Ways to Increase Student Motivation

Whitney Gordon
Whitney Gordon
Special Education and English Teacher; Ed.S. in Teacher Leadership, Thomas University, GA
Classroom with students raising their hands

It’s happened to the best of us. We spend copious hours planning detailed lessons that are later derailed by a harsh reality: Our students don’t want to do the work. They can do it, and they likely will do some of it, but they just aren’t motivated to work to their full potential. Fostering student motivation is crucial to learning, and requires intentional time and investment from the teacher. The following are ways that you can spark student motivation in your classroom.

Make Success Attainable Early and Often

School is like a marathon. Students are constantly working toward goals in the remote future: standardized tests, course grades, and even an eventual high school graduation. Our students often don’t have the stamina to sustain motivation throughout extended periods. To keep motivation going, teachers should provide chances for success every day. For example: Although the goal is success on a long-term project, what are students expected to accomplish in a single day? How can they show pride in progress? Make short-term goals clear, and give effective feedback on these goals often. We must remember that students often don’t have the life experience that causes adults to persevere toward far-off goals.

Differentiate the Product

When students complete a task that was designed with their strengths, interests, and weaknesses in mind, student engagement inevitably increases. As educators, we often differentiate the process or content of an assignment, but neglect to differentiate the product. Students don’t have to all demonstrate mastery in the same way. While one student may demonstrate summarizing through paragraphs, for example, another could demonstrate it through a comic strip. Student motivation increases when they are working toward a goal that utilizes their strengths and enhances their weaknesses.

Set and Enforce Clear, Consistent Expectations

Student motivation isn’t only born through fun and excitement – classroom management also plays a part. Believe it or not, when a teacher sets high expectations and sticks to them, students are more motivated to work hard. Sometimes students lack motivation simply because they don’t have to put in effort. When behavior and academic expectations are not evident and consistent, student productivity suffers. Create an environment where students understand that their best is not only encouraged, but expected.

Make Learning Fun

Student motivation is often so inundated with buzzwords like rigor and differentiation that it can be easy to forget about good, old-fashioned FUN. It’s important to stay current in student culture – what do your students enjoy doing, and how can you incorporate it into learning? We all know that this changes constantly. Think about your favorite teacher as a kid. Not the teacher you appreciate as an adult, because their tough-love suddenly makes sense, but the one you loved in the moment. The one who made work seem desirable and effortless. That was likely the “fun” teacher.

Student motivation is on a constant learning curve. Teachers must be intent on knowing their students, and using that knowledge to drive instruction. When students work because they want to, learning is optimal.

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