Teach 2033:What motivates a student?

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?”


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  1. CZ said:

    I too, am looking to motivate ALL my students. I teach an “elective” (aka World Language), which is NOT required for graduation, but is required for entrance to most 4-year colleges/universities.

    Unfortunately, I wind up with a lot of students who do not “elect” my class, but are placed there, perhaps because they have failed another language class already, or they think mine will be “easy”.

    I’m looking at concepts involving gamification as one potential “hook” to get students motivated and participating. I’d love some input/feedback/suggestions!! Grades are not always the motivating factor for my students.

  2. Thomas McLaughlin said:

    I tried Gameing my classroom this year .. It was a complete flop in HS..the kids just did not buy into it. I will make sure I post some of my ideas as I flush them out but in general I am going to try to model Dan Pink’s suggests in his book Drive. If you have not read it yet it is a must read..

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