Motivation is an internal state that calls us to action, pushes us to pursue a given direction, and keeps us engaged.
Motivation allows all of us, including students, to start and persist in activities. Naturally, it affects students’ personal investment in school activities as well as their time on task. It can also increase individuals’ energy and activity levels, which influences whether students will approach school in a manner that is active and engaged or passive and disengaged. Motivation directs us and our actions toward certain goals. This means it affects the choices students make and which activities they make priorities. Motivation can also affect the learning and cognitive processes applied to a task. That is, high levels of motivation contribute to higher levels of cognitive engagement. Students with high motivation are more likely to use mental processes such as paying attention, learning meaningfully, elaborating, monitoring comprehension, and identifying inconsistencies in information.
The interesting thing is, students are always motivated in some way or another. Each student has some motive that is created by a desire for certain outcomes. Sixth grade students, for example, may have a range of motives such as learning the material being presented in class, getting good grades, outperforming classmates, completing assignments quickly, or impressing classmates. Of course, the same students could also be motivated to avoid thinking about math, get out of doing homework, appear “cool” to other students (even if that means doing poorly in school), or impressing other students by acting out in class. As teachers, parents, or therapists, we can help direct students’ motivation toward meaningful and productive endeavors.
We can do this by exploring the two types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation lies outside the individual and is in play when a student strives to achieve an external reward such as points, grades, or special treats. Intrinsic motivation lies within the individual and is present when a student finds a task itself enjoyable or worthwhile. Intrinsic motivation has several advantages, because students often pursue tasks without prodding, show creativity, regulate their own progress, are actively engaged, and persist when difficulties arise. Students who are intrinsically motivated tend to achieve at high levels, strive for true understanding of the material, and seek out additional opportunities to apply their new skills or knowledge. Of course, having all intrinsically motivated students would be ideal; however, we should not assume that the presence of extrinsic motivators negates intrinsic motivation. Most situations or motivators have both extrinsically and intrinsically motivating qualities. For example, receiving an A on a paper may be extrinsically motivating if the parent rewards the child with a new toy for getting the grade while the same A is intrinsically motivating because the student feels a sense of pride and knows that he or she mastered the material.
So what can we do to increase students’ motivation? First, establish an academic climate that the student finds caring, supportive, and interesting. They should feel competent, respected, and valued. To accomplish this, parents and teachers should nurture learning and facilitate exploration and change. At home, this may mean creating a “learning center” in the home where the student’s learning is encouraged and they are allowed to explore. For example, this “learning center” may include blocks to explore mathematical principles or a chemistry set to explore science.
Parents may also nurture learning by regarding the student positively, practicing acceptance and validation of emotions, reassurance, and satisfaction. This means that if a student becomes frustrated with schoolwork, this frustration should not be met with denial or additional frustration from the parent. Rather the parents should express understanding of the frustration and provide reassurance that the academic difficulty can be overcome.
Creating a nurturing learning environment in which students are encourage to explore is a great step toward fostering academic motivation in your child. This step will form the foundation where additional motivating factors can be added. Stay tuned for additional steps toward motivating your child in my next blog.