Tag Archives: motivating students

Strategies for Helping Students Motivate Themselves | Edutopia

I (Clare) found this interesting article on Edutopia. I thought it would be of interest to educators especially since it is the beginning of the school year. Strategies for Helping Students Motivate Themselves | Edutopia

Consider using autonomy, competence, relatedness, and relevance as practical classroom strategies to reinforce the intrinsic motivation students need for making the most of their learning.

Editor’s Note: This piece was adapted from Building a Community of Self-Motivated Learners: Strategies to Help Students Thrive in School and Beyond by Larry Ferlazzo, available March 21, 2015 from Routledge.

My previous post reviewed research on extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, and described the four qualities that have been identified as critical to helping students motivate themselves: autonomy, competence, relatedness, and relevance.

In this post, I’ll discuss practical classroom strategies to reinforce each of these four qualities.


Providing students with freedom of choice is one strategy for promoting learner autonomy. Educators commonly view this idea of choice through the lens of organizational and procedural choice. Organizational choice, for example, might mean students having a voice in seating assignments or members of their small learning groups. Procedural choice could include a choice from a list of homework assignments and what form a final project might take — a book, poster, or skit.

Some researchers, however, believe that a third option, cognitive choice, is a more effective way to promote longer-lasting student autonomy. This kind of cognitive autonomy support, which is also related to the idea of ensuring relevance, could include:

  • Problem-based learning, where small groups need to determine their own solutions to teacher-suggested and/or student-solicited issues — ways to organize school lunchtime more effectively, what it would take to have a human colony on Mars, strategies to get more healthy food choices available in the neighborhood, etc.
  • Students developing their own ideas for homework assignments related to what is being studied in class
  • Students publicly sharing their different thinking processes behind solving the same problem or a similar one
  • Teachers using thinking routines like one developed by Project Zero at Harvard and consisting of a simple formula: the teacher regularly asking, “What is going on here?” and, after a student response, continuing with, “What do you see that makes you say so?”


Feedback, done well, is ranked by education researcher John Hattie as number 10 out of 150 influences on student achievement.

As Carol Dweck has found, praising intelligence makes people less willing to risk “their newly-minted genius status,” while praising effort encourages the idea that we primarily learn through our hard work: “Ben, it’s impressive that you wrote two drafts of that essay instead of one, and had your friend review it, too. How do you feel it turned out, and what made you want to put the extra work into it?”

But how do you handle providing critical feedback to students when it’s necessary? Since extensive research shows that a ratio of positive-to-negative feedback of between 3-1 and 5-1 is necessary for healthy learning to occur, teachers might consider a strategy called plussing that is used by Pixar animation studios with great success. The New York Times interviewed author Peter Sims about the concept:

The point, he said, is to “build and improve on ideas without using judgmental language.” . . . An animator working on Toy Story 3 shares her rough sketches and ideas with the director. “Instead of criticizing the sketch or saying ‘no,’ the director will build on the starting point by saying something like, ‘I like Woody’s eyes, and what if his eyes rolled left?” Using words like “and” or “what if” rather than “but” is a way to offer suggestions and allow creative juices to flow without fear, Mr. Sims said.

“And” and “what if” could easily become often-used words in an educator’s vocabulary!


A high-quality relationship with a teacher whom they respect is a key element of helping students develop intrinsic motivation. What are some actions that teachers can take to strengthen these relationships?

Here are four simple suggestions adapted from Robert Marzano’s ideas:

1. Take a genuine interest in your students.

Learn their interests, hopes, and dreams. Ask them about what is happening in their lives. In other words, lead with your ears and not your mouth. Don’t, however, just make it a one-way street — share some of your own stories, too.

2. Act friendly in other ways.

Smile, joke, and sometimes make a light, supportive touch on a student’s shoulder.

3. Be flexible, and keep our eyes on the learning goal prize.

One of my students had never written an essay in his school career. He was intent on maintaining that record during an assignment of writing a persuasive essay about what students thought was the worst natural disaster. Because I knew two of his passions were football and video games, I told him that as long as he used the writing techniques we’d studied, he could write an essay on why his favorite football team was better than its rival or on why he particularly liked one video game. He ended up writing an essay on both topics.

4. Don’t give up on students.

Be positive (as much as humanly possible) and encourage a growth mindset.


Have students write about how they see what they are learning as relevant to their lives. Researchers had students write one paragraph after a lesson sharing how they thought what they had learned would be useful to their lives. Writing 1-8 of these during a semester led to positive learning gains, especially for those students who had previously been “low performers.”

It is not uncommon for teachers to explicitly make those kinds of real-life connections. However, research has also found that this kind of teacher-centered approach can actually be de-motivating to some students with low skills. A student who is having a very difficult time understanding math or does just not find it interesting, for example, can feel threatened by hearing regularly from a teacher how important math is to his or her future. Instead of becoming more engaged in class, he or she may experience more negative feelings. These same researchers write:

[A] more effective approach would be to encourage students to generate their own connections and discover for themselves the relevance of course material to their lives. This method gives students the opportunity to make connections to topics and areas of greatest interest to their lives.

What other strategies do you use in the classroom to reinforce any of these four critical elements of intrinsic motivation?

Source: Strategies for Helping Students Motivate Themselves | Edutopia

8 Uplifting Quotes For Discouraged Students

At this time of the school year, most educators are busy grading papers or marking assignments. I (Clare) came across this wonderful blog post on http://www.edudemic.com/discouraged-students/. I found these quotes comforting and inspirational. You might find want to share them with some of your students who are struggling.

8 Uplifting Quotes For Discouraged Students By nicolettemorrison on November 27, 2014@hellonicolettem

There are many reasons a student can lose focus in school.Albert Einstein

It can be bad grades that will discourage them to be inactive and to rebel. It can be the environment that can be stifling and suffocating for the students. It can be the fact that many of them don’t find it easy to see the meaning in their struggles in school.

Some students excel under pressure, and there are those who crumble beneath it. It’s easy to praise the students who continuously work hard, but let’s try not to berate those who find it difficult to focus.

When students get tired of school, they find all means to take the shortcut. This is why numerous students end up copying their homework and plagiarizing their essays. This is why websites such as Bestessays.com thrive. They offer services that will ease the difficulties of student, making it tempting for them to sign up and buy customized papers. Technology has definitely made cheating a lot easier.

It’s not just in the output that students slack off in school. It’s in their mentality that clearly shows their disinterest to learn and attend classes. When they start to not care about their grades, it must be a cause of concern for teachers.

Instead of lecturing these lost souls, it’s up to educators and mentors to find ways on how to lure them back into learning. It can be through constant motivation and pep talk. Sometimes, it can be a great story that will push them to work harder.

For now, maybe these inspirational quotes on learning and hard work can do the trick.

 “If you really look closely, most overnight successes took a long time.” – Steve Jobs

With the likes of Mark Zuckerberg being the poster boy of drop-out billionaires, it’s easy to see why many students seem to think that they no longer need school to succeed in life. But closer inspection shows that their path to success is muddier than one would expect. And besides, we can’t all be Mark Zuckerberg. We can’t all be Steve Jobs. But students can try to pave their own way to success and school can help with that.

“Every child is gifted. They just unwrap their packages at different times.” – Anonymous

Students can’t help but compare themselves with the topnotchers in class. While some obviously spend a lot of time studying, some students barely study and still manage to get good grades. Then there are students, who no matter how hard they try still scramble to get decent grades. They need to understand that students have different modes and strengths in learning, and sometimes formal education doesn’t work for many students. But every student has a talent and a skill that need time to develop.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas A. Edison

It’s easy to get disheartened with a failed Math exam, but it’s just one exam out of many. A low grade for an English essay may be discouraging, but there’s always a next time. What students need to keep in mind is that getting bad grades and making mistakes can only lead to further learning. There’s always room for growth and time to correct their mistakes. One failure doesn’t mean it’s endgame already.

“You can do anything, but not everything.” – Anonymous

With so many options for young minds to explore and wander, students are often pressured to be great in everything. But that’s not something mere mortals can do. There’s nothing wrong with being a Math wizard and finding difficulty penning a coherent essay. What students can do is to focus on what they’re good at and once they’ve mastered this skill, they can go ahead and try other things. They’ll feel burned out if they take too much activities on their plate all at the same time.

“You measure the size of the accomplishment by the obstacles you had to overcome to reach your goals.” – Booker T. Washington

There’s a reason why a B+ in a subject you find difficult seems a lot sweeter than the easy A+ in your PE class. When you work hard for something, an excellent result may not be quick to attain but even a satisfactory result is enough to send students in pure bliss.

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” – Wayne Gretzky

Students are often disheartened by bad results, but giving up without even finishing their tasks means they won’t even get any result, besides a failing mark. It’s always better to give learning a shot before deeming it as something they’ll be bad at. They may fail the first time, but they’ll eventually get better at it.

“Don’t worry about failures, worry about the chances you miss when you don’t even try.” – Jack Canfield

To reiterate the earlier point, students miss out more when don’t even give it a try. Many students have this mindset that they’ll fail anyway, so why exert an effort in studying? But the fact that they don’t even open their books and rarely listen to discussions means that they didn’t even bother giving it a shot. Efforts may not always reap the best rewards, but it’s better than none.

“Tough times never last. But tough people do.” – Dr. Robert Schuller

School is just a part of life. It’s just a phase as crucial as it may be, and there’s more learning that will happen once you graduate from your alma matter. Don’t think that it’s the end of the line, because you’re just starting. School may toughen you up, but you need that to survive.

So students, keep your chin up because school isn’t the be-all and end-all of your life. The difficulties will pass and you only need to hold on.

Why did you give me a happy face when I only got 2 answers correct?

As many of you are gearing up for the start of school, I (Clare) want to share one of the Happy Facemost inspiring talks on education I have heard. Rita Pierson is a high school teacher whose talk on motivating students was amazing. Her views are so in sync with many of our blogs that I wanted to share it with you. Like me, she believes that teaching is a relational act. In the face of standardized tests and prescriptive curriculum, she keeps her focus on the students. Her story of giving a student who only scored 2/20 a happy face on his test will bring a smile to every teacher. When the high school student wondered why he got a happy face when he only got 2 answers correct, her answer will surprise you. Her talk is only 6 minutes long but it is worth. I think teachers will find it inspiring. And every teacher educator should show this video to his/her student teachers because this is what true teaching is all about. Here is the link to the Ted Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dilnw_dP3xk