Motivating Students – Can It Be Done?

The topic I chose for my discussion is:  can motivating students actually be done?  I find that my greatest challenge is my Learning Support students and their lack of motivation.  I work in a district where Special Education is highly supported.  I have struggled in finding what motivates students who are primarily struggling with school and who might not see much success.  I work hard at finding lessons that pull students in and entice them to want to learn.   It is difficult for me to hook all of my students. 

I feel that doing well in school has a direct correlation to success in life.  I attended an in-service at my school this past January 2014 that was conducted by my peers who attended the Penn Literacy Network classes through the University of Pennsylvania (  Their excitement for working with students in order to entice them to write more was contagious. The reason I bring this up is because of what they shared with us. They stated that the number one factor in a student’s success was the education level of the student’s mother.  This bit of information to me was both enlightening and depressing.    I was excited for my own two children since I was presently pursuing a masters degree and love the art of learning, but depressed for my students knowing that many of their mothers did not have an education that lead to a desire for continued learning or higher education of any level. 

Do any of you have any suggestions for motivating students whose parents do not stress education?  I sure could use some suggestions!

I found this blog  addressing the topic of What Keeps Students Motivated to Learn.  It is very interesting in that many students are motivated by knowing that the teacher cares about them individually.  Do you agree with what the students state are the most important aspects of motivation? 


12 thoughts on “Motivating Students – Can It Be Done?

  1. I do agree with the students’ reasons. I think high-interest, hands-on, relevant projects are best received by students. And something I try to do (but could do better) is always explaining WHY we are doing something. If students don’t see the value in it, then they won’t care about it. I have also found that when a student knows the teacher cares, they do try harder, especially if a student has dug into a hole of missing assignments. If that students knows the teacher really cares and provides help to find a way out of the hole, they are more likely to be motivated to start digging out! Students who lack parental support at home especially need to feel cared for at school. I try to find something these students are good at, and make that a focus of our side-conversations as I walk around the room monitoring student work. Students love to share, and I realized that even though we are talking off-topic for a few moments, this seems to put students in a better mood with a better attitude for completing their work. These few moments of off-topic personal conversation are well worth it if the students are motivated afterwards.

  2. I think motivation is difficult. I hear time and time again that the kids are lacking work ethic; they are not motivated in their own learning. I will say that there are numerous kids that love learning; these are the kids that are questioning and digging deeper because they want to know more. I find that different things motivate different kids. One of the luxuries of have a self-contained classroom where I teach all subjects to all kids is that I am with them all day; I get to know them at a deeper level than if I only met with them for 50 minutes per day. The beginning of the year is where I try to find what motivates each of my students, for some it may be a reward for others it may be a consequence, while some do it to please. Caring about learning at some level needs to be intrinsic, I would love to know how to motivate those who don’t seem to have any intrinsic value of learning. I know that when I show an individual that I care about their learning they start to care more too.

  3. Mindy Smith says:

    It’s ironic that we’re having this discussion right now. I just met with my daughter’s school counselor an hour ago to discuss her placement for next year. The only thing that I wanted for her placement next year was that she be placed with a teacher that truly likes and cares about her. Because that is what it takes for my daughter to be motivated to go to school, enjoy school and do her very best while she is at school.
    Mindy 🙂

  4. WOW! I just sat here for five minutes thinking about my students and their mothers! Question: Does the mother have to be the biological mother… is the link genetics? Or are foster/adoptive/stepmothers the influence too… is it the environment?

    Next, I think you need to look at what the student sees in their future. A team of teachers (including myself) just discussed a student who is a 9th grader, on a 3rd grade reading level. He wants to go to the Tech. School for the Diesel program. While we hate to be dream crushers, the transition specialist and I refuse to let this student, who is not a very hard worker, to think this is possible when it is very likely that he will struggle greatly with the book work. We thought of a plan to help him boost his reading ability. Basically, he needs to practice reading EVERYTHING out loud. I explained to him that he has a little over a year to improve his reading…. but he needs to put forth the effort. I have him for reading class, so he completes a 1 minute reading probe, and then does a comprehension reading. After I do the 1 minute timed fluency probe, I have him sit there and read his entire comprehension one aloud to me. When he is with his emotional support teacher, he does a lot of one on one reading aloud with him as well. We sat down and connected how this was what he needed to improve in order to make it through the program. The transition specialist also pulled another support student in the diesel program to talk to the 9th grader about the program, what it takes, and let him ask questions.

    My point is, find out what the students want. Special Ed. gives you the ability to cater to the needs of each student… find out what they want to get out of their education, and build a map with directions on how to get there. After two weeks, this student is volunteering to read, he’s motivated to do well, he’s highlighting words he doesn’t know on his own and figuring them out. I am over the moon about his motivation to do well! If you only knew where this kid was at the beginning of last year!!!

  5. Motivating students can be a hard task. With vocational ed, students choose a pathway and if they truly want to be there, motivation is not as difficult as it is in a “regular” classroom. My high school students were motivated by the potential to help people, get a well-paying job while still in high school, and learn about things that interested them, but there were still times when Isaw poor decision making about valuing learning.

    Some of our English teachers allow students to choose some of their own articles and books. I have read about having a “guest parent” day. The parent spend time in the classroom and gets to see what the students are doing. Although often used in the elementary classroom, it can extend to the middle and high school levels as well. When the parent is familiar with what goes on in the classroom, they converse more with their children about the school day activities and motivation may increase.

    Getting involved with extra-curricular activities is another way to increase motivation or at least help students keep their grades at an acceptable level.

    In the end, I think students need to connect what they are learning to the things that are important to them, whether it be getting a job, pop culture, music, athletics, church activities, dance, etc. Good luck!

  6. Ah Linda, the million dollar question, how to motivate students? Were there an easy answer to this question our students would all be honor roll and always excited to come to school and learn.

    But there isn’t.

    When my students say, “This is boring” I tell them boredom is a choice. They always disagree. They think somehow things are innately interesting.

    So then I ask them about a book or a movie or TV show they like. I ask if everyone else liked it. (They never do.) Some may even think that book or show is boring.

    I ask about favorite subjects, the usual answers come in. And when questioned, they can see that whatever they happen to like, may not be the same thing as someone else.

    And so we return to the point- boredom is a choice. I tell them they can choose to be interested in anything, or be bored with everything. And then I ask them who they would rather be, someone who is interested in things, or someone who is bored with everything?

    Very few choose bored.

    But that doesn’t mean they become magical motivation machines either. It just gets them to think about their choices. And we all like choices.

    So that’s the best I’ve got. Give kids choices. Show them how they can influence their own minds to make better choices. Then trust them to make a good decision.

    I’d like to think it works more than it fails. And should it fail, try again. -Jim

  7. Tyler Winters says:

    I continually ask myself the question, “How do we as educators motivate our students?” To me, this is the million dollar question. If it were that easy to answer, my job teaching would be a piece of cake. However, every student and their home life is different, and with that comes a variety of challenges. Unfortunately, I believe most of a child’s interest to do well falls back on the parents. Parents who come in to conferences, ask questions about their child’s report card, and email frequently tend to have a higher success rate in school.

    There are however exceptions with some students who do not have parents at home to stay on top of their schooling, but still do well in school. For those kids, may be there is someone else they look up to. I have one child in particular that has an okay home life, his mom calls and emails, yet has been the biggest challenge for me to motivate this year. It is on a rare occasion that I can intrigue him in what we are doing. There is nothing more frustrating than the conversations I have with him when he tells me his is bored, but cannot provide me with an answer to tell me how it can be fixed. Most of the time he responds with I don’t like school, why do we have to be here? While I am not able to control variables outside of school, I can do my best to ensure what I offer during my lessons is engaging to all of my students.

  8. I think the question that you shared is one that many educators feel the same about. How do we motivate every student? How do we reach students who come from a background where education isn’t stressed to the child? I do agree with the students in the article that you posted. If students know that the teacher truly cares and has high expectations they are more likely to want to do do their best. Even with that said, this still doesn’t reach every child. I like how students talked about learning being hands on, related to real life, and integrated across the curriculum. That made a good point to me. Even though we do multiple projects each year, I do need to find ways to integrate the project to different content areas. As educators we really believe that every student can be reached, that every student can be motivated to learn. Without that belief I don’t think that we would be doing what we do!

  9. I could find a statistic to prove any angle, if I search long enough. Relating a personal message will substantiate my point-of-view! Both of my parents are not college educated, my father is foreign born, and my mother never “worked” outside the home. They are the backbone America. My father is self-made. They taste the ample of America. They live the American dream, as did/do I. The proof is in the pudding!
    I will add, my eight year old son, urges and begs me to “become a doctor.” He has the value for education! Ph.D. may be in my future. Can anyone help pay?

  10. Integrated projects seem to be a great motivator for students, however if the project is something that is done outside the classroom it depends greatly on parental involvement. If parents are not actively engaged with their child’s education these project are usually poorly done. In my classroom I realize that money and the student’s lack of access supplies they might need. To help remedy some of that, I have supplies that they might need in class, which has helped the problem.
    Another aspect I liked from your link was learning from mistakes. I don’t think as educators or parents, for that matter, emphasize how much learning from your mistakes is one of the best ways we learn. Growing up, I was that, my parents and grandparents would not criticize me for making mistakes, but encourage me to think about what I could do differently to learn from it. I in turn have done the same to my children and my students. For example in math every morning I have a problem on the board and I call it, “My Favorite No”. After all students have answered, I go over them and pick out the problem that showed great mathematical skills, but did something wrong that caused them to get the wrong answer. Example would be 7^2 x 1. I USE TO have students do 7 x 2, instead of 7 x 7. So, I would pull the 7 x 2 to show the class, NEVER using names. All my students know how to use exponents correctly because they learned a lesson not only from their mistake, but also their classmates.

  11. I believe anyone can be motivated by finding what they like. Once you do this you can motivate for a certain amount of time through books, movies, clips, technology, incentives, and lectures. However, they must get the grade, and see progress to continue motivation, you must build confidence, and get them to believe in themselves.

  12. I feel the biggest key to student motivation is showing the students you truly care about them as people. I try to get to know each of my students on a personal level, and show them that I am there for them whenever needed. On day one every year I explain to them that we are a family, and need to be there for each other throughout the year. I also have found that student motivation increases when you show interest in them outside of school, whether it be going to their plays, dance recitals, or sporting events. I think a lot of this comes from students not wanting to disappoint a teacher they know doesn’t just consider them part of a number. Students can sense when a teacher doesn’t truly care about them, which in turn lowers motivation as the teacher’s opinion of them isn’t as meaningful. Also, just simple things like replacing ordinary word problems to include student names or interests can be an easy way to increase motivation in any lesson.

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