Strategies for Increasing Motivation
Ample research has demonstrated that school practices can and do affect a student’s level of motivation (Lumsden, 1994). Skinner and Belmont (1991) caution, however, that this may not always be for the better:
If left to run their typical course, teachers tend to magnify children’s initial levels of motivation. This is fine for students who enter the classroom motivationally “rich”; they will “get rich.” However, for students whose motivation is low, their typical classroom experiences may result in its further deterioration (p. 31).
To be sure, efforts to promote student motivation need not be directed solely at students who have low levels of motivation. All students (and all schools, for that matter) would benefit from higher levels of engagement and motivation to succeed (Anderman & Midgley, 1998; Lumsden, 1994). Following are suggestions for both teachers and administrators seeking to increase students’ motivation to learn:
At the classroom level:
Use extrinsic rewards sparingly. If extrinsic motivators are to be used, they are most effective when rewards are closely related to the task accomplished. Also, rewards should only be given when they are clearly deserved. Giving a prize for minimally successful work sends the message that minimum effort is acceptable, and the reward then becomes meaningless (Brooks et al., 1998).
Ensure that classroom expectations for performance and behavior are clear and consistent (Skinner & Belmont, 1991). Help students understand the criteria for individual assignments by giving them examples of high-, average-, and low-level work and then providing an opportunity to discuss how each piece was evaluated (Strong et al., 1995).
Make students feel welcome and supported (Lumsden, 1994). Elementary school students in particular need to feel that teachers are involved in their lives. Take time to get to know students, talk to them individually, and “express enjoyment in [your] interactions” (Skinner & Belmont, 1991).
Respond positively to student questions, and praise students verbally for work well done (Dev, 1997).
Work to build quality relationships with students, especially those considered to be at-risk and without other positive adult interaction; this is a critical factor of student engagement that allows children to foster a sense of connection with school (McCombs & Pope, 1994).
Break large tasks into a series of smaller goals (Lumsden, 1994). Doing so prevents students from becoming overwhelmed and discouraged by lengthy projects.
Promote mastery learning (Anderman & Midgley, 1998). “When a student completes an assignment that does not meet the expected criteria, give her or him one or more opportunities to tackle the task again, with guidelines on how to achieve the desired result” (Dev, 1997, p. 17).
Evaluate student work as soon as possible after project completion, and be sure that feedback is clear and constructive (Strong et al., 1995).
Evaluate students based on the task, not in comparison to other students (Anderman & Midgley, 1998; Dev, 1997; Lumsden, 1994).