Why does it matter?
The question “Do you think your teacher wants you to work your hardest?” addresses an essential part of gathering feedback about students’ perceptions of school. Whether or not not teachers’ want their students to work their hardest, if students aren’t made to believe this through clear and regular messaging, they effect is lost.
The science of student motivation
If students aren’t motivated, learning is hampered. Usable Knowledge’s resource on student motivation enlists research from The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child on the “machinery of motivation” to make the findings actionable for educators. The study broke motivation down into two kinds: approach motivation and avoidance motivation. Approach motivation is foundational to most forms of learning. Avoidance motivation, however, can get in the way of learning by making us focus on our immediate response to the task rather than the long-term goal. Both remain important, but the latter can lead to anxiety and fear. While there’s evidence that genetics play a role in our individual “motivation systems,” but that experiences also shape motivation.
Usable Knowledge strategies for building healthy motivation
Elicit curiosity and encourage exploration: Exploration, mastery, play, and success is inherently motivation to children. Educators can reinforce these motivations by giving positive feedback when it comes to these natural tendencies.
Don’t rely on incentives: Keep intrinsic feedback as the goal. Research shows that children stop engaging in activities after a tangible reward has been assigned to it. Try to balance intrinsically motivating activities — like those with creative problem-solving and playful learning — with positive feedback to support healthy motivation in the long-term.
Remind children that success is possible: Growth mindsets are an important aspect of helping students develop healthy motivation systems. It’s important to message to students that with effort, they can improve.
Prioritize social interaction: Social interaction activates the brain’s reward systems — releasing serotonin and dopamine. Work on facilitating in-person interactions during class time.
Remember that we all have different intrinsic motivators: We all handle feedback and criticism differently and seek different forms of affirmation. Students’ experiences — including their genes — make so that individuals require different approaches to motivate.