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Motivating Your Students

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Three Elements of Motivation

At its simplest, motivation is comprised of three critical elements:

  1. Expecting success

  2. Developing a community of learners

  3. Placing a value on learning

Your awareness of these three factors and your willingness to address these issues in your classroom will determine, to a large extent, how well your students will be motivated. These factors are equally important for elementary students as they are for secondary students.

Expectations of Success

Whether you're teaching kindergarten students about the letter B or you're teaching adolescents about the social ramifications of Salvador Dali's painting The Persistence of Memory, you must provide instruction that will ensure a measure of success for every student. Each student must know that she or he can achieve a degree of success with an assignment or academic task.


Differentiated instruction is a respect for the different ability levels in your classroom and, therefore, a respect for each student's ability to succeed. You might provide one type of learning task for struggling students and another for independent students. You might need to adjust the time available for completion of an assignment or offer additional assistance for another.

Often, people don't try new things because they're afraid of failure. This fear of failure begins early in our academic careers and carries forward into our adult lives. As classroom teachers, we must establish and promote conditions that will emphasize and support an expectation of success for each student. Try these ideas:

  • Offer differentiated instruction. Be aware that you'll have students of differing abilities in your classroom. Don't make the mistake of crafting a single lesson for everybody—without taking into consideration the different ability levels.

  • Provide feedback promptly, frequently, and efficiently. Students must be able to see a direct connection between any effort or completed task (such as homework) and a response from you. Here are some suggestions for providing successful feedback:

    • Make feedback immediate. (“I'm returning the social studies test you took yesterday.”)

    • Never be sarcastic when giving feedback. (“Everybody must have had a 'brain freeze' when you did this assignment!”)

    • Allow students to revise their incorrect responses. (“I'm not sure that's correct. Is there another way we could do this?”)

    • Use verbal as well as written feedback. (“You must feel pretty good when you do work like this.”)

    • Allow students to control some feedback. (“How do you think you did on the scooter test?”)

    • Make comments specific, and suggest corrections. (“You provided a good rationale for Wilson's League of Nations, but you might want to look further into Congress's response.”)

    • Offer feedback in terms of a student's progress, not her or his comparison with others. (“Look how you moved from 14 correct on the spelling test to 17 correct this week.”)

  • Students should have multiple opportunities to set their own academic goals. Invite them to establish obtainable goals for a lesson, a unit, or even for the whole year. Ask them what they would like to learn about a topic and what they think they must do to learn that material. Psychologists tell us that the goals we set for ourselves (as opposed to the goals others set for us) are intrinsically more motivational. We're more inclined to pursue those goals and relish in the success that comes about when we achieve them.

  • Help students see the connection between effort and result. Let students know that the work they put into an assignment will result in the completion of a task or some new material learned. It's important that students understand that learning is work and that the more they work, the more they can learn.

A Community of Learners

Human beings have basic needs such as water, air, and food. But we also need a feeling of "belongingness"—a knowledge that we are part of a group and are recognized by that group.

Psychologists tell us that children are no different. Take a look at the following chart, which outlines some of the needs of students at various levels.

Grades, AgesNeeds
Elementary, 5 to 11Warmth, support, assurance, participation, acceptance
Middle school, 11 to 14Group membership, peer acceptance, admiration
High school, 14 to 18Acceptance, respect, peer group conformation

Note that at all ages and at all levels, students want and need to be respected members of a group. Effective group membership is essential to establishing positive learning environments where collaboration, meaningful student interaction, class cohesion, and individual motivation are valued.

I refer to this as a community of learners—a classroom that celebrates all its members and provides a supportive, inspirational, and motivational environment. Composed of four elements, a community of learners…

  • Celebrates student events and accomplishments.

  • Provides success for all.

  • Celebrates humor.

  • Has a fair, purposeful classroom structure.

A community of learners can be established in any classroom. Here are some ideas for turning your classroom into a community of learners:

  • Take time for student interaction. Student interaction and sharing enhances instructional time and prepares students to function more effectively as a body of learners. We must recognize the importance of these dynamics and find ways to celebrate student life.

  • Spend time at the beginning of the year talking about guidelines students find in their homes. Draw parallels from the home as a learning environment to being a family of learners in the classroom.

  • Celebrate the accomplishments that make a group cohesive. Recognize the work of cooperative groups, inform the class about its accomplishments over time, and inform students about the goals they're attaining.

  • Use a morning meeting to foster an atmosphere of trust and respect. A meeting in which students feel safe to take risks is necessary for learning. During these morning meetings, students and the teacher gather in a circle for 10 to 15 minutes and greet one another in a personal way, listen and respond to one another's news, practice academic and social skills, and share appropriate news and announcements.

  • Provide numerous opportunities for students to share their accomplishments with the class and the class to share their achievements with the larger school community. Use skits, plays, readers theater productions, library displays, bulletin boards, a class newspaper or newsletter, or other media to promote the efforts of the whole classroom.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Success as a Teacher © 2005 by Anthony D. Fredericks. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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