There is a question that I’m getting more and more at workshops and trainings and that is "how do I motivate my students to work?" I hate to break it to you, but there is no “magic bullet” solution to this. Every student is going to have their own solution to getting motivated.
However, there are some things you can ask yourself when a student feels “unmotivated” or is unwilling to put forth the effort to learn that you think they are capable of. Instead of assuming “they just won’t work”, ask yourself these questions:
Question 1: Are They Engaged?
Engagement is one of the most powerful motivators when it comes to your students. Are the learning opportunities you're providing worthwhile to your students? Do they peak their interest? Are they varied enough to keep them interested?
This is probably one of the most common things I see when motivation declines in learners. Either the tasks are repetitive and monotonous (example: constant textbook work), or they are “worksheet” driven and don’t allow students to interact with the world around them.
"I can’t wait to read chapter seven," and "I can’t wait to do 5 more worksheets" are two things no student has ever said.
Question 2: Are they Supported?
When students lose motivation, sometimes it is due to a lack of support. Maybe the activity is engaging enough, but they need help or some intervention that they are not receiving. This is when they seem to get “stuck.”
At this point, differentiation becomes increasingly important. Students don’t like to be stuck. If they get in this position it is often for good reason. As teachers, we need to help students find out what the cause is and guide them to overcome it with the proper support. Sometimes it can be as simple as a single concept or idea that was tripping them up. Other times maybe they just need to talk through their thinking. I’ve even suggested entirely different learning activities when a student isn’t responding to the originally provided one. This can be the difference between failure and success for a student in your classroom.
Even in a self-paced, mastery learning environment, your students need your support. A all-to-common misconception about self-paced learning is that it is “Self-taught." This could not be further from the truth.
Question 3: Are they afraid to fail?
Failure is something I talk a lot about. Sometimes students are so afraid to fail that they will refuse to try in the first place. This can be for multiple reasons, but if you remove barriers and start to frame failure as an opportunity to grow this can change quickly. When we work with teachers, we change what FAIL stands for in their classrooms. In a mastery learning environment, F.A.I.L. stands for "First Attempt In Learning." Changing this one thing in your class can make an incredible impact. Help your students see failure in a different light.
While there are plenty more questions you can ask yourself when students aren’t motivated, these 3 can provide a good start. So the next time a student seems like they’re being “lazy” or “just won’t work,” ask yourself; WHY aren’t they motivated?