By picturing the factors that influence achievement motivation in a web of causality, we acknowledge that students exist within a dynamic ecology—it shapes them, and they shape it. To reduce our unit of analysis to the student alone is to miss the fact that he is a product of and contributor to his environment. Likewise, to consider only the context while ignoring the individual student’s unique set of capabilities, desire, and emotions is to miss the proverbial forest for the trees.
Many educators ponder this question: “How do I get my students to want to learn?” Some students do not necessarily want to come to school every day and be challenged to achieve high standards. Traditionally, motivation has been applied with a simple input-output model. Teachers praise students for their hard work and support their motivation to persevere through difficult situations. This cause-and-effect model could very well work in many instances; however, educators and researchers alike need to understand that student motivation is more complex than that. Cause-and-effect may be easily replicated within a laboratory, but not necessarily in a classroom. Why? Because students come to schools with a host of social contexts, including religious backgrounds, family dynamics, race, socio-economic status, and other factors, which all affect motivation.
Contextual precursors influence student motivation. Some students are pre-motivated to learn (read the article linked above for more on this). They are taught to learn new concepts from day one through educational toys, being read to on a nightly basis, and attending pre-school among other factors. Other students may not have experienced a social context with such a high value on education. In some instances, the motivation to attend school could be as simple as knowing the school will provide a breakfast and lunch (findings from focus groups we have conducted with students).
Relationships are Key
As I stated before, motivation is not as simple as cause-and-effect. Some key aspects lie within student motivation. First, a single causal pathway to motivate students to learn does not exist. Each student is unique and lives in the context of their own environment. Thus, educators need to understand that each student is a unique blend of individual stories and needs. To appeal to those students you need a differentiated approach, which engages them in educational discourse. Second, students’ motivation and engagement levels will vary. Some students need to be active learners, engaged in a collaborative environment where the time flies by without them knowing. Other students may be motivated regardless of the context in which they are learning. Lastly, the personal connection a student has to their school is extremely important. Feeling welcomed at school, feeling like a part of the team, and, further, being validated by that team can assist students in being motivated to and achieving high standards.
Want to plan lessons that better motivate students?
Lauren Lefebure, M.A.Ed. Research Associate
Lauren Lefebure earned her Masters in Education from Western Carolina University. Her program was Two-Year College Instruction in Psychology. Prior to joining The BERC Group as a Research Assistant, she taught at Washington State Community College in Ohio, as well as Garrett College in Maryland. Specific courses she taught include Intro to Psychology, Educational Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, and Conflict Management and Resolution. She also worked as a Research Assistant for Western Carolina University in their psychology department. She is excited to be a part of The BERC Group and continue her career in education!
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