Over the years I’ve questioned many demotivated students, who commonly complain that ‘studying is boring’ and ‘it’s so difficult to focus’. Who can blame them?
The modern world is now full of distractions like never before, with young people’s senses being bombarded with stimulation at every corner. Social networking sites, iPads, smart phones and games are only a few of the many ways young people can entertain themselves.
So, how does this relate to motivating the modern student? It’s really very simple – we need to meet them where they are by integrating education into their world rather than forcing them into ours. The textbook may have proven its function, and still does to an extent, but an upgrade is clearly overdue.
Technological innovation in the education realm, and interactive learning is therefore a definite step in the right direction. The student market demands a more interesting and interactive form of learning, and as teaching providers, we need to give it to them! Not only will it become a more enjoyable experience, but will in turn promote a deeper understanding of the subject. It’s really a win-win situation!
When I was at school, I clearly remember that those who worked hard and achieved good grades were all too often put in the category of being a ‘boffin’ or ‘teacher’s pet’ (note that eight years later, many of these same people are now workaholics!). It just wasn’t ‘cool’ to want to do well. It always confused me – why wouldn’t everyone try their utmost to give themselves the best chance in life?
In my first year at Oxford University, I was AMAZED at the polar opposite attitudes. It was a place openly bubbling with thirst for knowledge and success, and that alone caused my motivation to rocket!
So, in some form, this very strange stigmatisation of a good work ethic that seems to be present in many youths (especially in the state sector) desperately needs to change. This is by no means an easy thing to do – it involves an altered mindset on a large scale. But it isn’t impossible, and by creating a strong work ethic in our young people today, the foundations will be laid for a motivated and successful future workforce.
Don’t Push Too Hard
One thing that can really KILL motivation in a student is pushing them too hard. Nagging, punishing and droning from a teacher or parent can often put excess pressure on them and turn academic achievement into a chore rather than an enjoyable path. Not to say that there should be no involvement! It is of course important to be there to encourage and provide gentle nudges in the right direction, whilst providing a suitable environment in which a student can peacefully work.
Rewards for effort are also important; I have noticed many times that even the most demotivated of my students really glow when they are given genuine praise for good work on something they didn’t think they could do. This natural ‘buzz’ encourages them to work harder in order to receive it again. Scientifically it is a form of conditioning – by rewarding great effort and ignoring the bad, we are subconsciously promoting incentive for our students to try their best. Bribery is useless – it cannot be stressed how vital it is to create a real INTRINSIC drive for young people in education!
So, take a sincere interest in what your child or student is doing, reinforce what they are good at, and offer help with what they struggle with. You will soon see the positive effects!
Confidence in Ability
There is a huge need to boost confidence in students, especially those who do not realise what they are capable of. An all too familiar scenario is one where a student thinks they are ‘just not good’ at writing an essay, or doing mathematics, and so understandably their drive is negatively affected: ‘What’s the point in trying? I already know I can’t do it’. But equipped with the very true ethos that ANYBODY can learn ANYTHING they put their mind to, a dramatic change in motivation can be seen.
Methods of teaching are therefore vital. Individuals learn in different ways, or may just need a little more time spent explaining an idea, but unfortunately that can be difficult for a teacher with a large class of students who each have different requirements.
Tuition is of course an obvious solution as individuals benefit from much closer attention; learning patterns can be analysed and teaching styles adapted. This leads to better information retention, improved understanding and enhanced motivation as the student realises that they can grasp absolutely anything they wish.
Pupils who feel that their workload and goals are just too much or too difficult, also often suffer from a lack of motivation. I have spoken with countless young people who admit that they just feel overwhelmed and therefore just don’t bother. But by simply helping them to break down what needs to be done, and actively demonstrating that it IS possible, these students are given an all important boost.
Some unmotivated students may lack the impetus to work hard at school simply because it can (quite understandably) be difficult to see the long-term benefits of education at such a young age. Most are already being fed and looked after with a roof over their heads, and so the prospect that they will need to do it for themselves one day may seem too far ahead to even consider thinking about!
Not only do young people therefore need this reality imprinted in their minds, but other ways to help them along should be considered. It is a good idea to give pupils short-term rewards for achievement, culminating in a bigger bonus of some sort so that they can see their progress in action. These rewards should be small and appropriate to the level and particular wants of the student – some might thrive on verbal praise, whilst others may prefer a book voucher! Either way, a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach is not beneficial, as is the case in many other areas of education. Addressing the specific needs of individual students, and tailoring approaches accordingly can have a much bigger impact than you may think!
With such a reward system in place at school and home, these extrinsic motivators can, over time, produce intrinsic motivation for academic success, the ultimate goal.
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