I had an interesting conversation with a student the other day about motivation. This seems to be a hard time of year for students to be motivated to do any work. The sun is out the weather is nice and the beach is calling. His main thought was that grades did not motivate him at all. In one class he described how he was doing very poorly. He was not motivated to do any better because he did not see a big enough improvement in the grade to matter. In my class he is doing well but does not do any homework. In this situation he did not see any reason to work any harder because he grades were just fine. Good grades and bad grades had the same result. Neither improved his motivation. His thought was that he would only find himself motivated if he was interested in what he was doing. Chemistry and Precalculus were not in his view interesting.
I have been pondering this question for the past year and I am sure I will continue to ponder it. I believe it is one of the main things education reform needs to focus in on to prepare our students to be citizens of 2033. Motivation needs to move from the carrot stick approach to something more meaningful or “interesting” to the students. Dan Pink notes that motivation requires Autonomy Mastery and Purpose. I believe that the student I was speaking with found that “purpose” part lacking in his high school experience. He is able to see through the typical answers of “Why are we learning this?”
I proposed to him that if I presented a task and gave him the tools to accomplish it without any more instruction than that would he find that meaningful enough to spark his interest. As I expected he said that would be great. The question then becomes how do we design curriculum that hits that motivational spark of purpose and still cover the content for standards. It requires a lot time and effort. I know that is one of the things I will be thinking about for the summer as I plan my courses.
What are your thoughts on “What motivates a student?”