Why is it that students are eager to start some tasks but not others? Why do some students complete certain assignments with care and other projects done by the same students are dashed off as quickly as possible or not completed at all?
Existing research on the science of learning provides some indication that targeting natural curiosity, providing choice in learning, and developing a growth mindset can help teachers guide their students toward motivation. And within the typical American classroom, students have a range of interests and outside experiences teachers can leverage to engage students.
Teachers may struggle to capitalize on this potential, wondering how to use these strengths to increase intrinsic motivation within everyday classroom activities. But they shouldn’t assume that some students are unmotivated by nature. “The biggest misconception [about motivation] is that students aren’t motivated,” says Rhonda Bondie, director of professional learning and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Education. “The good news is that everyone is motivated. It’s not that some people have it and some people don’t.”
Teachers can adjust the environment by using four levers in class culture to help students find their own motivation, says Bondie: autonomy, belonging, competence, and meaning (ABC+M).
Here are a few strategies that can help:
Make quality visible: Post required criteria for an assignment or more general criteria for all assignments in a highly visible part of the room. Also post what a task would need to exceed expectations.
- How it helps: A task becomes clear and alleviates confusion. Students will feel like they can begin and complete a task autonomously. Additionally, they will start to observe qualities in their own work that will help them demonstrate understanding in the future. By annotating where they see the qualities in their work students will recognize competence.