Much of our lesson planning time and energy is spent figuring out how best to motivate students to learn. We know that even the best content and crucial academic skills can go unlearned unless students are motivated. We also know that the best learning motivation comes from within students, not in response to external incentives and consequences attached to whether students choose to learn.
Of course, some learning inherently is interesting, meaningful, and attractive for students. Known as intrinsic motivation, this drive to learn is commonly generated by one or more of the following conditions:
Students feel confident in their ability to succeed.
Students see their actions as directly contributing to an outcome.
Students find value or are interested in what they’re learning.
Students expect the learning effort they’re giving will lead to a sense of belonging or approval.
So, what might these conditions look like in practice? Consider these five research supported examples to generate even more possibilities.
It benefits students to see that what they’re learning is important or fun. The keys are for learning to be purposeful and to keep the focus on learning benefits, not grades. If students perceive learning as fun, adding dimensions to make it even more fun enhances the learning experience. Interestingly, according to research, if students see learning as important, adding a dimension of fun has little positive impact on their learning.
Encourage students to share their best learning strategies and advice with another student to create learning advantages. Students often find getting advice from another student easier and more comfortable than from an adult. Surprisingly, studies show the greatest impact from students sharing advice can be on the student who shares the advice.
Coach students to engage in productive self-talk. For example, students can remind themselves that they’re capable, competent, and creative and can recall past successful situations. Also, students may remind themselves of the consequences for not completing an assignment or feeling disappointment if they fail in their work.
Another way is to encourage students to set up routines and organize their immediate environment to create a state of mental readiness and reduce interruptions. For example, students choose to follow consistent steps as they organize study materials, put away distractions, and get ready to focus. They also may establish consistent locations where they study. The consistency of preparation and location makes getting started easier as it becomes the next step of a familiar routine in a comfortable space. For extended learning sessions, having more than one location to shift to after an hour or so creates a motivating enhancement.
Finally, we can give students procedural and cognitive choices. In contrast to organizational choices, such as choosing where to sit or what partners with whom to work, procedural choices invite students to decide how they’ll approach an assignment or display their learning. Cognitive choices extend to strategies students will use to engage in their work, prior learning and skills they’ll employ, and what processes they’ll use to solve a problem. While organizational choices provide students a sense of belonging, procedural choices generate early motivation for students to get started and cognitive choices generate interest, ownership, and commitment to learning activities.
We know each student arrives with different needs, interests, and aspirations. The more we know about them the better able we’re to design experiences and present learning tasks they’ll find motivating. However, our long-term goal needs to be for students to recognize how they can motivate themselves. These five research-based strategies are a great place for them to start.
Sparks, S. (2022, April 24). 3 Counterintuitive findings about motivation that teachers can use. Education Week.
Stefanou, C. R., Perencevich, K. C., DiCintio, M., & Turner, J. C. (2004). Supporting autonomy in the classroom: Ways teachers encourage student decision making and ownership. Educational Psychologist, 39(2), 97–110. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15326985ep3902_2