Motivating Students

By Barbara Gross Davis, University of California, Berkeley.
From Tools for Teaching, copyright by Jossey-Bass.

Some students seem naturally enthusiastic about learning, but many need-or expect-their instructors to inspire, challenge, and stimulate them: “Effective learning in the classroom depends on the teacher’s ability … to maintain the interest that brought students to the course in the first place” (Ericksen, 1978, p. 3). Whatever level of motivation your students bring to the classroom will be transformed, for better or worse, by what happens in that classroom.Unfortunately, there is no single magical formula for motivating students. Many factors affect a given student’s motivation to work and to learn (Bligh, 1971; Sass, 1989): interest in the subject matter, perception of its usefulness, general desire to achieve, self-confidence and self-esteem, as well as patience and persistence. And, of course, not all students are motivated by the same values, needs, desires, or wants. Some of your students will be motivated by the approval of others, some by overcoming challenges.Researchers have begun to identify those aspects of the teaching situation that enhance students’ self-motivation (Lowman, 1984; Lucas, 1990; Weinert and Kluwe, 1987; Bligh, 1971). To encourage students to become self-motivated independent learners, instructors can do the following:

  • Give frequent, early, positive feedback that supports students’ beliefs that they can do well.
  • Ensure opportunities for students’ success by assigning tasks that are neither too easy nor too difficult.
  • Help students find personal meaning and value in the material.
  • Create an atmosphere that is open and positive.
  • Help students feel that they are valued members of a learning community.

Research has also shown that good everyday teaching practices can do more to counter student apathy than special efforts to attack motivation directly (Ericksen, 1978). Most students respond positively to a well-organized course taught by an enthusiastic instructor who has a genuine interest in students and what they learn. Thus activities you undertake to promote learning will also enhance students’ motivation.

Read the article in its entirety at http://www2.honolulu.hawaii.edu/facdev/guidebk/teachtip/motiv.htm
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