Motivating students for one lesson is a challenge – keeping them continually motivated is an even bigger one, but if we invest the time, effort and energy into developing lessons that sustain student motivation week after week, we find that students both enjoy and achieve more. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
1. Provide a real life context
Nothing is less motivating to your typical adolescent, than thinking that what they are learning is completely pointless – and it’s easy to understand why. If we provide a purpose to learning and can help students to understand how it might be relevant and useful to them, they will be instantly more motivated. Try to think about this as you plan your lessons. Imagine a disaffected student peering over your shoulder asking ‘what’s the point?’
Try to answer the questions:
- Why is this skill, knowledge or understanding useful?
- How could it be generally applied?
- What is a specific, example that sets it in context?
The easiest way to do this is to build case studies or vignettes into our teaching so that students can see the new skills or knowledge they’re learning in action.
2. Don’t teach in silos
As well as helping students to understand how they’ll use their new-found knowledge and skills in real life, it’s also important for them to understand where their new learning sits within the curriculum. Being able to see how each lesson builds on the last and seeing that each lesson forms part of a larger whole is far more motivating than the feeling of learning lots of disparate skills and developing discrete pockets of knowledge.
3. Make visible progress
We all find being good at things motivating. Success is, in and of itself, rewarding – so make sure that when you plan your lessons, you design them in such a way that progress will be possible, clearly defined and acknowledged. When students can see themselves making progress they are often motivated to continue working towards the next target.
4. Create challenging targets
However, it’s important that your targets aren’t too easy. A prize too easily won doesn’t feel like a prize at all and learners will rapidly disengage. Of course, different learners work at different levels and paces so it’s important to ensure that your lessons are efficiently differentiated to allow for your most and least able learners as well as providing plenty of challenge and opportunities for success for middle learners too.
5. Use peer led learning
Student led learning can prove motivating both for the student doing the teaching and for their pupil. Being taught in a new way, in our own words by a peer can help to reenergise us and reframe difficult subjects whilst the student-teacher is provided with a great ego boost and a chance to consolidate their learning.
6. Invite and act on their feedback
Students are well-placed to explore and explain what would make their lessons more engaging. Whilst the content we cover may be largely constrained by the curriculum, how long we choose to focus on each area, or the ways in which we teach and learn are a little more open to negotiation. Enabling students to voice their opinions about this and actually responding to the wants and needs of the class, within reason, can help to ensure that they really buy into your lessons.
Motivating our students isn’t a one off thing, it’s something that needs to be built into every scheme of work we write and every lesson we plan. I hope the ideas shared here provide some food for thought.