Making learning interesting has always been a tricky question for both educators and parents alike. Turning something like algebra or ancient history into an exciting exercise is easier said than done. And after the pandemic kept kids out of school for up to a year, students have been seemingly struggling more than ever when it comes to staying engaged in the learning process. This is especially true for low-income students of color who have been negatively impacted by the achievement gap. The consequences of a poorly educated society are vast, long-term, and affect us all. The bottom line is that many students will lose their drive, and being able to inspire students to learn is a challenging task.
Now, more than ever, our society needs dedicated individuals who are willing to step up and help those students who need it the most. And in order to do that, those individuals will have to combat the aforementioned loss of motivation that is plaguing a large number of students today. A lot goes into the learning process, so keep reading to learn about those factors and how you can use that knowledge when it comes to inspiring students who have lost their drive.
Create an Effective Learning Environment
While the learning process is at the heart of inspiring students, a factor that cannot go overlooked is the learning environment. The area where learning takes place can go far in influencing student outcomes. Dr. Kaylene C. Williams and Dr. Caroline C. Williams co-wrote an article for the Research in Higher Education Journal all about ingredients for improving student motivation. Their last ingredient, but certainly not least, was a proper learning environment. They write, “That environment must be of a quality or caliber that contributes to the motivation of the students… [A]n environment of openness and freedom to learn from our mistakes can foster motivation to learn. Also, the environment can be physical as well as mental, emotional, and even spiritual in some regard.”
To summarize their remarks, a learning environment that will be inspiring students is one that is welcoming, safe, and fosters creativity and critical thinking. Both parents and educators can embrace this as a strategy to motivate students. A proper learning environment is safe, is well-organized, encourages positive interactions among peers, ensures tutoring services are available, and more. Not all of the ways to achieve a proper learning environment may be easy; but, if possible, they can increase student motivation and engagement.
Build a Meaningful Teacher-Student Relationship
Give two teachers the same lesson to deliver to the same students and you’ll get two different outcomes. Why? Well, really, there are many reasons, but one of the biggest would be the difference in relationships that the teachers have with the students. The relationship that a teacher can build with their students can have a huge impact on student motivation as demonstrated by research done by the University of Lahore. They still state that “The results of the analysis indicated that, in overall, the strength or perception of positive teacher-student interaction ran parallel with student motivation.” More plainly, a better teacher-student relationship means better student motivation.
To create a great teacher-student relationship, make sure you are really getting to know your students. On the first day of class, have students write a letter to you so you can get to know them and start building that relationship right away. Try to visit them at school sports matches or music concerts to support their hobbies. Let students know you’re proud of them when they score well on an assignment or are showing signs of improvement. Kids notice little things like this and will take note of them, increasing their motivation in response.
“Game-ify” Lessons and Work
Kids often want to put away their homework and go play instead. And who can blame them? It’s safe to assume that almost all people find playing a game more interesting than sitting down and doing work, especially when you’re younger. In any case, a good strategy for inspiring students can be found in gamification, which involves using game-like mechanics in a lesson or class activity.
Dr. Patrick Buckley and Dr. Elaine Doyle write about gamification in their article “Gamification and Student Motivation.” After reviewing the results of their research, they end by saying “This study positions gamification as a powerful tool for educators teaching at all levels within the education system.” Their claim here that gamification is a “powerful tool” comes from the fact that they saw how gamification boosted student learning and motivation, although the extent of the latter did depend upon whether or not the student is intrinsically or extrinsically motivated.
Gamifying activities in the classroom can be tricky depending on the subject. In history classes, simulations like Reacting to the Past can be a great way to gamify a unit and immerse students in both the events being studied and the act of historical thinking. A math teacher could turn a worksheet of questions into a Jeopardy match with prizes to add stakes to the learning. These sorts of games can be fun for both students and teachers, and the enjoyment comes with the added benefit of motivating students.
In the age of Google Classroom and online quizzes, it can be easy to rely on those resources for formative and summative assessments alike. While they have their purpose in the classroom, those assessments, and more complex varieties as well, can be much more powerful when used alongside self-assessment. Self-assessment, as defined by Dr. James A. McMillan and Dr. Jessica Hearn in their article “Student Self-Assessment: The Key to Stronger Student Motivation and Higher Achievement,” is “a dynamic process in which students self-monitor, self-evaluate, and identify correctives to learn.” More simply, it’s the process by which students reflect on their past performance in order to improve.
By emphasizing the importance of self-assessment, students will be able to set goals, evaluate their learning, and come up with ways to improve and reach new heights. If you’re an English teacher, a quick and easy way to implement self-assessment would be to have students rate their essay drafts using a questionnaire covering several criteria. Or, if you are working on math, have students review missed math questions and make specific notes of what they missed and how they can avoid making that mistake in the future. Self-assessment can go much deeper than this, as described by McMillan and Hearn, but its power in inspiring students cannot be understated.
Encourage Parental Involvement
There’s an old riddle in the world of education: “Who plays the biggest role in a child’s education? The teacher, the student, or the parent?” While the roles that the child and teacher play in education are clear, the parent, while not playing a direct role most of the time in a student’s instructional time at school, still has a huge impact on the student’s performance in school.
Research published in Educational Psychology Review examined how the relationship between a parent and child affected student motivation. They examined many aspects of a student’s motivation including a student’s effort in class, their motivation to read, self-control, and more. They conclude their examination of this relationship by stating “Studies reviewed in this article indicate that parent involvement, both in the home or school context, is associated with positive outcomes for the student’s motivation.” In other words, parents being involved in their child’s lives, both in and out of school, is beneficial for the student’s motivation.
If you’re a parent, making time for your child may not always be easy. Work and other responsibilities can take up a lot of time, so adding in more duties may be a tall order. But even simple tasks, like praising your child’s work more often or reading assigned books along with them, can inspire them.
If you’re a teacher, your effectiveness in this realm is a little more limited. Maintaining contact with students’ parents, particularly those who are underperforming or undermotivated, can help. Make a sincere effort to reach out and talk either in person or over the phone, as opposed to by email. Don’t just feel the need to call with only bad news. Call when there is some great news as well so the parent is involved in both the good and not-so-good aspects of a child’s school life. Little things can make a big difference!
Inspiring students who have lost their motivation can be tricky, but there are a number of strategies to motivate students. Self-assessments motivate students through self-reflection. A proper learning environment facilitates higher motivation. Parental involvement can inspire students. Gamifying a class can make learning fun and therefore more engaging. Positive teacher-student relationships can help get students excited for class again. If you’re looking to support a method of tutoring students that has proven to improve their academics and other skills, including motivation, consider donating to Educate. Radiate. Elevate. Our highly-trained, highly-qualified tutors work to help underserved students who are struggling through school. With your help, we can seek to ensure that all children, families, and communities—regardless of race or income—have opportunities to reach their full potential.