20 SPARKLING IDEAS to inspire self-motivation in students
Some students are naturally enthusiastic about learning and working at school. Others are not.
Unfortunately, there is no single magic recipe for motivating all students all of the time.
Very gradually researchers are beginning to recognise the aspects of the teaching/ learning situation that enhance students' self-motivation. Research suggests increased student motivation occurs when teachers provide:
- Enthusiasm about what they are teaching.
- Genuine interest in students.
- Frequent, early, positive feedback.
- Tasks that are appropriate to students' abilities and interests.
- Avenues for students to find meaning and merit in the activity being presented.
- An environment that is inclusive and optimistic.
- A setting where students can see that they are valued.
- A well-organised system.
Other factors also known to affect a student's motivation include their:
- Interest in the subject
- View of its usefulness
- Desire to achieve
- Self-confidence and self-esteem
- Levels of endurance and persistence
- Attitudes concerning the approval of others
- Tenacity to overcome challenges
And, of course, not all students are motivated by the same values, needs, desires, or wants as most.
Research has also shown that the level of motivation a student walks into the classroom with can be changed, for the better or worse, depending on what occurs in that classroom. More than anything else, a quality relationship is what enables cooperative behaviours and motivation to be stretched and reshaped. Healthy connections bubble to the surface as a smile, a wink, a silly face, a nudge, a dare, a joke, a thumbs up, a kind or reassuring comment. The benefits arising from a quality relationship are remarkable, and are far more potent than special efforts to attack motivation directly. They provide the scope for everyone to have a go and make mistakes without causing a catastrophe. They allow the word 'sorry' to be exchanged more freely and offer us a little more leverage to influence our students to find that elusive quality, self-motivation.
Whether it is the result of maturational delay, a difficult background, learning difficulty, impulsivity, distractibility or emotion, students troubled by poor persistence and low motivation difficulties really 'do it tough'. They are far more dependent on our clever abilities to find ways to help them move from the same old unproductive ways to new healthier patterns of behaviour. This requires an intelligently composed approach that keeps the focus on 'changing behaviour', rather than seeing the student as 'the problem child'. Both anecdotal and research based evidence show that accepting, optimistic teacher attitudes sustain students who do not yet have a well developed set of internal resources to fall back on.
Here is a selection of twenty very practical ideas to assist students who experience difficulties with motivation and persistence, but without the existence of healthy relationships each of the 'SPARKLING IDEAS' that follow will become little more than a prop that might result in some temporary control.
1. Find out and reach out
How much do you really know about those one or two students you see as vulnerable or lacking in motivation? Find time to talk to them. Let the conversation wander so even the seemingly inconsequential matters are discussed. Free flowing discussion often reveals insightful glimpses. Dig a little deeper, past the bravado and past the superficiality of behaviour. Do they play a sport? What are their hobbies or interests? Are there special skills or abilities they have that can be brought to the classroom? What worries them? What inspires them? Do you know?
Never underestimate the impact of writing friendly, uplifting letters to students. This is another way to bolster their persistence and enrich relationships. It is an easy way to remind them of their goals, their progress and the few remaining steps to achieve the next goal. Letters also deliver a message, without the student having to listen! As we all know, difficult to motivate students hear well-intentioned criticism and advice all too often. They have become 'teacher-deaf'.
2. Ask your student, "Do you see a difficulty?"
Students who are tricky to manage at school are usually well aware of the problems. They know that their distractibility, disruptiveness, impulsivity, loudness, bossiness or over reaction is what brings negative comments and reactions. Reassure them that they are not disordered, peculiar or sick. Tell them that many fine human beings have had difficulties and low motivation about school and schoolwork. They may, at the moment, find it difficult to embrace the relevancy of school, and while this is not helpful, it is quite normal. A critical step is to normalise their attitude. Begin by teasing out what they enjoy and what they are good at. Work to create balance and rekindle interests, talents and areas that arouse success feelings.
Regularly ask them, "How is it best I help you?"
"What do you need me to do to improve your chances of success."
3. Research the lives of successful people with difficulties
Investigate a few of the amazing individuals from the past and present diagnosed with Learning Difficulties, ADHD or Asperger Syndrome. As students discover their rich, wonderful lives, and the contributions these talented individuals have made they often feel less burdened and far more inclined to take on new challenges.
Outstanding individuals believed to have Dyslexia -
- Winston Churchill, former prime minister of England
- Whoopi Goldberg, leading actress
- Agatha Christie, prolific author
- Tom Cruise, actor
- Cher, leading actress and entertainer
- Vanessa Amorosi, singer and song writer
- Charles 'Pete' Conrad Junior, astronaut
- Jamie Oliver, chef and television personality
- Jodie Kidd, international model
- Richard Branson, businessman and CEO of Virgin Airways
Outstanding individuals believed to have ADHD -
- Thomas Edison, scientist and inventor
- Alexander Graham Bell, inventor
- Ludwig van Beethoven, composer
- Leonardo da Vinci, artist, writer and inventor
- Walt Disney, famous producer of animated cartoons and movies
- Albert Einstein, mathematician and scientist (rumoured also to have characteristics of Asperger Syndrome and Dyslexia)
- Robin Williams, comedian and actor
- Woody Harrelson, actor
Outstanding individuals believed to have Asperger Syndrome -
- Andy Warhol, artist (also rumoured to have ADHD)
- Henry Cavendish, scientist (discovered the element hydrogen)
- Temple Grandin, inventor of machinery to handle livestock
- Ludwig Wittgenstein
- Thomas Jefferson, former American president
- Glenn Gould, pianist
Many of their autobiographies and biographies are inspirational. Examine the problems they faced, how they got around them, and why they became successful. Reinforce that most have said they would never trade away their difficulty, as without it they would not be complete.
4. Arrange meetings with inspirational adults!
Make arrangements to introduce a student you have in mind to an inspirational individual who struggled with a similar difficulty. Ask these adults to chat about their struggles and achievements. Is there a secret to their success? How did they find success?
One of my young teenagers with Cerebral Palsy attended a seminar presented by Catriona Webb, an Australian athlete with the same condition. When I saw her again I asked her how she found the evening. Her reply was, 'It made me feel so good about me. I understand it now. I know the power of learning to love my disability. She made me understand that it's no good struggling against it. I may as well use it. It was the first time for ages I've gone to bed feeling happy about me.'
Through listening to significant others students can identify pivotal points that shaped potential difficulties into success. They learn first-hand what made the difference, and how this thinking and attitude can work for them.
Start by teaching the concepts of body language to students. It is vital that they understand what their look or style is saying to others. The way we sit, stand, lean, use eye contact and facial expressions, in particular, our tone of voice, all send influential messages to others. Knowing that maintaining eye contact suggests interest, or that sitting up and leaning slightly forward while listening is seen as being interested, is fundamental information. Conversely, knowing that mumbling and looking toward the floor expresses uncertainty, and folding arms gives the impression of low confidence, defensiveness, even disinterest is a huge asset for students to know about.
This is a good time to introduce the idea of, 'how to play the game'. That is, how one needs to look and what they need to say and do to get along with others in particular situations. Playing the game is such a valuable social skill, and being able to flexibly 'adapt to the game' is often the difference between social success and failure.
Similarly, it may be the perfect moment to explore attitude. After all, who is in charge of our attitude?
Examine and discuss this quotation:
The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.
Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company, a church, a home.
The remarkable thing is, we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change the past. We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we do is play on the one string we have, that is attitude.
I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.
And so it is with you ... we are in charge of our attitudes.
6. Setting goals
Without setting goals and chasing them, even half-heartedly, individuals choose to accept a future that a system or someone else will decide for them.
'Goals do several things. First, they narrow the attention span to the task at hand. Second, they can provide hope of reaching the goal; the anticipated pleasure. This often triggers the release of the body's feel good chemicals, the endorphins.' (Jensen 2000).
The vision a student holds can be turned into reality through collaboratively designing small step-by step-solutions. Achieving small goals, accomplished lesson-by-lesson, day-by-day or week-by- week provides evidence of change. A good beginning may be as simple as asking the student, "What do you want?" Sometimes they may not know what they want, yet this simple question can dissolve barriers. If they do know, get them to record their goal or goals so they have a physical record to refer to later.
7. Setting goals: make maps that link now to the future
Develop a list of careers your student feels best matches his abilities and interests. Use Career Voyager (http://www.careervoyager.com/
), phone a TAFE college or try http://jobsearch.gov.au/joboutlook
to discover more about careers, subject prerequisites and entry to courses.
Discuss the step-by-step process necessary to get your student from where they are, right now, to where they want to end up. Collect pictures that stimulate an appreciation of that career. Arrange for people in the selected careers to visit, to discuss the career and the journey they took to achieve their goal. Sometimes arranging for a young speaker new to their career helps students to feel their vision is worth holding. Visit a location involved in this kind of work - it enthuses!
Link now to the future by mapping out a year-by-year, term-by-term plan. Make a map with labels, dates and ways to achieve the ultimate goal. Display it, and use it like a road map! Refer to it often.
8. Setting goals: Rewards for persistence and perseverance
Rewarding for perseverance is a very, very different concept to rewarding for performance. For some the satisfaction of an internal reward is enough, but for others an external reward strengthens their resolve. Realistically sustainable systems as, deals and bargains, monetary or otherwise, that drip-feed effort and determination are healthy. Aim at achieving small goals which gradually combine towards larger achievements.
Rewards need to be mutually negotiated so that the chance of success is highly likely. And, if success isn't achieved at first, plan to restart without loss of dignity. Finally, when they experience success, students have that wonderful 'feeling of success' imprinted onto their memory, aiding motivation and persistence in the future.
- A brief comment about rewards
- Positive reinforcers (level one type rewards) are used to strengthen desired behaviours. These may be as simple as catching a student doing something worthy and pointing it out. This encourages compliance and also lifts us from what, sometimes, can be an unwitting negative cycle we may have fallen into while wrestling with a student's thorny behaviours.
A few students, however, require more powerful concrete reinforcers (level two type rewards) as praise alone is just not enough. Concrete reinforcers do not have to be expensive. Consider bonus time on the computer, collectible items, music CDs, gift vouchers and money. Artful teachers and parents use influential concrete reinforcers to motivate students to begin or finish work, or to comply. In a token system, stars or points are awarded when targetted positive behaviours are achieved, and can later be exchanged for a reward. This form of encouragement, well managed over time, usually leads to internal motivation, which, of course, is the ultimate goal.
9. Setting goals: by reframing thinking
The outcome most students want from their school year is to realise success: academically, socially, even behaviourally. Yet many view the year as a compulsory marathon, feeling overwhelmed by the catalogue of tiresome tasks awaiting them. It is possible to help students to think their way around this mindset by guiding them to reframe their thinking.
Instead of seeing the year in its entirety, break it up into manageable pieces. Together, decide what is manageable: a day, a week, half a term or a term? Guide them so their thinking is logical. In other words, if they are able to put one assignment together, maintain compliant behaviour or complete homework tasks during one week then they can be successful in doing the same next week. Build an understanding that small units of success add up to a successful term or year. Decide on a celebration to mark the end of each term or each milestone. These occasions also present opportunities to review progress.
10. Locate the students' 'Islands of Competence'
Popular Australian educationalist Loretta Giorcelli reminds us in her work that there are areas that children and young teens feel successful about, however, these are often not acknowledged in the day-to-day activities within schools. Consider developing an 'Islands of Competence Inventory' for your students. Create a display in the classroom. Showcase each of your students' unique talents, especially talents that do not fit into school and the regular school curriculum. Developing an 'Islands-of-Competence' approach helps students know that their abilities and interests are acknowledged within an environment where to achieve an average level of competence might be difficult. This helps to compartmentalise school difficulties, and puts balance into their lives.
On a simpler level, make it a daily habit to talk to those one or two students about their special interest!
11. Develop outside-of-school networks for students
Some of our students suffer terrible isolation from their peers at school and are vulnerable to low motivation, depression and disengagement. For those with unusual personality styles and delayed self-regulatory problems, the socially fluid school environment can be wearing. Finding friendship is difficult. For these children and teens, their best friendships and social opportunities often take place outside of school where they are able to seize on a natural interest and find satisfaction with it. When this occurs the emotional balance is immediately tipped in their favour as they find acceptance. And occasionally, these interests can lead on to future career paths.
Teachers are in a wonderful position to survey students about the activities they are involved in outside school and distribute contacts so others may become involved. We should acknowledge this and actively promote these links. Children and teens often find friendship and meaningful connections in organisations such as:
|Cubs||Various Sporting Groups|
|Joeys||Environmental Rescue Clubs|
|Scouts||Model Railway Clubs|
|Computer groups||Genealogy Associations|
|Collecting groups||Gardening Clubs|
|CSIRO Double Helix Science Clubs||Astronomical Societies|
|Chess clubs||Car Clubs|
|Knitting Club||Swimming Clubs|
|Radio Controlled Car Clubs||Fishing Clubs|
|Ten Pin Bowling Clubs||Rabbit Clubs|
|Lawn Bowling Clubs||Role-play Groups|
|Rock and Mineral Clubs||Ballet Groups|
|Backgammon Clubs||Guinea Pig Clubs|
|Callisthenic Clubs||Tap Dance Groups|
|Drama Classes||Budgerigar and pigeon Clubs|
|Athletic Clubs||Jazz Dance Clubs|
|Science Fiction Clubs||Choir Groups|
|Dart Clubs||Cat Clubs|
|Historical Re-enactment Clubs||BMX Club|
|Flying and Gliding Clubs||Bushwalking Clubs|
|Model Aeroplane Clubs||Church Groups|
|Rowing Clubs||Warhammer Groups|
|Scuba Diving Clubs||Tai chi Clubs|
|Brass Band Groups||Dolls and Collectable Antique Clubs|
|Youth Group||Karate Clubs|
|Patonque Clubs||Volunteer groups for zoos, museums &|
|Rock-climbing Groups||environmental groups|
There are a myriad of groups within the local community worth exploring. The best situations are usually semi-organised by adults. They foster friendship, develop interests and provide opportunities for children and adolescents to exercise their 'emotional muscle'. To give some idea of the vital role clubs and associations can play; a study by Hedley & Young (2003) found the occurrence of depressive symptoms in young teenagers with Asperger Syndrome running at an overwhelming 25 per cent. Their recommendation to improve general wellbeing was to encourage young individuals to participate in activities and groups that encourage purpose and acceptance.
12. Find a mentor
The introduction of mentoring students in schools is a new idea. Yet, the idea of a more experienced person offering support and guidance to a younger person or less experienced group has a long, long, rich history. Within our own lives many of us can tell how a significant person's guidance and encouragement (a mentor) made a difference. Their mentor may have been a teacher, a school support officer, school counsellor or principal, and in other circumstances, mentoring may have taken place outside school through a friend or relation. What appears universal is that the individual felt their mentor believed in them, helped them to discover more about themselves, helped them to develop goals and maintain motivation.
A good mentor can also offer learning support; how-to plan and structure assignments, maths coaching, reading and spelling interventions and can suggest routines to help with improving organisation. By depending on their mentor, students can build structures to improve routines, develop strategies to build friendships and find avenues to improve academic skills. As a consequence, their world becomes more predictable, allowing them to behave more steadily. Increasingly, mentoring is being acknowledged as a robust means to provide students with greater impetus to find success.
13. Peer tutoring/ mentoring
The benefit a student can obtain from a peer as a tutor/ mentor can be remarkable. Increasingly, results from systems organising peer tutoring are being evaluated by researchers and the outcomes are consistently encouraging. Systems may begin by simply designing time for an older student to work on a task with a younger student. Higher levels of sophistication might incorporate building a regular time, at the end of the day, for a student to lend homework support. There is now ample research to suggest that peer tutoring and mentoring relationships have positive social and academic effects on all participants. The truth is, that how students work together is only limited by our administrative imaginations!
14. Tracking behaviour using a self-monitoring techniques
The very act of monitoring one's own responses can have a positive effect on behaviour. The process of a person thinking about and recording a behaviour they've decided to target becomes a bridge for them to make stronger connections between their feelings, behaviour and what is happening around them. The approach has long been used with success to assist people to maintain their resolve. The advantages of self-monitoring are the immediacy of feedback, the scope for students to select the target behaviour, the motivation it delivers and the promotion of communication about behaviour.
This approach may be useful for a student you have in mind. Target one behaviour you'd like to see less of, or a behaviour you'd like to see a lot more of. Ask the student to record the behaviour (with support) you have jointly agreed to track each time each occurs. Set up in the right way, so that student's integrity remains in tact, it can become a comparative vehicle to deliver behavioural changes and improvements. A little later you might consider attaching incentives - sometimes a sweetener can really assist!
15. Tracking school behaviours using a 'Universal student monitoring system'
This simple monitoring system delivers a surprisingly stabilising tool for parents, teachers and students alike. It provides a quick, systematic way to compare how a student with distractible issues, learning difficulties or behavioural problems is coping and progressing each week at school. The system provides ongoing information and feedback on:
- how well the difficulties are being managed
- the student's behavioural, social and emotional functioning
- the student's weekly work-output
- when adjustments to treatments should be considered.
Research tells us that the motivation of students is always enhanced when we regularly monitor their school performance and offer them more frequent levels of feedback. The 'Universal student monitoring system' does just this. This style of program is very useful when a teacher or counsellor is willing to take a particular interest in the student and coordinate information provided by other staff. Completing the same questions that rates various aspects of their school performance only takes five minutes or so, and sharing it with the student on a regular basis aids in reflective discussion, underpins motivation, provides insights and allows new initiatives to be forged. The information collected through the system provides everyone involved with accurate data, rather than being dependent on opinion, which can sometimes plummet when a hiccup occurs.
For specific details and worksheets about this quick and highly effective approach get hold of Mark Le Messurier's book,
Cognitive Behavioural Training: A How-to Guide for Successful Behaviour
(2004). Moorabbin, Victoria: Hawker Brownlow Education.
16. Embracing technology
Schools embracing the use of adaptive equipment offer students an additional route to success. Students in schools who either oppose, or are slow to accept, accommodating technologies soon feel self-conscious as they are constantly quizzed as to why they need to use a laptop, a PC or the less expensive QuickPAD and AlphaSmart word-processors. As a result, they feel as though they are odd and cheating. Soon they begin to hesitate to use the very tools that could help them learn more effectively.
- Listen to text
- New technologies can now read text out loud. So, instead of a student having to battle with their reading problem, they can access their higher level thinking skills by listening. Nuance Corporation®
has developed amazing software to convert text to speech. This product converts text into surprisingly high quality speech, in both male and female voices. Alternatively, go to
to download a free program called Cliptalk®. It allows whatever is copied on to the clipboard to be read back.
- Help for writing & editing
- Software called textHELP Read and Write Gold®
(try http://www.texthelp.com) is a word-processing program intended to use alongside Microsoft Word®. This program can read out words as they are typed, read back text, check spelling and can automatically correct frequently made errors. Its capacity to read back the text on screen enables the user to listen to what they have written making it invaluable for editing and proofreading work. Similar word processing and prediction programs are: Text Ease 2000®, Text Help®, Clicker 4®, Penfriend®, ClickNType®, Co:Writer 4000® and Kurzwell® (see
http://www.dyslexic.com for more information on most of these).
- Talk to your computer
- New generation software now converts what's being said into print that appears on the screen. The future is here, and what is more, the price of this product continues to fall. Dragon NaturallySpeaking® (try
http://www.voiceperfect.com or any
organisation in your state) for Windows® is useful for students who have handwriting problems, spelling difficulties, cannot type or just don't like typing. It allows students to say what they are thinking and get an immediate written result.
- Idea organisers
- It's worth exploring the computer programs Inspiration® and Kidspiration®
These allow both young and older children to flexibly organise their ideas on the computer screen. They help students to collect and sequence ideas for assignments or provide a means to keep track of what's happening in each chapter of the novel they have read.
17. Try a perseverance study with students
Ask students share their own stories about times when they have or have not persevered, and what the outcomes have been. Organise for students to keep journals focusing on tasks they know require perseverance. Set up a way for them to self-monitor their behaviours and attitudes when enjoying an activity compared to their behaviours and attitudes when being challenged by an activity.
Occasionally, seize the moment when students reach an impasse. Guide them to reach into their developing 'tool box' of perseverance strategies, and find a way to deal with the problem at hand.
Encourage students to write scripts, create plays or make a video. Use the theme 'Perseverance'.
18. Lifting the mood
Energizers or change-ups are anything a teacher does to introduce fun or interest into lessons. They're especially useful when the concentration and attention of students is starting to wander and their energy seems to be flagging. The best advice is to be creative and try new things! Introduce novelty and new ideas to secure the engagement of students - change the style of presentation, talk loudly, talk softly, use a strange voice or an accent, tell a joke, invite jokes, give them a minute to solve a brainteaser, continue your trivia quiz - then immediately get back to the lesson as a change-up is simply an energizing break!
A good place to start is to type in 'classroom energizers' into a Google search and be amazed by the array of ideas offered. Here are several favourites of mine.
- Play 'speed ball'
- This game is quick. Have students stand up next to their seats. Throw a foam ball throw towards a student. Once the student has caught the ball they engage eye contact with someone new, call their name, and throw it directly to them at chest height. Each person needs to catch and throw the ball within three or four seconds. Students leave the game by sitting back down in their chairs when they fail to catch the ball, throw poorly or take too long to throw. The last five students standing win.
- Raffle ticket giveaway
- Giving away raffle tickets that can be collected for rewards for right answers, having a go, saying yes or smiling is a way to motivate students of all ages. Negotiate how many tickets students will need to earn a particular reward or hold a draw at the end of the day or week.
- Music CD 'cut ups'
- To encourage the cooperation and persistence of a student, one teacher promised to give a student a new release music CD when he reached a target they had set together. The teacher explained her idea to the student's parents and asked them if they'd be prepared to purchase the CD. They agreed, bought it and handed it to her. She then photocopied the CD's cover and cut it into 20 pieces promising her student the new CD when he'd collected all 20 pieces. A piece could be earned by the student in each lesson by responding positively, persisting and being less distracting. The idea worked well because it took the student from behaving 'in the moment'.
- Make happy-face families
- Discuss with a student, or the entire class, a particular behaviour you want to see more of. Explain that each time you see it, you'll stamp their blank Happy-face family card with a happy face stamp. Once the Happy-face card is filled, and they have a happy face family, it's time for the student to choose a lucky dip, collect a prize or select a story or a game as positive reinforcement.
19. Keep parents in the 'information loop'
Most parents know their children very well and have a wealth of knowledge about their son's or daughter's style. It is an advantage to communicate with them and tap into their knowledge, influence and support. When parents are included in the planning, we place them in a proactive position where they can provide wonderful backup. Listening and consulting with parents is truly an investment.
20. Borrow from the future
When the going gets tough, try and picture this student twenty years from now. After all, making a positive difference to a young, developing human being has to be our greatest legacy.
So, trust your instincts. Participate in redesigning opportunities for that poorly self-motivated, vulnerable or 'at risk' student right now.
Start with a small step that targets just one positive change.
Then, behold the amazing ripple effect!