One of the great challenges of teaching is motivating students in the classroom. It involves much more than giving Skittles to well-behaved students or promising a pizza party at the end of the year for hard work. Motivation is a process used to “arouse and initiate student behavior, give direction and purpose to behavior, help behavior to persist, and help the student choose a particular behavior” (Burton, Paul R. Classroom Management. p. 125). Successfully motivating students requires careful planning, intentional action, and consistent effort. Every endeavor to build students’ motivation must contribute to the end goal.
Motivation has four facets: interest, relevance, expectancy, and satisfaction. Interest refers to the need for students to be engaged in their learning. To be motivating, instruction must spark and sustain students’ curiosity. Relevance refers to the need for instruction to meet students’ needs and help them reach their goals. Students will be more motivated when they are able to make meaningful connections between what they are learning at school and their personal lives. Expectancy refers to the need for students to feel that they can be successful in the classroom. In order to motivate their students, teachers must instill confidence in them that they can accomplish what they are being asked to do. Satisfaction refers to “[students’] intrinsic motivations and their responses to extrinsic rewards” (p. 125). Students will be more motivated to learn when a balance of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards is used to help them grow to enjoy the learning process. Each of these dimensions is a key ingredient in the recipe of student motivation.
Motivation, in all its forms, has strong connections to classroom learning. Instruction that is interesting, relevant, satisfying, and that prepares students for success, is the fuel that empowers teachers to motivate their students. However, every student has a different level of motivation. There are four levels: extrinsic, introjected, identified, and intrinsic. Students who are extrinsically motivated require external sources (i.e. a tangible rewards) to engage them in learning. A student on the introjected level of motivation will participate in the learning process to avoid an unpleasant feeling, like guilt. Those on the identified level will get involved because they recognize the value of what they are learning. Intrinsically motivated students seek learning because they enjoy it. The goal is to inspire each student to be more intrinsically motivated to learn, and in my classroom I will use a variety of strategies to accomplish this goal.
Helping students become more intrinsically motivated requires using a balance of extrinsic and intrinsic motivators. Both are essential. Extrinsic rewards are important because they get students excited about learning. In my classroom, I will begin using extrinsic motivators very early in my students’ learning experience. Doing so will help them associate desirable outcomes with learning, increase their intrinsic motivation to learn, and make future motivators more effective. Timely praise can also be a powerful extrinsic motivator. It can quickly reinforce good behavior and strong work ethic. Students who know that their efforts to behave and work hard are recognized will be more motivated to continue exhibiting those characteristics.
Similarly, I want to catch my students modeling good behavior, especially those who are typically more challenging to manage. This accomplishes several things. Students will understand that I am not a policeman, anxiously waiting to pounce on them when they are misbehaving. Such a relationship between students and teachers can quickly become discouraging. Like timely praise, this practice of catching students doing good things will encourage them to model good behavior in the future and set them up to have successful experiences. Another practice I plan to implement in my classroom is giving rewards that are personally meaningful. Rewards serve a much greater purpose when they are personalized. I want my students to feel the sincerity of my appreciation for their good behavior, hard work, and positive contributions in the classroom.
Using intrinsic motivators is also necessary. To build intrinsic motivation in my students, I will give them individualized notes with specific positive feedback. More personal than verbal praise, these messages will praise students for factors within their control, such as effort, persistence, and preparation. These notes will communicate to students that they are in control of their success. Having that confidence will be extremely motivating. Another way I will intrinsically motivate my students is by selecting topics and activities that reflect the interests of my students. When they are interested and can look forward to future instruction, students will feel a greater desire to engage in the learning process. Learning will be more satisfying and personally relevant. Modeling excitement and interest in the classroom is another simple, yet powerful intrinsic motivator. I will show my students that learning can be fun and exciting and that it is something to be valued. I want them to know that the learning process is a rewarding, fulfilling, and enriching opportunity. Excitement is contagious and will help my students be more intrinsically motivated.
All of these strategies will work together to move my students from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation. Not every one will be effective or appropriate for each student. Because my students will all enter my classroom on a different level of motivation, it will be crucial that I tailor my strategies to their individual needs. Some will require more external motivators than others, but everyone, even my more internally motivated students, will receive them. I believe that extrinsic rewards replenish intrinsic motivation. They add variety and spontaneity to the learning process, which are vital to maintaining interest. I am confident that as I use a variety of motivation strategies I will be able to successfully lead my students to be more intrinsically motivated learners.