3 tips for more motivated students

Motivation is the foundation of learning, says Louise Lewis. But how do you get your students motivated? Here are her top tips
29th December 2020, 1:47pm
Louise Lewis


3 tips for more motivated students

How Teachers Can Get Their Students Motivated To Learn In Different Subjects In School

Spend some time, just a minute or two, picturing your perfect student. What would they do? How would they behave? What would it be like to teach them?

I would be willing to wage that the following attributes would sit highly on everyone's list:

  1. Resilient
  2. Hardworking
  3. Motivated

In among many other characteristics we may want to develop in our students, resilience, hard work and motivation provide the foundations for everything else, and none of these characteristics is more important than motivation.

You see, for anything to happen, anything at all, we need to want to do it. That is motivation in its raw form: want. But how do we get our students to want to learn? To want to engage in what we are teaching?

First, it is necessary to address the domain specificity of motivation. A student can be an exceptionally motivated student in science for example, but completely unmotivated in art. Why is that the case and what can we do about it?

In general terms, we want to do the things where we feel successful. We get a hit from being good. So, how do we make students feel successful? Here are some ideas.

Use retrieval practice to secure success from the outset

Starting lessons with a retrieval quiz is a great way to settle students, frame their learning in the bigger picture and give them a sense of achievement. 

To ensure they feel success, we must start with something we are confident that they can answer. This could be something you have quizzed them on previously, which you are sure they have secure knowledge of. 

This not only provides them with the desire to tackle trickier tasks, but it is also a fantastic opportunity for you to give them positive feedback on their previous learning.

However, it is not about making tasks so easy that students have no sense of achievement; it is essential to pitch the difficulty appropriate to your students and increase the level of challenge accordingly. Increasing the difficulty incrementally will provide them with those essential stepping stones they need to boost their confidence and improve their motivation to attempt other tasks.

Give students a sense of autonomy 

Providing students with an opportunity to own their learning can be uncomfortable for teachers; it can also be a minefield if not deployed correctly. 

Our students, generally speaking, are novices. We are the experts, best placed to make decisions for them. So, we must decide when they can be autonomous. 

Of course, this will look different in each subject area, but it could range from allowing them to decide how to present their notes (given a range of appropriate options) to choosing which still-life object to paint. Their choices, where they have guided their own learning and how this has led to success can all be used to frame dialogue with students about how they are responsible for their own progress. 

Reframe failure 

Despite our best efforts, pitching questions and tasks to cultivate successes, and providing opportunities for autonomy, occasionally, this may not be as effective as we hoped. Students may not reach an expected standard in a task or "get it right". 

How we treat these situations is fundamental to moving beyond failure. Language is key here. Failure is not personal; it is not a deficit; it is just a step on the learning journey. 

Having these conversations repeatedly, even prior to any failures that may occur, is fundamental to a climate of motivation. Focus on the task, not the student, and how the work itself could be improved. And very quickly find an opportunity to acknowledge where genuine successes have been achieved.

Our students are human. We are human. We won't always be motivated and neither will they. However, we can increase the proportion of time that they are motivated, and the subsequent impact upon their progress by having a classroom climate that is designed to allow all students to experience success, to reframe their failures and to have ownership over their progress.

Louise Lewis is a research lead and deputy head of science in a Yorkshire secondary school. She tweets @MissLLewis

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Register for free to read more

You can read two more articles on Tes for free this month if you register using the button below.

Alternatively, you can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters

Already registered? Log in

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Subscribe to read more

You can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters