How to Motivate Students of Any Age Level

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First of all, the reality is this. No one can motivate someone else. Motivation is internal and all people are motivated on a daily basis. They just are not necessarily motivated by what you are doing in class. So the issue is not how you can motivate them to learn. You can not. The issue is how to present information in ways that will cause students to invest in it. This is easy with some students and very difficult with others.

I do not know about you, but I bristle a bit when someone tells me I have to do something in a certain way, or when I am asked to do something I do not want to do and I’;m not in a position to refuse. Perhaps this irritates you as well. We all like to have some autonomy over how we spend our time. Imagine being a student then and being told all day long that you have to do things you do not care about, and do these things in ways that are not enjoyable for you. If you dare to mention out loud that you do not feel something is important for you to learn you are told that you are lazy, a trouble maker and destined to be a loser. Of course, this is not our intention in the classroom but many, many student interpret school in this way. I think that’;s why it becomes increasingly insignificant to them as the get into high school. School becomes an onerous task to get through with as little time and investment as possible. When you think about it, it’;s amazing kids are as compliant as they are!

Several years ago I had a student who was in special ed. and considered to have "very low academic abilities." He was very dependent to do anything in class and always made excuses that things were too hard and we did not understand it. This same kid was a guard on the high school basketball team. It was hard to recognize him as the same person. He practiced for hours every day. He memorized complicated basketball plays and executed them so well he was one of the most valuable players on the team. In his junior year the team won the state championship and he was a big part of their win. Was he a scientific marvel, a savant with incredible basketball abilities? No. He was just a kid who loved basketball and was willing to do whatever he needed to do to be an excellent player.

Obviously, this young man was very motivated to play good basketball. That same motivation did not extend to his studies. Was he academically handicapped? Or was he simply not interested in the material when he was young and fell hopelessly behind?

Some teachers believe that it’;s their responsibility to present information and kids have the responsibility for learning it. This is a very loyal attitude at the college level. But teaching is more than dissolving facts. It’;s our responsibility to make sure our students understand and process the information we teach. We have to present the information in many different formats in order to interest as many students as possible.

When preparing lesson plans think from the perspective of the students. How can you make the information relevant to them? Humans naturally pay attention to information that is relevant to their survival. Other information is only remembered if looks unique or important in some way. It’;s up to you as the teacher to provide the relevance to the students. I think that stories are particularly helpful in establishing relevancy. Whatever you choose to do, teach the lesson in a way students will remember- not the way that’;s easiest or most interesting for you.