Student Motivation

If a student is not interested in what he/she is learning, his/her corresponding achievement will suffer. Some students may be reluctant to engage or persist in certain subjects &/or tasks due to difficulties in coping with task demands and discouragement from unsuccessful learning experiences for a variety of reasons. Other students may not be interested in certain teaching and learning activities because the content is outside their realm of interest or prior experience. Consequently, when a student is experiencing academic difficulties teachers, teacher aides, parents, administrators, school-based intervention and/or IEP teams must consider the student's motivation.

The following criteria for inherently motivating tasks, as well as the chart at the bottom of this page, should be considered when assessing possible causes of the student's difficulties, as well as developing subsequent interventions:

1. Present manageable challenges for students - If the academic tasks are too difficult for the student they should be more aligned with the student's skills &/or capabilities


2. Arouse curiosity - Tasks need to be sufficiently complex so outcomes are not always certain - If the assigned academic tasks are too simple or too complex, they will not arouse the student's curiosity. Consequently, interventions should present the student with sufficiently complex tasks, aligned with his/her capabilities, to arouse curiosity.


3. Arouse fantasy and imagination - Interventions should utilize an array of strategies, which arouse the student's fantasy and imagination, such as instructional games.


4. Are relevant to the student - Interventions should try to make academic topics, causing the student difficulties, more relevant by connecting them to his/her aspirations and interests. For example, the teacher may let the student select from among a number of projects.


In addition to a task's inherently motivational characteristics, individual students also seem to have inherent motivational characteristics, which need to be considered when a student is experiencing academic difficulties:


1. Motivation to achieve success &/or avoid failure. Success oriented students are more likely to engage in new teaching & learning activities, as well as academic challenges, because of anticipated emotional rewards. On the other hand, students motivated to avoid failure will tend to avoid new tasks and academic challenges. These students may then utilize counter productive learning strategies to avoid failure - procrastination, setting excessively high and unattainable goals, admit to certain weaknesses to establish an excuse for failing, etc.

2. Attribution theory - A student's perception of the causes for his/her own success and failures (e.g., ability, luck, effort, and task difficulty). Effort is the most adaptive attribution for academic success that interventions should foster. Therefore, when a student is experiencing academic difficulties the teacher, teacher aides, parents, administrators, school-based intervention and/or IEP teams should reinforce and emphasize the student's efforts. After many encounters with failure, some children may begin to believe that they are not capable of success, and give up without even trying. Teachers must continually reinforce the connection between effort and achievement with struggling students. An environment where success is possible and students set reachable goals can have a profound, positive effect on struggling students (Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001).

3. Self-worth theory - If high academic accomplishments is the criteria for self-worth, then when a student is experiencing academic difficulties his/her self-worth will suffer and should be considered in developing and implementing interventions. 

Student Cognitions and Motivation

Interventions may seek to teach student about motivations and how motivation effects him/her so that he/she can begin to utilize his/her cognitions to influence motivations. On a simple level, the student's interest in the corresponding academic subject, task, or skill can be represented by the following graphic:



The student is drawn towards the subject, activity, or event, which he/she views positively; consequently, he's interested in it. On the other hand, the student dislikes the subject, activity, or event, he/she views it negatively, dislikes it and may actively avoid it. Finally, if a subject, event, or topic has no attraction for the student, he will not be interested in it and will not pay attention to it. Clearly, interventions need to determine the match/mismatch between a student and the subject/topic causing academic difficulty and try to increase its positive valence &/or decrease its negative valence (e.g., external rewards, increasing relevance, decreasing its difficulty, increasing student's skills, etc.)

On the other hand, when a student is interested in a subject, performance improves. Lesson plans, curriculum material, school-based interventions, &/or IEPs should be meaningful and interesting to the student experiencing academic difficulties.

Strategies to Increase Student Motivation

Present manageable challenges to the student - the assigned tasks must be "doable" Arouse the student's curiosity Arouse the student's imagination and fantasies with instructional activities (e.g., games)
Ensure the student sees the relevance of task &/or activity Continuously reinforce the connection between effort and achievement Teach & reinforce the impact of motivation on achievement to increase the student's cognitive control over his/her motivation
Utilize those factors (e.g., activities, stimuli, etc.) that the student finds reinforcing and use them as reinforcers Identify those factors (e.g., activities, stimuli, etc.) that the student seeks to avoid and reinforce the student's engagement in them Involve the student in goal setting, selecting reinforcers and assessment activities
Celebrate student's effort and successes to foster personal recognition Based on student's strengths and weaknesses, when possible offer various response options, activity choices, grouping arrangements, etc.

Utilize role models &/or mentors