Motivating the Unmotivated
By Debbie Cargill
How do students become self-motivated learners?
In Hattie’s Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement (2009), motivation is ranked 51st (of 138) in terms of its impact on student achievement. Dörnyei (2001) noted that “motivation is highest when students are competent, have sufficient autonomy, set worthwhile goals, get feedback, and are affirmed by others” (as reported in Hattie, 2009).
A first step in helping students become self-motivated learners is to create a classroom culture of cooperation and collaboration in which students’ voices are heard and honored. Students should also become active partners in planning their own learning.
Educational writers and researchers have identified many strategies for motivating students. Among those are the following:
• Make sure they understand. Do students know what you are asking them to do? There are several tools and strategies in the LEARNING-FOCUSED Strategies Model that ensure expectations are clear for students. The Student Learning Map visually shows the key concepts, skills, essential questions, and vocabulary to be learned in a unit. The Lesson Essential Question focuses the lesson and communicates what you want students to know and be able to do by the end of the lesson. Students know that they must answer the question.
• Make learning interactive. Are your students actively engaged in the learning? In the Acquisition Lesson plan, there are multiple opportunities for students to be engaged. The use of collaborative pairs allows for talking about the learning. Assessment Prompts, distributed summarizing, distributed practice, and Summarizing Strategies that answer the Essential Question help to maintain a high level of student engagement. When engaged in Extending Thinking activities, students are typically actively participating in a project or performance. Engaging work should stimulate curiosity and creativity which serves as motivation for students.
• Make sure you care about your students as individuals. Do students feel like valued members of your classroom community? When students can make sense of and connect to the learning, they are more likely to see it as relevant. Recognizing different learning styles and providing opportunities for choice when demonstrating learning gives students a greater buy in.
• Give frequent and specific feedback. Are students aware of how well they are doing or of the progress they have made toward a goal? To ensure student success, tasks should neither be too hard or too easy. Appropriate and timely feedback helps students to stay on task and move forward with the learning process. Assessment Prompts and distributed summarizing by collaborative pairs builds feedback into your lessons.
Motivating students to become self-motivated learners requires deliberate and thoughtful planning of lessons and units that engage students with clear expectations and opportunities for success.
Educational Leadership. What Helps Us Learn? February 2010, Volume 67, Number 5, Pages 68-69.
Hattie, John A.C. (2009). Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Routledge, New York.