Higher Motivation Leads to Better Learning

How many times have we teachers caught some students doing other things than paying attention to our teaching? How often have we seen signs of boredom in students during a lesson?

We teachers may sometimes think these students have a behavioral problem. We might also think that they just want to laze around, are not willing to work hard, or want to get the teacher’s attention. We can attribute students’ lack of interest or motivation to all these motives, but, do we ever think it could be our own instruction that has caused them to lose interest and lack motivation?

A large number of teachers, I believe, have observed their students losing interest in the lesson or demonstrating a low level of motivation to learn. This phenomenon to a great extent affects the teaching-learning process in the classroom and hinders students from achieving better.

Greatly affected by interest, motivation – the willingness of a person to expend a certain amount of effort to achieve a particular goal under a particular set of circumstances (Jack Snowman et.al. 2009) – is a vital factor that determines students’ success in learning. It is critical, therefore, for teachers to maintain students’ interest and motivation at a level high enough for them to be successful learners.

So, what can teachers do to keep students focused on the lesson and maintain their level of motivation? Although there are a number of different strategies that teachers can use, these four instructional strategies may be most relevant to our day-to-day task because these are the things we often forget to include in our instruction.

First, teachers need to communicate clear objectives at the beginning of each lesson. Clear targets bring students to a focus and give them a sense of purpose. By making the objectives explicit, teachers allow students to know where they are going and what they should do to reach the target. This way, the level of students’ motivation increases.

Imagine a person was offering you a bus trip. Your first and immediate response, I bet, would be to ask, “Where?” This indicates how important and valuable a destination is. Would you come join if this person did not tell exactly where the trip would be taking you? Most probably, you would not because there is no sense of purpose in it.

This analogy applies to students. If they do not see any sense of purpose in the lesson, the chance is they will refuse to learn and prefer to do other things. They are present in the classroom because they are forced – not motivated to be there.

Second, teachers need to discuss with students why it is important to learn a particular piece of knowledge or skill. The reason is quite simple. In everyday life people would be willing to sacrifice their time and energy to get something which they believe is valuable and meaningful to them.

The idea is based mainly on the information processing theory, which teaches that students are motivated highest when they can relate new information to their prior knowledge and out-of-school experience. Therefore, if students are made aware that a particular piece of knowledge and skill is relevant to their life and experience, they will highly value it. In turn, they will be ready to learn it with a high level of motivation.

Third, since grades are considered a good motivator for students, teachers need to tell their students explicitly how their learning will be assessed. My experience proves this strategy works well. My students tell me they are more motivated to work harder to achieve the highest scores possible when I inform them in advance the type of assessment and criteria I will use to assess their learning.

The idea is, this strategy conveys to students what the teacher expects of them to perform in the assessment and allows them to formulate a plan to approach it. If this strategy is excluded from instructional plans, the chance is students will miss the teacher’s expectation. And if this happens, the teacher might be the one to blame for students’ bad grades.

Fourth, teachers need to reward and celebrate every little bit of success that students make. Research has shown that giving positive reinforcement works better than exposing students to aversive situations, which are primarily intended to punish students.

In practice, however, teachers have a tendency to focus too much on giving criticism, which is punishment in nature, when students do not perform well and forget to praise them when they demonstrate success. Teachers simply overlook the power of positive reinforcement to enhance students’ achievement.

The idea of providing reward is based upon the behavioral point of view, which holds that a person will repeat a particular behavior if she receives a pleasant stimulus. A student will be encouraged to work even harder than before when she feels that the teacher appreciates her effort and values her work, however little the success she makes.

In conclusion, teachers should bear in mind that lack of interest and motivation in students may be rooted in their own classroom instruction. Since the four strategies are often neglected in the classroom, it is crucial for teachers to make them part of their instructional design in order to keep students highly motivated and help them become successful learners.
(Written by Benedictus Widi Nugroho. Unpublished article)


~ oleh berbagiasa pada 21 Februari 2010.

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