How to Encourage Student Self-Motivation & Engagement

Instructor: Michael Quist

Michael has taught college-level mathematics and sociology; high school math, history, science, and speech/drama; and has a doctorate in education.

The two of the most important factors in educational success are the student's motivation and level of engagement in the academic environment. In this lesson, we will explore ways to encourage student self-motivation and engagement.

What is Student Self-Motivation and Engagement?

Ms. Hines was desperate. Maybe it was time to change professions. These students just didn't care. Marian was drawing little cartoons on her paper. Chandra was relating a whispered, yet animated story to her neighbor. Bill was asleep, while John was laughing and poking Bill's back with a pencil. Secretly, Ms. Hines began to take notes. What types of activities did the students default to when they were bored?

'All right, everyone, let's change things up a bit. Bill!'

Student motivation is the desire to achieve. The human mind is designed to achieve what it values. It visualizes, plans, inspires, and directs the actions of the body.

Students are motivated to achieve things that they perceive as:

  • specific and vivid
  • valuable
  • achievable
  • rewarding
  • time-sensitive

_Student engagement is a deep and effective interest and passion for an academic experience. Student engagement occurs when an activity:

  • ties into student motivation
  • is connected to multiple areas of memory and thought
  • carries an emotional basis for interest

It is an enormous task to create student motivation and engagement in a classroom, yet it is an important way to get the best out of your students, and create experiences they will never forget.

Creating Motivation and Engagement in the Classroom

Although some would say there is no magic formula for creating student motivation and engagement, some practices can make all the difference between an ineffective presentation and a fantastic learning experience.

Be Specific and Vivid

Because we often think in pictures, specifics are key to creating interest in our minds. If the mind can't visualize something, it will have a harder time remembering it, and generalities are hard to visualize. Create a sensory experience, whether you're describing a goal, an objective, a concept, or a detail to be remembered. Make it visual. Make it loud. Make it kinesthetic. Tie as many senses as you can to the thing you want them to care about. Create a specific image that the students can easily imagine and retain.

For example, if the project is to write a ten-page essay, describe an excellent essay in glowing terms. Describe specific, powerful attributes. Read parts of an effective example aloud, dwelling on the best parts. Give the students specific information about what you admire about the essay.

Make it Valuable

Everything students do is based on their value system, so your teaching must address those values. What do the students want? Tie the learning to what is real to them.

For example, math teachers often hear the question, 'When am I ever going to need this?'

'Well, Sharon, say you're standing in a department store, and a clerk just offered you the choice of $15 or a 15% discount off a $125 dress. Which would you take?'

Always have projects, papers, and other assignments tie into the students' real lives, especially issues they face and personal experiences they have had.

Make it Achievable

One of the most critical aspects to motivation is the belief that you will succeed. Motivation is on the other side of success, and you, as the teacher, can engineer that success.

'Ms. Richards, I can't get this.'

'Oh, sure you can. Watch this: Write down the information you were given in the problem--you can do that, right? Now give yourself about four or five lines, and write down what you're trying to prove. Also easy. Now here's the fun part...'

Make it Rewarding

Rewards are easy to give and valuable to the student. Positive reinforcements such as praise and privileges are the magic that makes life work for the student.

'Look, Ms. Richards, I made the proof work!'

'That's fantastic, Bob. All right, everyone, I think we should celebrate this victory with a toast to Bob. Here's to Bob!'

Make it Time-Sensitive

We are much more motivated to take action if the events are imminent. Although long-term projects and goals are valuable, it is important to keep things at a mild level of urgency.

'Ms. Jones, I'll get this done tonight. I'm too tired right now.'

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