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Date Author Title
2014-11-01 Steve Gardiner Tips on Student Motivation--Part 3


Part 2 viewed challenge and skill, student passions, adult modeling,

and rewards/praise as concerns in thinking about student motivation.

Part 3 will look at three more factors involved in motivation.

    8. Problem-Based Learning. At many grade levels, the Common Core State Standards require students to conduct research about a problem and provide a solution. It's not a new idea, but when students engage in this type of activity, they may be demonstrating autonomy, pursuing a passion, experiencing a flow activity, or all of the above at once. Problem-based learning allows students to examine the types of problems they would find in a real-world setting (examining water quality in a local pond, studying traffic patterns in a congested part of a city) which makes the research relevant and important. Often these activities also involve producing a presentation and delivering the information in a report to the class or community, adding writing and speaking skills to the benefits of the project.

  1. Service Learning. Service learning involves students directly in the community, but is more involved than a typical community service project. Community service might involve picking up trash in a park or shoveling show for an elderly neighbor. Those are excellent projects, but service learning includes a direct sense of significant learning on the part of the participants. The National Service Learning Clearinghouse stated that Service Learning is “a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities” (NSLC, 2011, para. 1). For example, I made a contact with an orphanage school in Tanzania, and my students decided to make children's books for the students there. They researched the culture, history and people of Tanzania, shared their results with the class, and then created stories, number books, and alphabet books, with some students including words in Swahili in their books. My students were focused as they worked on the books, and they were very proud the day we mailed the books to Tanzania.

  2. Mindset and Resilience. Dweck (2006) defined two mindsets that directly affect and define student motivation. The first is the fixed mindset. Students with this mindset believe that their intelligence and personality are fixed and cannot be changed or improved. Because of that, these students avoid difficult tasks and view mistakes as failures. On the other hand, students with a growth mindset view their intelligence as changeable and are willing to take on challenges. They see mistakes as opportunities to learn, and because of this, are much more likely to stay with a task, even when it is difficult. Dweck explained that students with a fixed mindset are often unmotivated in the classroom because they see their value coming from their innate intelligence rather than from accomplishments. She noted that “if you're considered a genius, a talent, or a natural—then you have a lot to lose. Effort can reduce you” (p. 42). Students with a growth mindset are filled with enthusiasm because they want to learn more, experience more, and become more.

  3. Aspirations and Goal Setting. A final thought about motivation is that students who can see into their futures, who know where they want to go, will be more motivated than those who can't. Their aspirations often guide them through daily work, even if it might not be the most exciting, because they have a sense of where they are going and what they want to achieve. Setting realistic and meaningful goals may be done by the student or by working with an adult who provides some guidance. Aspirations reflect a “student's ability to identify and set goals for the future, while being inspired in the present to work toward those goals” (Qualgia & Cobb, 1996, p. 130). A clear view of the future increases student motivation today.

No Motivation Formula

In the end, motivation is a complex concept with many variables and factors. There isn't a single formula or plan to solve all student motivation issues. Deci (1995) suggested that rather than asking “How can people motivate others?” we should be asking “How can people create the conditions within which others will motivate themselves?” (p. 10). If what we want in students is intrinsic motivation, genuine motivation that will last a lifetime, that is the path we need to take.


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National Service Learning Clearinghouse. (2011). What is Service Learning? (electronic files). Retrieved from http://www.servicelearning.org/what-service-learning.


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