Written by Russ Gadzhiev, PhD
“When something is important enough, you do it even the odds are not in your favour.” – Elon Musk
“Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” – Lao Tzu
“I don’t believe you have to be better than everybody else. I believe you have to be better than you ever thought you could be.” – Ken Venturi
There is nothing more frustrating for a teacher than seeing that their students’ motivation is on the wane or even non-existent at all. Indeed, if students lack motivation, they are unwilling to learn. They feel bored, they are not engaged and sometimes they can even disrupt the class and prevent other students from learning.
Fortunately, as a teacher, there are many interesting and effective techniques and strategies that you can use in order to make your students more motivated and engaged. In this short article, we are going to discuss these.
First, let me tell you about some scientific facts that will help you get a better understanding of how to motivate others. Scientists have established that there are two types of motivation that we all may have: intrinsic and extrinsic.
So, what do we mean by saying “extrinsic” motivation? Here I am talking about the motivation that is caused by the fact that someone is offered rewards. For example, if a student is motivated because he knows that he will receive a good grade, then it means that he is driven by his extrinsic motivation. The same thing happens when students are motivated knowing that they will be praised by their parents.
Although to you, as a teacher, this type of motivating students may sound like a good idea, research has shown that extrinsic motivation does not last long. It is simply not sustainable. We all know that if students lose their extrinsic motivation (for example, when they know that they won’t get a good mark), then they will probably lose interest in doing work.
Now, what about intrinsic motivation? Unlike extrinsic motivation, this type of motivation is driven by so-called “internal rewards”. For example, students may be genuinely interested in the subject and have a genuine desire to keep on learning. Although this type of motivation may be a little more difficult to instil in students, this is the most suitable one if their learning is concerned.
Now, I am not saying that extrinsic motivators are bad. Not at all. They are just not sustainable. So probably the best way to improve your student’s motivation is to make sure that they have both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. Here are some tactics that will help your students become more motivated.
Provide Students a Clear Plan and Specific Lesson Objectives
It is very easy for students to become frustrated and lose motivation if they have no clue what they are learning and what the whole point of their class is. Students naturally want to know what is expected of them and knowing what is coming helps them retain their focus. So do not forget to tell your students about the learning objectives of your class. If you are teaching a face-to-face class, write a short list of the class’s goals and do not erase it until the lesson is over. If you are teaching an online class, devote two or three minutes to explaining what you will cover in class. That way you will give your students a sense of direction and they will feel like they are in control of their learning. This will help them stay motivated too.
Also, introduce class rules. They are very important in guiding students through their educational journey. And if you do decide to come up with some rules, then make sure that your students understand them well and make sure that you also write them somewhere on the board. This will prevent students from becoming confused.
Help Students Identify Their Intrinsic Motivators
Once you have identified them, teaching your students will become much easier. You can even have some reflection sessions, during which you can discuss with your students their ideas about why learning the subject of your class is important. Give everyone a chance to speak and listen carefully to what they say. If you see that your students indeed have intrinsic motivations, reinforce them by praising them for their thoughtful answers. Tell them that you agree with their ideas.
At the end of each class, you can also have a short five-minute reflection session, connecting the subject matter of their class to students’ lives. For example, if you are teaching students about the issue of global warming or environmental pollution, you can ask them at the end of the class – how can you help your local community to improve the environmental situation? How can the concepts and ideas that they have just learnt make a difference in their life? By reflecting on the links between the class material and their life, students will be able to understand that what they are learning is relevant and important.
Change Your Classroom Environment
This is another effective way to spark motivation in your students and renew their interest in the materials you are studying. It goes without saying that sitting in the classroom all day may be tiring and may have a negative effect on your student’s motivation. Besides, it is simply not good for health to sit so much. So, what you can do is simply take your students outside on an excursion or a trip. If, for example, you are studying history, you can take your students to a local museum. If you are teaching your students how to write research papers or compile a bibliography, take them to a local library and give them a research task there. This will make them more motivated. They will be able to feel that they are using the knowledge gained in the classroom in practical ways.
You can even teach a class in a park if the weather permits. Of course, some preparation will be necessary for such a class. But it will be more enjoyable for your students. So, think about how you can change your classroom environment and do it!
Make Genuine Efforts to Get to Know Your Students!
It is important for your student to feel that you genuinely care about their progress and even what is going on outside your classroom. To get to know your students better you can organize counselling sessions with them, which do not have to last for more than 5 minutes.
If you are teaching a face-to-face class, you can give your class a task and then take your student out of the classroom one by one. Ask them how they are feeling, and how has their learning been going. Ask them if they have any difficulties with the new materials and if they think that there is something that they still have not learned. Be open-minded when communicating with your students. If you feel like there is something going on in their lives that can negatively affect their learning do not try to find out what it is. Let the student speak and carefully listen to what they are saying. Students will always appreciate your attempts to understand them and get to know them better.
If you are teaching online, then counselling is also possible. If you are using Zoom, you can create so-called break-out rooms and talk to your students as well. Counselling is important both in face-to-face and online classes as it helps you develop a good rapport with students and makes your students feel safe.
There are four important strategies that every teacher can employ when trying to improve their students’ motivation. Remember that to spark genuine, intrinsic motivation in your students, just giving them a good mark for their work or giving them praise is not enough. Instead, you should encourage them to think about what benefits they can get from their classes. You should also remember that sometimes it is a good idea to change the classroom environment and take your students on an excursion or to a local park museum, where they will be able to see for themselves the value of the knowledge that they receive in your class.
Russ Gadzhiev obtained his PhD in history and politics from University of Melbourne. He also holds a master’s degree in International Relations from Moscow State University of International Relations, a top-ranking diplomatic school. Russ is a strong education professional with a history of working in the higher education sector of Australia and effectively communicates with learners from diverse cultural backgrounds. He is enthusiastic about teaching and mentoring, writing, curriculum development, research, information management and public speaking. He is fluent in Russian, English, Spanish and Portuguese.