Intrinsic Student Motivation

Goal orientation. Self-efficacy. Autonomy. There are many ways to describe intrinsic motivation for students, and I am glad that the discussion on this is so rich.

After all, research has shown that there is a steady decrease in intrinsic & extrinsic motivation among students age 9-12, followed by a slow stabilization until 15.

Meanwhile, we know that students with higher motivation perform better academically, in sports, and in social life.

That’s why it is so important for schools to treat intrinsic motivation as an explicit learning target. Not every student is going to struggle with this – but those that do can have life-long benefits that carry them to success.

One path to supporting this objective is fostering a culture of growth mindsets. Growth mindsets allow students and teachers alike to understand that any current gaps in mastery are only temporary – they will last only as long as it takes to address. For some gaps, it might take years of practice to fill; others might require only a change of perspective.

Regardless of the strategies employed, teachers and school leaders should create explicit plans for supporting student growth in this area. In the complex science of learning, this is one characteristic that can have a wide-ranging positive impact on other outcomes.

Reaching Every Student

“Don’t tell me you believe ‘all kids can learn’ … tell me what you’re doing about the kids who aren’t learning.

Richard DuFour

It surprises me how many well-intentioned educators try to justify abandoning their students to failure. 

We talked about this last week.
If you’d done your homework, you’d understand.
We covered this yesterday; get the notes from a friend.

Yes, teenagers need to learn to be self-motivated, to do things for themselves, and so on.

…but should a kid be doomed to fail algebra because she never learned how to organize?

Yes, there are real-world reasons that teachers don’t always have time to re-teach for a single student.

…but if schools don’t have systems in place for supporting teachers to do this, then we have abdicated our professional responsibilities.

Our job is to maximize learning, whatever it takes.

If we, the professionals in the room, don’t take personal responsibility for each of our students – and yes, this means re-teaching too – then in essence, we are entrusting our students’ educations to their own self-motivation.  Many young people are organized, self-directed, and motivated – but those are not generally the ones we need to develop support structures for.

Effective schools focus on supporting the students who need help – and check up to make sure it is working!

As DuFour said, tell me what you’re doing about the kids who aren’t learning.

Our job is to make students learn; giving them the opportunity is not enough, because having the “opportunity” to learn something is different for every student. For some students, writing the due date for an upcoming assignment on the board will be enough of an opportunity – they know the classroom routines, will see the date, and will turn the assignment in on time. But we know that this will not be enough for every student. Did these other students have have an actual opportunity to turn in this assignment, if they don’t think to look at the board when they come into class? And should we allow this disposition to deny them an opportunity to learn?

Obviously not.

Bottom line: If your school wants to ensure the highest possible learning for all children, you need to have a systematic approach to interventions and extensions in place.  You need professionals organizing the system, and you need a dedicated staff who are committed to ensuring high outcomes.

If a student is falling below standard in English, does it help that student to shake your head and mourn that they should have studied?  Did you join the noblest profession to watch your low performers sit in the back and fail Geometry? 

Should have paid attention last Wednesday when I covered this.  Now we’re on Chapter 12. 

No, that student deserves a targeted intervention to catch them up and help guarantee them a quality education. Because that’s what we do.