on President’s Day may entertain your students. However, some may remain unmotivated and unimpressed by your performance.

Unmotivated student

You cannot make someone become motivated.  Intrinsic motivation is when a person does something because they enjoy it or find it interesting.  Extrinsic motivation involves doing something because there is an external reward, or the person is avoiding a negative consequence.  The best motivation for learning is intrinsic. Unfortunately, many students may be driven by the desire for grades, approval and other rewards.  Some students see no value in learning.  What can you do?

11 Ideas…

  1. First, you must be enthusiastic about what you are doing.  If your attitude tells students you do not want to be there, they will begin to feel the same way.
  2. One of the best motivators for students is to encourage active participation during the lesson presentation. Students learn by doing.  Most students like to problem solve. If things are too easy or boring, they will easily become less interested and less motivated.
  3. Consistently ask questions throughout the lesson that appeals to all student levels. Ask challenging questions for those deep thinkers and easier questions for struggling learners. Additionally, ask open-ended opinion questions so all students can reflect upon later.
  4. Remember the Confucius quote: “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember, but directly involve me, and I’ll make it my own”
  5. Most students enjoy being creative. The more opportunities they have to get their creative juices flowing, the better.  For example, when creating guidelines for assignments, give students some options to use their creativity.  A drawing, poem, short story, or a PowerPoint can be used in place of a written assignment.
  6. Use your students’ natural curiosity as often as possible to aid in motivation. Perhaps there is something in the news that has peaked their interest.  Use it and connect it to a current lesson. Spend a few moments allowing students to voice their opinions and to get excited about something. This is especially helpful for those who often sit passively.
  7. Nearly all schools give grades for work completed. This is unlikely to change, but you can place less emphasis on the grade and more emphasis on the learning. Certainly, it would be great if every homework assignment was completed and turned in on time. However, mastering a concept is often more important.  For example, counting homework as 30% or more of a student’s overall grade is placing more emphasis on grades. Allow students to learn from their mistakes.
  8. Set achievable goals for your students. When students reach a goal, the feeling that accompanies it will motivate them to reach the next goal.  In addition, hold high but realistic expectations for your students.
  9. Students must also be aware of what they need to do to succeed in the class. You must make this clear to students.  If a student is confused about the “How to” of succeeding, they will quickly lose interest and become less motivated.  Offer students as much help as possible or necessary to succeed.  Every student must feel comfortable reaching out in their time of need.
  10. Avoid creating intense competition among students. Instead, allow students to work cooperatively. A student may better explain it to his or her peer than you can. In addition, do not publicly criticize students, this is truly a path to a student becoming disaffected.
  11. You may reward students, though it is extrinsic motivation, it can be a step toward a student becoming motivated intrinsically. Using positive feedback or comments influence motivation.  Praise builds students’ self-confidence, self-esteem, and confidence.  The praise of a student’s effort, will certainly help them see their efforts as being rewarded. They will learn that continued effort will not be useless.

Ask and Listen

There are many other strategies that can be useful for motivating your students.  Many of the Learn Bright Lessons include activities where students are expected to work together, use their creativity, and problem solve real-world issues and situations.

Learning must have meaning and value for students.  This is how students will become intrinsically motivated.  In addition, you can also ask students what motivates them to learn.  Many teachers become stuck in their ways and will not listen to their students’ opinions.  Remember, they are the learners, and often, especially older students, will be quite open and blunt about what motivates them.

Motivating students may sometimes become a challenge, but every student in your class can become motivated to learn and truly see the value and meaning of your lessons.  However, you must do your part as well to help them see that value.

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