Motivating Students

There are several ways to motivate students with our personality, the subject matter, specific teaching styles, and lastly, through assignments and tests. I gravitated towards the strategies that I believe would be helpful for my younger educational self. 

1)    Make the course personal: specifically, writing students congratulatory letters/notes when they do well on a test. I have noticed that this is valuable in primary schools (grades K-12). Students during this span are transitioning at each stage. Support and encouragement go a long way in determining where they see themselves in their future academic careers. Also, developmentally children/teens flourish in an environment that encourages their strengths instead of environments that exploit their weaknesses. 

However, why does this encouragement slowly decrease as the child/teen gets older? Studies have also explained that employees express higher interest in their work when they are given positive feedback about their performance. People need this encouragement at any developmental stage in their life, and as educators, we have high stakes in how a student perceives their intellect, intelligence, and self-efficacy.

2)    Create a safe learning environment: it is important to express to students that failures are also an essential part of learning and growing.  Our educational system has developed in a direction that praises success and diminishes failure. There is a heavy presence and push for academic achievement (GPA, test scores, research, internships). Does this environment open up the space for possible failure, misunderstanding, or uncertainty? 

I have noticed that myself and other students I have worked alongside, find it difficult to fail, or to be seen as a failure. That may come from extrinsic motivators or intrinsic pressures on the self. However, reality testing or trial and error practice help make people intrinsically stronger. I believe intrinsic motivations are more beneficial for students in the long run. Statements like “don’t second guess yourself,” “say what is on your mind,” “it is okay to have a different perspective” (instead of, “it’s okay to be wrong”), can all open the space for the diversity of thought. 


I would like to capitalize on the goal-setting theory. After the first three weeks of class, I would ask my students to create a goal for themselves that pertains to the course and a goal for themselves that does not ( a goal that focuses on another aspect of their life). The student and I would only have access to this information. Through assignments, tests, and participation, I would offer them observed feedback about their progress toward the goal. At the midterm and final term, I would ask to meet with the students to gather their thoughts on how their intentions were manifesting. 

The purpose of this activity is to work with the students in building their interests and motivations to accomplish what they want. I would be a supporting assistant in the process that can see their performance from a different perspective. Whether they did or did not accomplish their goals would not matter. Fundamentally, the activity would guide them in continuing to set goals that they deemed valuable. The students gain autonomy and also have a supporter in the process.

I found some humor in this week’s reflection, mainly because I found myself struggling to be intrinsically motivated. I was worried that I was already plateauing in the semester. I have learned more about the root of unmotivated students and the components needed to motivate a student, rather than personal motivational tips. Nonetheless, this reflection helped me to realize that I would be working with a variety of students who all would be experiencing the world in different ways. It would be necessary to understand what their personal needs were, and most importantly, what I would do to get them involved/present in the class.

With Intention, Sarafina