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5 Strategies for Motivating Students

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1. Promote growth mindset over fixed mindset.

A fixed mindset belief suggests that people are born with or without certain abilities and talents, and that abilities cannot be changed. Fixed mindset learners try to prove themselves and will often shy away from challenges because they do not want to appear to be struggling. A growth mindset learner, on the other hand, believes that abilities and talents can be cultivated and improved through hard work.

Growth mindset students enjoy a challenge and see struggles and failures as necessary parts of growth. Learners with a growth mindset are certainly more motivated to work hard.

How do we foster a growth mindset in the classroom?

One of the most powerful elements of feedback for our learners is to praise them for their efforts and hard work. “I can tell that you have been practicing your reading,” or “The practice is paying off on your times tables,” tells learners that they have the power to improve their academic success.

That said, we must stop praising ability: “Wow, you are such a smart math student,” or “You are such an incredible reader.” Praise for abilities over efforts reinforces the fixed mindset that students have the ability or they don’t and no amount of hard work on the learner’s part can change the outcome. We are all learners, and should be encouraged as such.

2. Grow a community of learners in your classroom.

Students need a classroom environment that is safe, where they are willing to take risks and struggle. To achieve this goal, the students and teacher must work together towards common collective goals. Students must be willing to work with and assist other students in class. Struggle should be acceptable and encouraged as a part of the learning process.

Traditional teaching consists of teachers lecturing and learners taking notes, followed by the learners doing independent work to check for understanding. Transforming this outdated model to include more time where students are talking to students brings about true community. Collaborative group work should be the activity between the teacher lecture and the independent work.

3. Be inspirational.

Most adults can recall a specific teacher from their childhood who had a lasting impact. These are the teachers that have inspired, challenged, and motivated students enough to be memorable years later.

What makes these teachers inspirational?

Inspirational teachers represent success to their students. Teacher success might be: completing a 10K race, owning a small business, or receiving a teaching award. We each have successes to share. Through our triumphs, students can learn what success looks like and go after it.

These behaviors include hard work, willingness to struggle, and ability to learn from our mistakes. Students internalize our behaviors and strategies as a way to accomplish their own goals. We give them an opportunity to do so in our everyday routines, assignments and encounters with them.

4. Develop meaningful and respectful relationships with your students.

If we are going to truly inspire and motivate all of our students, we should know each of them on a personal level. We need to know their interests and hobbies, who they hang out with, their family situations, and what gets them excited. Each student is going to require different motivational strategies, and we have to know them to be able to predict what strategies might work.

In order to begin that “knowing,” try allowing for five minutes where students may share “Good News.” For example, student A shares, “I am a new uncle! My sister had a new baby boy this weekend!” This is an opportunity for us to learn about our students as people and to let them know that we care about them individually. This also provides an avenue for teachers to share some details about their lives outside of school.


5.  Establish high expectations and establish clear goals.

Setting high expectations and supporting students as they struggle allows learners to rise to meet those expectations. When expectations are transparent, students know where their learning is headed and are motivated to get there because it seems possible: the path is visible. Working towards daily, weekly, and yearly goals gives students a purpose and a meaning for the hard work that they do.

Daily learning goals (learning targets, or “I can” statements) should be posted, visible and referenced on a daily basis. Establishing the “goal of the day” at the start of the lesson gives students a purpose for their learning. Students can also formatively assess themselves at the end of each lesson by checking to be sure they have met the learning goals.


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