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Motivating Students to Complete Homework

Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

Teachers can be confronted with a lack of student motivation to complete homework or assigned readings. This lesson will offer tips and strategies for helping out-of-class student motivation.

Explaining Student Motivation

Motivation for students can be tricky. Some students are naturally curious and need little bait before becoming engaged in learning. Others, though, are more reluctant and require teachers to find ways to up the engagement factor. Student motivation can be defined as the reason students are involved and engaged in learning. Research shows that teachers have a large impact on a student's motivation.

What does this mean? Think of yourself and your motivational sources. What makes you want to accomplish a task, like completing your degree or painting the garage? Maybe you'd like to earn more money or increase the resale value of your property. If so, you're motivated by extrinsic factors, or those outside you. Or perhaps you enjoy learning new things and feel pride at looking at a great paint job, which are intrinsic values that come from inside.

How do extrinsic and intrinsic motivation factor into student success? Let's take a peek at some research.

Motivation & Student Success

Those naturally curious students who happily complete work for the love of learning are intrinsic learners. Sometimes students need extrinsic motivation, like praise or grades, to complete tasks and learn. Though extrinsic motivation has short term effects, in the long term it is actually shown to lessen motivation and student engagement. How does this work?

Imagine Matt, a young student, who is externally motivated by stickers and grades for his work. As he grows, content becomes more challenging. His teachers have trained him to feel motivated by external stimuli, so when he struggles to make good grades, say on a difficult math concept, what is left to motivate him to do well? If he receives a string of poor grades and negative responses from his teachers, he'll likely lose motivation to try. When extrinsic motivational factors lessen, like grades, motivation lessens as well.

Or, imagine that Matt was shown how to be intrinsically motivated. His early experiences in the classroom focused more on the process of learning instead of the product, and Matt developed a pride in doing his best. He learned to judge his success as a student on something other than grades, like how much he learns or the feeling he gets when he knows he tried hard. When challenged by a math concept, Matt continues to try because his success is found in the act of trying, not in the grade he receives for doing so.

Research shows us that teachers can provide instruction that supports intrinsic motivation in three ways:

  1. Fostering autonomy - Teachers can create learning experiences that allow students to learn autonomous behavior, or the ability to rely on oneself to complete tasks.
  2. Creating efficacy - Students who experience success have feelings of efficacy. The more they feel effective, the more motivated they are to learn.
  3. Providing learning experiences that are relevant and relatable - When students engage in learning experiences that they can relate to and are relevant to learning, they are more intrinsically motivated to learn.

Teachers should use these strategies even for out of classroom experiences, like homework assignments. Sound like a tough job? Let' see.

Motivating Students to Complete Homework

Imagine our imaginary student Matt receives a reading assignment for homework. How can his teachers motivate him to complete his reading? They could:

  • Make sure reading is on the student's level
  • Assign reading in advance two or more classes before discussion
  • Assign guiding questions
  • Ask relevant questions
  • Use class time for reading
  • Choose reading material that is relatable to students

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