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"Be the BEST you can be!"
My students heard that phrase from me countless times.
It is the theme of this web site.


This group of pages is a collection of articles about motivating students. Much of it was created as a stopgap effort to be presented to my 5th through 8th grade Computer Literacy classes (only 40 minutes per week). It was my intention that this material would eventually be incorporated into a 1st - 8th, school-wide Personhood Curriculum.

Feel free to download and use any of this material. I only ask that you retain reference to its origin, this web site. Ideally, a teacher needs to (at every opportunity) refer back to the ideas presented. The order in which these appear in the table below are the suggested order you should read them, and the suggested order in which they should be presented to a class.

Parents are encourage to make use of this material.

Education as Entertainment

A common theme in discussions of student motivation is what I call "Tricks of the Trade," that is trying to hook the students in some way in order to pull them into learning.

One approach is to make the lesson entertaining. Interesting (entertaining) lessons have appeal to the students, because students are so tuned to be entertained. It definitely has value and a place in education. I have used a form of it myself to draw students into a presentation. Entertaining elements help students stay focused on the lesson.

But entertainment tricks are not the same as motivation. They may be necessary, but they are insufficient. Tricks may pull students into the lesson, but they still need to be motivated to learn the material, practice it, and internalize it so they will be able to use it throughout their lives. We need to work on intrinsic motivation so that learning is solidly in the self interest of the students. That is one of the goals of this site.

Many tactics to motivate students are highly dependent upon "external" situational factors, such as:

Often, if these externals change too much, motivation will be lost. This indicates the child lacks internal motivation. Not too many teachers are SUPER enough to be able to reliably overcome the lack of internal motivation in all settings.

(It should be realized that students who have been unmotivated for most of their school experiences are operating with a severe knowledge deficit - a form of learning disability in itself!)

The Internally Motivated Student

At the other end of the student spectrum, we have kids who will learn and learn well, in spite of how poor the teacher may be! Give them the course material, and just get out of their way! They learn with very little "intervention" from the teacher.

The main difference between the two kinds of students is their internal motivation! We need to understand how these top students got that way. How are they motivated? What does it take (applied from the outside!) to impart that internal motivation to the other students? Then we need to create and use very explicit lessons to do it! This web site attempts to do this.

General Comments on Motivation (for teachers and parents)

Today, more and more students are showing up in our classrooms without having developed sufficient motivation to learn. Teachers spend far too much time trying to overcome lack of motivation. If students where motivated, much less class time would be needed for the "average" student. More time can be spent helping students who really need help. The overall effort of the teaching staff would not be increased.

High motivation will help ALL students; from those with learning difficulties to those at the top of the class.

Teachers: You are invited to use any of this material in your classes.

Parents: I ask you to follow up at home to reinforce the teacher's efforts.

Parents: If the teacher is not using this material, you are invited to initiate and follow through at home. You and your child should read an article, and then discuss it. I have seen this method produce spectacularly good results!

Students can tune out for two main reasons.

  1. They don't see the relevance of school.
  2. They are discourage because they have a learning deficit.

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Relevance is Not Recognized

Because of a very shortsighted view, students do not see the relevance of the school material to their lives. They don't see school as providing any benefit to them. This is probably the most common cause of poor motivation.

The causes of this can be placed on possibly several factors.

The contents of this web site are designed to "Expand the Self Interest Horizon" of the students. (This is one of the writer's favorite phrases. It really puts the basis of motivation into a nutshell.) You might call it "Real World 101."

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Learning Deficits

This web site does not significantly address correcting these problem. They are included simply for completeness. For help on learning deficits I direct your attention to the "All Kinds of Minds" web site.

Students with the problems listed below have difficulty or can't keep up without help. If they do not get help, they simply give up! They become convinced that they cannot do the work ("So why even try?"). Motivation is dead.
Listed here are four causes:

(1) Student is slow to develop certain mental capacities. People develop at different rates. The "one-size-fits-all" schedule is a myth, and should not be rigidly imposed. (To do so is a major disservice to the student, his family, and the community.)

Solution: Retain the student at grade level, waiting for their development to catch up. Provide special tutoring or assistance to help their development catch up. Provide emotional support, as needed. (This writer took 3-1/2 years to complete 1st and 2nd grade, because of slowness learning to read.)
(2) A physical problem, such as poor vision, poor hearing, bad headaches, or other.
Solution: Screening. Correction of problem.
(3) Some students have a true learning disability.
Solutions: Screening, intervention, special help, tutors, enlisting parental aid.
(4) For whatever reason, the student has fallen too far behind. He does not have sufficient knowledge to support the new learning required. This is very definitely a learning deficit!
Solutions: Find more time to use in catching up. Tutoring to speed it up. Retention* at grade level.

If there is a learning deficit, a three-pronged approach should be used:

  1. Demystification of the problem comes first. Once the situation is fully evaluated, and the student understands (sufficient for his age-level) the cause and the corrective steps to be taken, he will more likely be encouraged and be an enthusiastic contributor to the solution of the problem.
  2. Corrective action taken by qualified specialists, teachers, tutors, parents, and the student. The specialist should provide coordination of all parties, and provide any advanced help. Corrective action could be retention*, with or without tutors.
  3. Work on motivation, as presented by the remainder of this Motivation web site. Without good motivation, understanding the cause and the corrective actions needed may not work! The student may not be willing to put in the effort required.

 * Retention: (not moving into next grade at the new school year). The student should be made aware that this is a possibility. The student knows he is in trouble, so it will not be a shock to be held back. Remember, while he may be embarrassed by being held back, if it corrects the problem in the long run, that is VERY much better that eventually becoming so discouraged that he drops out of school!

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