4 questions teachers should ask themselves to improve their students’ motivation

by Barbara Myslik
Ph.D. student, University of Florida

Barbara Myslik

Barbara Myslik

Motivating students to can be one of the most challenging tasks a teacher faces, but it can also be one of the most exciting. There are several factors important to consider when thinking of ways to achieve that goal.

Here are four questions teachers should ask themselves as they consider how to motivate their students.

Question #1: Is the student intrinsically or extrinsically motivated? (Motivation type)

Students who learn for their own satisfaction, and are motivated by internal factors, more then by external rewards, respond well to tasks that are both challenging and give them sense of personal control. For an intrinsically motivated student sense of control over the task is fun and rewarding, so it is important to let them create as much of their learning experience as possible.

Students motivated by external rewards respond well when the subject is made applicable to them. It is important to praise their accomplishments, as positive feedback motivates them to work harder. Also, introducing an element of friendly competition can work really well for an extrinsically motivated student.
For more resources on motivating students representing different motivation types you can follow this great link from Vanderbilt University Teaching Center – https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/motivating-students/

Question #2: Is the student deep, surface, or strategic learner? (Motivation level)

Deep learners make great students! However, they disengage easily, and find it very hard to work on things that don’t truly interest them. For that type of student it is crucial to keep things interesting, find out what your students care about and see if you can connect it to your topic, and make it “worth their while” by introducing variety of outside resources and materials.

Strategic learners can easily be enticed to reach a higher level of engagement if you design your assignments in a way that promotes more involvement. Make sure you require more then just repetition and challenge your students with higher rewards tied to higher levels of thinking.

Surface learners are often hesitant to engage in a learning process because they lack confidence it their own learning abilities. Slowly build complexity of your assignments, make sure to show students their own progress, and encourage them along the way.

For more information on levels of motivation and techniques to reach students representing each of them, read this interesting interview with Dr. Ken Bain, author of “What the best college teachers do”. You can also check out his book – it is very helpful.

Question #3: Where does a student come from? (Motivation culture)

Diversity is an increasingly relevant part of our experience as students and teachers. Knowing what type of motivation your students are used to, or what type of feedback they consider most helpful can make a world of a difference in developing their motivation to learn. That difference applies not only to cultural differences but also ethnic, racial, gender, and many other traits that students bring to the classroom that shape their learning experience. Try to find out as much as you can about your students; the best way is to ask them yourself: what kind of feedback would they prefer? Are they comfortable with getting feedback in class? What motivates them to do better?

Great resource on different cultures approaches to learning can be found at http://education.jhu.edu/PD/newhorizons/strategies/topics/Learning%20Styles/diversity.html

Question #4: How does a student learn best (Learning styles)  

Last but not least: it is important to remember that students representing different learning styles will find motivation in different elements of the learning process. Make sure to include variety of motivation techniques that would work well with students who represent different learning styles. For more information on learning styles check out a great post from Sining Kong, right here on our blog!

Barbara Myslik is a doctoral student in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida and is a student in Mass Communication Teaching (MMC 6930). This blog post is based on a teaching presentation she made in class.







1 thought on “4 questions teachers should ask themselves to improve their students’ motivation

  1. Student motivation is one of the biggest challenges for any teacher. By adopting a problem-based learning method, as well as different learning styles, there is a better way to increase motivation to achieve their goals. Thank you for the wonderful post.

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