Student Motivation: The Road to Success

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      Student motivation and student engagement are the secrets to successful learning. Students who are motivated by and engaged in their own learning adapt better to a classroom environment and perform considerably higher academically than their unmotivated peers.

      Two girls bored in class

      What is student motivation?

      Student motivation is the learner’s desire to actively participate in the learning process in order to realize their academic potential. Students can be either internally motivated (performing school tasks because of the enjoyment they derive from them) or externally motivated (performing tasks to obtain a reward, such as approval or good grades).

      Factors affecting student motivation

      Student motivation can be affected by several factors. Some of these include:

      1. Parent involvement

      Students are more motivated when parents show interest in their learning material and actively listen and inquire about their day.

      ‘Active listening’ implies being interested in what a child has to say and is a fantastic way to improve communication between parents and their children. Parents, as active listeners, need to focus on their child’s feelings and experiences. They must try to help children to identify their feelings and make them feel understood.

      To practice active listening: give your full attention to a child, make eye contact, and reflect on what they are saying. For example, over dinner, ask what their favorite part of their day was or what they found interesting. Don’t just hear that their day was ‘ok’. Prompt them to speak up. Then, really listen to their answer and follow up with more questions to fully understand how they are feeling and show them you care.

      Three great approaches to actually make your kids open up to you without forcing them to do so are:

      • Share some details about your day and set an example.
      • Help them to make decisions, e.g. about the actual dinner served in the above situation (“What type of salad would you like to have with dinner tonight?”)
      • Discuss topics that are general, not necessarily ask them about themselves, to encourage them to express themselves.

      To get some practical tips from other parents, watch this helpful video:

      2. Teacher enthusiasm

      A teacher’s enthusiasm in the classroom leads students to experience greater interest in and enjoyment of the material, enhancing their motivation.

      Three fantastic ways to show enthusiasm as a teacher are:

      • Interacting with your students and not just passively lecturing.
      • Connecting to your students – learning about them and making them feel understood.
      • Planning fun projects for your students on the subject you are teaching.

      But remember to keep your enthusiasm genuine! You need to find the right balance between being a teacher and a ‘friend’ to your students. Keep your lessons upbeat but control your physical mannerisms and always be professional.

      3. Progressive teaching methods

      Students are more likely to feel motivated when educators use a variety of creative teaching methods. For some inspiration, check out our posts containing different creative tasks for teachers that you can apply to any topic or subject:

      The importance of student motivation for students

      Motivation is particularly important for students because:

      • it correlates with academic success;
      • it has a direct impact on how we learn and leads to lasting learning;
      • it promotes drive and determination.

      If you teach in a classroom, a great idea is to hang posters with motivational quotes on the walls and to discuss their meaning with your students. 5 good famous examples of motivational quotes about education are the following:

      • Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today. (Malcolm X)
      • The roots of education are bitter but the fruit is sweet. (Aristotle)
      • The more that you read, the more things you will know, the more that you learn, the more places you’ll go. (Dr. Seuss)
      • Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. (Nelson Mandela)
      • Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire. (William Butler Yeats)

      Student laziness

      Student laziness can often be a manifestation of boredom or hide other reasons behind it. Research has found that the laziest students are often some of the most cognitively gifted. It is a teacher’s role to try and find the reason behind a student’s laziness and to encourage motivated and active learning.

      What is a lazy student?

      While a “lazy student” could vaguely be defined as one who refuses to do the work to fulfill their potential and maximize their capability, it is important for teachers to evaluate kids thoroughly before labeling them as such.

      It is widely argued that what is actually behind laziness is anxiety, boredom, or distraction. When teachers are confronted with what may look like laziness, like a late assignment or avoidance, a simple motivational speech for students will not do. They should examine the situational factors holding students back rather than labeling them as “lazy”.

      Studying techniques for “lazy students”

      Students who are bored at school and appear to be lazy often use a variety of techniques to help them study, such as:

      • Studying little and often vs. in one go
      • Using helpful apps that break down the material and make it easy to understand
      • Watching videos on the material to help them remember it
      • Studying with a friend in order to go through the material in-depth

      Causes of students’ laziness

      There are many reasons for the so-called students’ laziness. Some of these include:

      • FATIQUE: mental activity requires energy and when we are exhausted, our mind can’t work effectively.
      • POOR LIFESTYLE CHOICES: for example, staying up late and consuming junk food, which makes us lethargic.
      • DISTRACTION: for example, spending too much time on social media.
      • LACK OF SELF-WORTH: when people do not believe in themselves, they lack the drive to achieve goals.

      The teacher’s role in student motivation

      Teacher’s personality

      While a teacher’s job is to transmit academic knowledge to their students, their personality can make or break how effective they are. The emotional involvement, enthusiasm, openness, and creativity of the teacher are just as important as their in-depth knowledge of the curriculum.

      The importance of teacher enthusiasm

      Enthusiasm is one of the most essential characteristics of effective teachers. Teachers who have a positive attitude and show passion and excitement in their teaching tend to be very successful in engaging students and stimulating responses from them. Research shows that high levels of teacher enthusiasm have a positive impact on learning, making students more willing to contribute in class and even remain disciplined.

      Teacher conducting an electronic experiment in class

      Sharing common interests with your students

      Sharing common interests with the students helps to create a bond with them. Studies show that when people share commonalities, their relationships improve. It is, therefore, wise for teachers to reveal some details about themselves to students, in order to relate to them and find out what they may have in common. Common interests could include sports, the outdoors, a love for animals, or pop culture.

      How to motivate unmotivated students and help them study

      A teacher can help students stop feeling lazy while studying using a variety of different methods. First of all, teachers should try to discover the reason why students are procrastinating and feeling lazy. They should then focus on finding the best learning method for the students and encourage different styles of learning.

      Breaking down the material into reasonable chunks and helping students to understand the topic vs. just memorizing it will also help students to study, as will linking the material to real-world connections and encouraging short-term milestones.

      Setting goals

      Setting goals is fundamental to the academic success of students and can help them develop critical thinking skills, which will serve them all throughout life.

      ‘Smart goal setting’ implies creating realistic and specific goals and achieving them. SMART is actually a mnemonic acronym for a goal-setting method used in project management and personal development that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based. It has been proved that goals that are SMART have a greater chance of being accomplished.

      Each adjective basically implies the following:

      • Specific: Well-defined, clear, and unambiguous.
      Example: If you want to improve your French language skills, be precise and
      say “I want to improve my French grammar and pronunciation this
      year”.
      • Measurable: With specific criteria that measure your progress toward the accomplishment of the goal.
      Example: If you are working to improve your foreign language skills, decide to take a test to assess if you have made progress.
      • Achievable: Attainable and not impossible to achieve.
      Example: While learning Arabic is difficult to master, it is not impossible to learn. Don’t say you will be fluent in a year, but rather say you aim to have mastered the basics of it.
      • Realistic: Within reach, realistic, and relevant to your life purpose.
      Example: If you are working full-time and are a busy parent, you might find that you don’t have enough time to dedicate to learning a new language or skill. Make sure your goals are worth it: If you’re not going to use Japanese in your life, are you likely to commit to learning it?
      • Time-based: With a clearly defined timeline, including a starting date and a target date.
      Example: Tell yourself you will improve your Spanish in two, three or six months from now. If the goal is not time-constrained, there will be no sense of urgency.

      Discussing goals with students

      Settings goals and targets is key for improving academic performance. Teachers can be very valuable in helping students set goals to achieve their full potential, as they know what each student’s strengths and weaknesses are and will be there to track their performance.

      A comprehensive discussion between teachers and students about their learning objectives and the steps necessary to achieve them will help students take ownership of their learning and foster positive growth.

      Examples of personal learning goals

      Here are some examples of personal learning goals:

      • Improving reading skills (by reading one chapter of a book per day, for example)
      • Better grade at a certain subject (for example, going from C to B over a semester in Biology)
      • Developing good conversational skills in a foreign language (e.g. by incorporation of chat in the language into lessons)
      • Improving essay-writing skills (for instance, by assigning short story writing tasks)
      • Improving test-taking skills (e.g. practicing better transition times from task to task in the classroom)

      The significance of breaking large goals into small tasks

      When a goal is too large, we can end up feeling discouraged, dejected, or overwhelmed. Focusing on short-term educational achievements is a solution to this problem. Proper goal setting breaks intimidating aspirations into achievable milestones and leads to better results and greater levels of contentment and learning motivation.

      Motivating students using a vision board

      Vision boards are collages of inspirational images, quotes, and visuals that serve to motivate people to pursue their goals. They can be very effective when applied to education as they can be revisited daily by students and help them to visualize their academic goals, making them seem measurable and attainable while providing clarity and focus.

      Using a vision board in the classroom can be very motivating for students. You can either use a physical board or a digital one.

      Some advantages of physical vision boards are the following:

      • They are a hands-on project, involving touching, cutting and arranging, which can be exciting for students.
      • They are always physically present, and you don’t need to look for them on a computer.
      • They give you a finite amount of space, which keeps the students task-focused.

      On the other hand, some advantages of digital vision boards are:

      • They are easily shareable, so multiple students can view them.
      • They offer unlimited creative opportunities since you can pull images from anywhere on the internet to use.
      • They are accessible any time for all students, without having to be in the classroom.

      Aesthetically, you have many options when it comes to creating vision boards. Browsing for ideas online, you will find that some people prefer to create chaotic vision boards while others create well-structured ones.

      The truth is that there is no “correct way” to represent one’s goals and dreams visually. Different people have different tastes, and you should create something that is beautiful to you and that inspires you.

      Three good tips to create a vision board are:

      • Start by visualizing your specific goals.
      • Collect images to use from sources that inspire you.
      • Break down the process into manageable chunks – take your time and enjoy it!

      Student engagement

      Educators are cluing onto the fact that student engagement plays an important role in learning and are investing more and more thought and time into their student engagement strategies that will encourage them to participate in class and boost progress and achievement.

      What is engagement in the classroom?

      Student engagement refers to the degree of attention, participation, and interest shown by students during a lesson in the classroom. Engaged students will normally listen, take notes, and ask questions, demonstrating that they are invested in learning. More specifically, there are three different types of student engagement:

      • EMOTIONAL (how students feel about their education experience)
      • BEHAVIORAL (how attentive and active students are in class)
      • COGNITIVE (how intrinsically motivated and invested students are in the learning process)

      Student engagement’s impact on learning

      Student engagement results in higher educational achievement and can help students learn better by remembering more about lessons. Furthermore, a study in the British Educational Research Journal suggests that there is a connection between engagement in school and overall achievement several years later.

      Making a boring class fun

      An interesting class encourages student engagement, which is why educators are always looking for fun, new ways to deliver their lessons. Some suggestions for making a boring class fun include the following:

      • Creating classroom games (for example, spelling bees for an English lesson)
      • Using technology (for example, to connect to a classroom in another country during a foreign language lesson)
      • Relating material to real-life situations (for example, by giving students example tax calculation-related examples in Math class)
      • Inviting a guest speaker on a class topic (for example, someone who has lived through a historic event in History class)

      Student competition

      When prompted appropriately, competition in the classroom can be a very effective tool for discouraging complacency and maximizing student engagement, pushing them to excel.

      Prompting competition among students

      There is a lot of debate surrounding the topic of whether prompting student competition is good for them. While it can be argued that competition at school builds character, develops drive, and will help prepare kids for future life as adults in a competitive world, it can also lead to feelings of envy among students and diminished self-esteem.

      Girl in a warm sweater making notes in her notebook sitting on the window

      Educators should try to create a co-operative rather than a competitive environment, aiming for “healthy competition”. The healthy competition requires teamwork and positive participation, building classroom community skills in the process, and does not focus on winning.

      The advantages and disadvantages of students competing with their peers

      There are both advantages and disadvantages to students competing with their peers in the classroom:

      Disadvantages of competition:

      • It puts the learning process at risk by prioritizing winning, making the concepts of knowledge, and understanding the subject less important to the outcome.
      • It affects student relationships, potentially resulting in feelings of hostility and resentment among them.
      • It creates performance pressure, which can be very stressful for some kids.

      Advantages of competition:

      • It makes lessons fun and exciting, encouraging student participation.
      • It helps to develop a sense of drive and purpose in children, making them better positioned for when they find themselves in competitive environments in the future.
      • It encourages student communication and friendships.

      The advantages and disadvantages of students competing with themselves

      Some students can take the competition a step further and start to compete with themselves, always trying to improve their previous achievements. This type of ‘perfectionism’ can have both advantages and disadvantages, which are discussed below:

      Advantages of self-competition:

      • It encourages motivation, determination, and persistence.
      • It results in better grades.
      • It discourages procrastination.

      Disadvantages of self-competition:

      • It carries the risk of stretching oneself too thin.
      • It causes anxiety over small mistakes.

      Rewards

      Motivating students with rewards

      Motivating students can be one of the most challenging aspects of teaching, which is why a lot of teachers turn to rewards in order to stimulate learning and motivate good behavior. While rewarding systems are generally considered acceptable in education, there is some debate as to whether they should be used or not.

      The benefits of rewards, according to proponents of using them in the classroom, include increased motivation, boosted self-esteem, and a feeling of pride and achievement which often brings improved results.

      On the other hand, it is argued that rewarding leads to entitled attitudes and decreased effort for tasks not involving rewards. Effective educators should use rewards cautiously and steer clear of material motivators.

      Some great non-material and creative ways to reward students include:

      • Extra or longer recess time when a class has demonstrated good behavior
      • A field trip (even if it is a neighborhood walk to learn the area’s history)
      • Board Games
      • Movie day

      Self-rewarding

      Self-rewarding is vital for boosting one’s mood. When a behavior is followed by a pleasant outcome, we are more likely to repeat it, which is called positive reinforcement. Therefore, it is important that after a long study session or achieving desired results, students take some time to appreciate their efforts and reward themselves.

      Some common ways of self-rewarding are:

      • A Netflix break to watch an episode of a favorite show
      • A day off studying to spend with friends outdoors
      • Catching up on social media

      The problem with parents paying students for good grades

      Many parents pay their children for good grades as a way to increase students’ drive and motivation. However, there are many reasons why experts advise strongly against doing so.

      Paying for good student performance at school teaches kids that learning is not valuable in and of itself since the ultimate goal is money. Working hard in school should be the norm and not an exception, so paying for grades is highly likely to create entitled attitudes that will follow them onto their adult lives.

      Help your students find their road to success!

      Student motivation is the key to realizing one’s full academic potential. Teachers must concentrate their efforts on creating engaging learning environments for their students and work alongside them to encourage them to reach their goals. While classroom competition and reward systems are popular ways to motivate students, teachers should think outside the box when it comes to choosing their motivating strategies.

      As Eurekly is a large community of learners passionate about improving their academic skills, you should have no trouble finding a truly motivated student on our website!