Strategies for Helping Students Motivate Themselves
Posted: Sept 22nd 2015
Providing students with freedom of choice is one strategy for promoting learner autonomy. Educators commonly view this idea of choice through the lens of organizational and procedural choice. Organizational choice, for example, might mean students having a voice in seating assignments or members of their small learning groups. Procedural choice could include a choice from a list of homework assignments and what form a final project might take — a book, poster, or skit.
Some researchers, however, believe that a third option, cognitive choice, is a more effective way to promote longer-lasting student autonomy. This kind of cognitive autonomy support, which is also related to the idea of ensuring relevance, could include:
Problem-based learning, where small groups need to determine their own solutions to teacher-suggested and/or student-solicited issues — ways to organize school lunchtime more effectively, what it would take to have a human colony on Mars, strategies to get more healthy food choices available in the neighborhood, etc.
• Students developing their own ideas for homework assignments related to what is being studied in class
• Students publicly sharing their different thinking processes behind solving the same problem or a similar one
Teachers using thinking routines like one developed by Project Zero at Harvard and consisting of a simple formula: the teacher regularly asking, “What is going on here?” and, after a student response, continuing with, “What do you see that makes you say so?”
Feedback, done well, is ranked by education researchers as number 10 out of 150 influences on student achievement.
But how do you handle providing critical feedback to students when it’s necessary? Since extensive research shows that a ratio of positive-to-negative feedback of between 3-1 and 5-1 is necessary for healthy learning to occur. The point is to “build and improve on ideas without using judgmental language.”
A high-quality relationship with a teacher whom they respect is a key element of helping students develop intrinsic motivation. What are some actions that teachers can take to strengthen these relationships?
Here are four simple suggestions adapted from Robert Marzano’s ideas:
1. Take a genuine interest in your students
Learn their interests, hopes, and dreams. Ask them about what is happening in their lives. In other words, lead with your ears and not your mouth. Don’t, however, just make it a one-way street — share some of your own stories, too.
2. Act friendly in other ways
Smile, joke, and sometimes make a light, supportive touch on a student’s shoulder.
3. Be flexible, and keep our eyes on the learning goal prize
One of my students had never written an essay in his school career. He was intent on maintaining that record during an assignment of writing a persuasive essay about what students thought was the worst natural disaster. Because I knew two of his passions were football and video games, I told him that as long as he used the writing techniques we’d studied, he could write an essay on why his favorite football team was better than its rival or on why he particularly liked one video game. He ended up writing an essay on both topics.
4. Don’t give up on students
Be positive (as much as humanly possible) and encourage a growth mindset.
Have students write about how they see what they are learning as relevant to their lives. Researchers had students write one paragraph after a lesson sharing how they thought what they had learned would be useful to their lives. Writing 1-8 of these during a semester led to positive learning gains, especially for those students who had previously been “low performers.”