Motivating Students

Developing and maintaining student motivation requires continual work, particularly in large courses.

Types of Motivation

Extrinsic Motivation: Extrinsic motivation includes outside motivational forces, such as a reward, that push students to work hard. This means accomplishing tasks because there are rewards associated with it. Extrinsic motivators often include grades, parental, teacher, and social expectations. According to author Fred M. Newman’s “Student Engagement and Achievement in American Secondary Schools,” in order for extrinsic motivators to be effective, the student must desire the rewards and understand academic achievement is the only way of obtaining those rewards.

Instructors should recognize that extrinsic motivation may actually distract the student from the learning process. Although extrinsic motivators might work in the short term, such motivators do not work over the long haul. Students who are learning material for a reward typically do not continue to learn the material once the instructor removes the reward.

Intrinsic Motivation: Because intrinsic motivation comes from within it is the most effective form of motivation for learners. Personal interest in the material is what drives them to be good students because the student allows curiosity and enjoyment of learning to push them.

Teachers are instrumental in reinforcing intrinsic motivators. Establishing a relationship between the student and teacher is integral to the educational experience by reinforcing intrinsic motivation. According to the U.S. Department of Education, ways to reinforce intrinsic motivators include celebrating student success daily, using humor to make class topics interesting, applying learning to future career aspects, and offering chances for student choices.

  • Giving frequent, personal feedback indicates the teacher is listening to students and is willing to engage them. A student reinforced by positive feedback is more willing to continue to participate in class.
  • Assigning work at an appropriate level (neither too challenging or nor too easy) will ensure opportunities for success, while providing a sense of accomplishment.
  • Helping students find meaning in the work will increase their intrinsic interests. Instead of having students memorize concepts and testing on them, provide students with real life situations and explaining how this information is relevant to their futures.
  • Delivering presentations with energy and enthusiasm to display your own passion for the material. Make the course personal, showing why you are interested in the material. Utilize body language and voice inflection to convey the message that there is no other place you would rather be. Many professors like to walk among the students. Classes are much more engaged when teachers are moving around and not sitting still or lecturing from a lectern.
  • Fostering a sense of belonging and respect helps students to feel they belong in the class. The atmosphere must be inclusive and trusting so students feel their views are heard and valued.
  • Establishing rapport with students from the first day can increase their desire to learn because they feel the instructor wants them in the course. Rapport can also assist in setting the desire classroom environment. Some faculty work to learn student names as part of that process.
  • Encouraging students to take risks assists in developing high-level critical and analytical skills. Instructors should challenge students with work they do not think they can handle while providing scaffolding to assist them in learning how to handle the challenge.
  • Promoting active learning reduces tedium for students. Students learn more when they are actively engaged in their own learning through reacting to questions and comments, participating in class discussions, and through active learning exercises.
  • Placing an appropriate emphasis on testing and grading helps to show what students have mastered, not what they have not. Avoid grading on the curve and give everyone the opportunity to achieve the highest standard and grades.

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