Sparking Motivation

April 20, 2015
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Work with students to create and establish clear goals.

One cry reverberating throughout schools from administrators and parents nationwide laments, "Our students are not motivated." Many feel that if students would only try harder, they would do better.

Neuroscience research in motivation* shows us that the exact opposite is true. If students did better, they would try harder. It is after all quite common to avoid what you feel you are not good at. However, if just once you were complimented on that particular area you tended to avoid, you may well have had the motivation to build those skills. Likewise, our students need to experience some sense of success to spark that belief in their ability to achieve.

For some students, the larger goal of "passing" or "recovering credit" is too big and ultimately overwhelming. We can help these students cultivate the spark by breaking larger goals into daily tasks. Students get the chance to focus on present objectives with timely and meaningful feedback. This is where the doing better to try harder lives. If a student believes that they can finish their day's work or the task at hand and know they did well or had support when things were confusing, they are likely to leave feeling more competent and confident. In this scenario, motivation to try harder is building daily.

Here are a few tips to help students experience success:

  • Work with students to create and establish clear goals. Start small—daily progress goals can create measurable paths to success. Celebrate success! A change in attitude can be success, improved attendance, and one right answer can be a success!

  • Create scenarios to boost confidence. If a student is struggling with a particular concept, find a way to reframe a problem or question in a way that they are likely to understand.

  • Create a Student Wall of Fame.

  • Factor in additional weekly perks. Music Mondays or Food Fridays are great ways to reward progress and encourage participation.

The hope is that today, if we can help our students experience success on any scale, they will be encouraged to try. And if we let students know that we believe they are capable, they may believe us. There is immense power in believing in someone. We are motivated to do our best when we know there are those who believe in us.

*Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids' Brains and What Schools Can Do About It, Eric Jenson. Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development (ASCD), 1st edition, 2009.
*Mindset: The new Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck. Ballentaine Books; Reprint Edition, 2007.

Beth Connelly, M.S., CCC, SLP is a Speech and Language Pathologist and a Success Manager at Apex Learning. She has worked at clinics, schools, and universities and has written programs on Language and Literacy



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