There are many effective strategies that can be used to motivate students, probably as many as there are teachers. But what will work for the students you have to teach? That depends on what kind of people the students are. Most kids are not internally motivated (neither are most adults). Those who already see the value in a successful scholastic experience are not a problem for the teacher or tutor responsible for preparing them. But then, those aren’t the ones who need our help.
A Google search on student motivation reveals this: search results.
A colleague of mine, Stephen Caperton, who has experience preparing and motivating students for the SAT wrote this:
“One of the things I point out to student is that the SAT counts for a third or more of college admissions just a little under GPA. Then I point out that it takes thousands of hours to create a GPA, and several hundreds of hours to change your GPA, while you can prepare for the SAT in about 80 hours spread over a month or two. Secondly I find that many students think that the SAT is a test that you can't prepare for or that it is tough. I then point out that the most advanced math is basic algebra, and almost every math problem can be solved using arithmetic. The key to doing well is understanding the question which takes a little bit of retraining to translate the questions.”
For me it’s a question of motivated teachers. A motivated teacher will motivate students, even those who don’t want to play along. Motivation and enthusiasm for learning is infectious. A teacher who is passionate about learning will attract the attention of their students. The students begin to appreciate and get caught up in the teacher’s joy in the process. Soon, they too are motivated to succeed. The reverse is equally true, a crabby, jaded, apathetic instructor will do little more than confirm the students’ suspicions that school “sucks” and that being educated is neither important nor worth their time. The teacher’s job is to light the fire for learning within the student. How can a teacher light a fire when his or her own was snuffed out long ago?
But simply being fired up is not enough. Teachers face a challenge today that is unlike any in the past. We must educate ALL students to success. ALL? Yep. How? How do you motivate someone who hates you because you want to help them? How do teach algebra to a students who can’t add? How do you guide a pupil through a series of clearly defined steps when the pupil can’t read the instructions? This is the world we teach in. Sadly, there is no single one-size-fits-all answer. The military is very success at motivating soldiers, all types of soldiers, to do all types of jobs. Why can’t public education do the same thing? Why can’t we be as effective? Well, the military is voluntary, one must sign up to be motivated, which would indicate a certain base level of motivation to start with. Public education is a requirement. Kids must go, whether they, or their parents, are motivated to do so, or not.
One place to start is by focusing on the student’s belief in themselves. Some of our kids have been severely knocked around by life. Metaphorically speaking, many are bruised and some are still bleeding. Their self-esteem is in single digits, and they just don’t believe that they are going to be successful at school, or even at life. It’s an epidemic in some groups. Can teachers overcome the failure disease? Well, the more opportunities we can create for students to experience success, even the smallest opportunities, is a start. I’ve written about spoon-feeding. We must understand that many of our students have grown up without a strong foundation. They lack the basics from proper nutrition, to a consistent place to sleep. It’s hard to be motivated when you’re hungry and exhausted. Many schools now offer free-food programs, but I’m not aware of any overnight on-campus shelters. The classroom teachers needs to be able to focus on teaching the lessons, but understanding these deeper issues can help us make appropriate adjustments.
Students need to know that you are a real human being, and that you genuinely care for their own well-being. Learning their names quickly and using their names frequently seems like an obvious start, but you may be surprised by how many teachers never take the time to do even that. Asking the students about themselves, focusing assignments that help them discover and develop who they are as people can be very effective. It is possible for students to use themselves as a focus, and yet still teach them the standards. Once the students begin to develop a finer sense of self, the next step is challenging them to service. I was recently reminded of an assignment I use to give seniors to go out and perform 20 random acts of kindness. I believe that the more we serve others, the more we invest in ourselves, and the greater becomes our self-esteem.
Developing relationships with parents is also a very effective motivator for kids. If the students know that you, their teacher, connect regularly with their parents, they will be more likely to be more cautious and make better decisions. Email is so easy. I currently teach over 200 students. No, I have not established relationships with every parent. But I have made connections with the parents of many of the students I have who are struggling. Our conversations are not always positive, but they are always constructive. It’s good for parents to know that you truly care about their children.
The bottom line is that your students must understand that you, their teacher, mean it. You mean it when you say, “how are you doing?” You mean it when you say, “you can pass this class if you work hard and complete your assignments on time.” You mean it when you say, “I will be there for you when you need my help.” The students are a blessing in our lives; we need to treat them that way.
For further discussion please check out this post.
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