October 2022

What affects student motivation?

Students come to the classroom with a complex range of social and cultural contexts, schooling experiences, and educational beliefs, and it is always a challenge to find the ingredients to motivate them.

We know that the motivational state of students influences a multitude of factors that affect learning, including memory, attention, information processing, decision-making, problem-solving, and social interaction.

Text by: Anastasia Spyropoulou

Let’s examine what affects student motivation:

  1. Family background

Separated or divorced parents, single mothers or fathers, and violent home environments, to name just a few, play an important role in student motivation, engagement, and performance. It’s crucial to gather as much information as possible about our students from the school administration. This will help us identify ‘vulnerable’ individuals in our classroom and provide extra support when needed.

  1. Economic background

Are parents unemployed or underemployed? Parental unemployment and job insecurity have been related to poorer school achievement and academic performance in children and adolescents. This should be taken into consideration. We may be required to further support these students to reach academic standards.     

  1. Students’ needs and interests

It’s obvious that we should get to know our students, but how well do we really know the young people who are sitting in our classroom? Taking a bit of time and care to get to know them as individuals can make us more effective and impactful teachers. Beyond just finding out our students’ names, ages, allegiance to a sports team, and family backgrounds, it’s important to dig a bit deeper and discover their learning interests and strengths.

A questionnaire, in which students tick on a list of hobbies and extra curriculum activities, distributed at the beginning of the school year, would be most helpful. It’d allow us to design tasks and activities that match our students’ interests and needs and create educational experiences that are motivational, engaging, and enjoyable.

Getting to know who our students are as individuals can also help us to provide an inclusive, respectful, and accepting classroom environment. This not only keeps them highly engaged in learning but also encourages them to open up and seek support when needed.

Some students may feel too shy to speak up in classroom discussions, and may not enjoy large-group tasks or volunteering to deliver presentations as much as other students might. Instead, these students could feel more comfortable expressing their views in pair work, or through chat rooms, or in one-to-one conversations. Allowing for these differences by using a variety of teaching strategies can help all students experience success while developing their confidence.

Understanding our students’ interests will assist us in providing them with quality learning opportunities. By encouraging them to explore areas they are interested in – for example, the environment – they will be more likely to be motivated and engage with the learning process.

Not in the very distant past, students were viewed as empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge -certain knowledge. The physical environment was one of hierarchy and control -desks in rows, children facing their teacher who controlled subject matter, talk, and activities from the front of the room. The focus was on rote learning and correctly recalling information.

Over time, this has shifted -mercifully! That’s not to say that teacher-directed learning episodes don’t have their place; indeed they do. Nor is it to say that the ‘chalk and talk’ model is extinct or always undesirable, because it isn’t.

Twenty-first-century life is very different and it isn’t effective to keep on trying to pump out students like a production line. We live in what is called the information or digital age.

The kinds of skills that students need if they are to thrive in this contemporary world are quite different from the past. Technology has contributed significantly to the changing educational landscape we now occupy. As a result, approaches to education have shifted from a teacher or knowledge-centered approach to a student or learner-centered one.

Can we make this shift happen for the benefit of our students? Yes, we can. The important thing is to have the capacity to reflect on our own practice and familiarize ourselves with evidence-based research into effective teaching.

To be effective, learning must be active. Effective and active learning are interdependent and one cannot occur without the other. They are two sides of the same coin. When learning is effective, students are motivated and engaged. They accept responsibility for their learning, work together to achieve shared goals, listen to others’ ideas, and support one another through challenges.

The effectiveness of active learning is not only limited to academic or cognitive but also extends to social and personal development.

As the saying goes “The best teachers tell you where to look, but not what to see”.