Motivating Students SotL in 10 Minutes

The semester is not over, but either you and/or your students are running out of gas. This week’s theme will explore ways to rev up both engines for the long struggle to the finish line – for this semester at least.

Six ways to motivate students to learn

  1. Fine-tune the challenge. We’re most motivated to learn when the task before us is matched to our level of skill: not so easy as to be boring, and not so hard as to be frustrating. Deliberately fashion the learning exercise so that students are working at the very edge of your abilities, and keep upping the difficulty as they improve.
  2. Start with the question, not the answer. Memorizing information is boring. Discovering the solution to a puzzle is invigorating. Present material to be learned not as a fait accompli, but as a live question begging to be explored.
  3. Encourage students to beat their personal best. Some learning tasks, like memorizing the multiplication table or a list of names or facts, are simply not interesting in themselves. Generate motivation by encouraging students to compete against themselves: run through the material once to establish a baseline, then keep track of how much they improve (in speed, in accuracy) each time.

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Top 12 Ways to Motivate Students

Review all 12, or check out the ones that are more applicable for college students.

  1. Expect Excellence Set high, yet realistic expectations. Make sure to voice those expectations. Set short terms goals and celebrate when they are achieved.
  2. Spread Excitement Like a Virus Show your enthusiasm in the subject and use appropriate, concrete and understandable examples to help students grasp it. For example, I love alliteration. Before I explain the concept to students, we “improv” subjects they’re interested in. After learning about alliteration, they brainstorm alliterative titles for their chosen subjects.
  3. Mix It Up It’s a classic concept and the basis for differentiated instruction, but it needs to be said: using a variety of teaching methods caters to all types of learners. By doing this in an orderly way, you can also maintain order in your classroom.
  4. Hand Over Some Control If students take ownership of what you do in class, then they have less room to complain (though we all know, it’ll never stop completely). Take an audit of your class, asking what they enjoy doing, what helps them learn, what they’re excited about after class.

More Simple Ideas to Improve Student Motivation

The link is at the bottom, below I am just including the new ideas (not already presented Monday or Tuesday).

  1. Create a threat-free environment. While students do need to understand that there are consequences to their actions, far more motivating for students than threats are positive reinforcements. When teachers create a safe, supportive environment for students, affirming their belief in a student’s abilities rather than laying out the consequences of not doing things, students are much more likely to get and stay motivated to do their work. At the end of the day, students will fulfill the expectations that the adults around them communicate, so focus on can, not can’t.
  2. Change your scenery. A classroom is a great place for learning, but sitting at a desk day in and day out can make school start to seem a bit dull for some students. To renew interest in the subject matter or just in learning in general, give your students a chance to get out of the classroom. Take field trips, bring in speakers, or even just head to the library for some research. The brain loves novelty and a new setting can be just what some students need to stay motivated to learn.
  3. Encourage self-reflection. Most kids want to succeed, they just need help figuring out what they need to do in order to get there. One way to motivate your students is to get them to take a hard look at themselves and determine their own strengths and weaknesses. Students are often much more motivated by creating these kinds of critiques of themselves than by having a teacher do it for them, as it makes them feel in charge of creating their own objectives and goals.

What Not to Do

So you have paid attention Monday through Wednesday and are trying to spice it up, but…

  • Don't use active learning without giving students insight into why you are teaching this way, especially if your class is not used to this type of learning in your class. Even if you have been doing active learning all along, what is obvious to you is still new to them.

  • Don’t immediately tell the students the answer and/or explanation. This is tempting when you are pressed for time and trying to finish the last half of the book in the next 2.5 weeks. They may be tired and overworked – but they should still have to think.

  • Don’t forget that your students are complete individuals, with multiple classes, multiple deadlines and other part-time to full-time challenges (jobs, commutes, athletics, families). Let them know that you are a complete person too – that the stress of this time of year get to you as well.

How can you stay motivated…this late in the semester…behind in grading.

  • Everyone has a box or drawer where they keep those special notes – special students who took the time to thank and appreciate you. Grab a coffee and reminisce.

  • If you stay in touch with former students on social media or other mechanisms, reach out to one. You share in their success, bask in their glory.

Reread some of last week’s SoTL in 10 minutes – remember your work life balance. Do something for you! Professionally or personally, an hour away from it all might give you the strength to push through.