Many of my classmates in education seem to be anxious over this one common thing:  How do we motivate our students?  How do we keep them interested?  How do we inspire them?  How do we get them excited about learning?

Last semester in ECS 100, whenever someone asked a question like that, the response was always the same.  “When you find out, let me know.”

Helpful, no?



But I can hardly blame them.  What I’ve gleaned during my almost-year in this program is that there isn’t an answer to that problem because – and here’s the shocking part – we are not robots.  We are not the Borg.  We are individual people, which means that the techniques that work for one teacher in one classroom in one year may not work for another teacher, or even for the same teacher with a different group of students.

I’ve come to realize that when we ask our professors how we are going to keep our students interested, we are falling into the trap of thinking that we are no longer students.  We are still students.  In fact, we’re entering a profession where we have to be even better students than our students, because in order to do well at our jobs we need to learn quickly and efficiently all the time and then, every single day, prove and apply what we learned.  We need to sit up and pay attention, which I will be the first to admit I don’t always do.

I think that, somewhere in our heads, we all already have some kind of idea of how to answer that question.  How do you keep students interested?  Well…what kept you motivated?  What made you stop chatting with your friends and pay attention to what the teacher was saying?  What bored you?  What made you turn away or fall asleep? We’ve been witnesses to this profession our entire lives.  Now we just have to put it all together.

For instance, when I was in the eighth grade I made a powerpoint presentation on the country of Ireland.  It was a terrible presentation – half an hour long or something ridiculous like that.  The only advice my teacher gave me afterwards was to not put anything in a presentation that I wouldn’t be interested in hearing about from someone else’s presentation.  That is something that stuck with me, and which I still use as a personal standard to measure my presentations and lessons against.  If someone else were saying that, would I be interested, or would I silently be praying for the building to collapse on their head?

It’s not always effective.  Not everyone is like me.  I’m sometimes interested in some pretty obscure things, or subjects that are boring or strange to most people.  But until mankind comes up with a way to read minds, it’s something that keeps my wandering brain in check…most of the time.

There is no absolute answer – nothing that says, “If you do this, your students are guaranteed to be interested.”  Professors can show you how to work out the problem, here and there, but they can’t fix it for you, because if you’re going to be a teacher, you’ve got to be a student, too.  This problem of how to keep your kids interested and motivated – that’s your project; your pop quiz; your final exam.  And really, when was the last time a teacher wrote a test for you?


7 thoughts on “Motivation

  1. @chriscoyle says:

    The only success I’ve had in motivating students is by taking a genuine interest in their well-being and pursuit of knowledge. Somehow, we as educators need to find connections that link relevant material to today’s ever-changing society: a tough task indeed.

  2. ShelleyFriesen says:

    You have nailed it!
    Interest level will depend on the class.
    Not every student will learn the way you do, but that will not stop you from considering your preferred learning style first. Just don’t stop there.
    Be enthusiastic – it’s contagious – and let the students discover the information for themselves whenever you can. When they find something other than you intended, allow yourself to learn along with them! 🙂

  3. You make some very interesting points here. These would be my initial thoughts:

    1) If you want your students to be interested, find out what they love. Find out what excites them. Try to build some of their interests into your program. Maybe you can get some books on topics that they like, or allow for research activities on things that interest them. If they’re interested in the topic, they’ll be motivated to work!

    2) Allow for lots of student choice. If students have ownership over their learning, they’ll be far more interested in what they’re learning. Then they are not just waiting for you to give it all to them, but they are an active and engaged learner. This will help make them interested too.

    I’m curious to hear what others have to say here.

  4. Debbie says:

    Back in the ’80s, I taught Freshman Comp. Just about everyone’s least favorite class. One thing that would capture my students’ interest would be if I went beyond the textbook.

    For instance, when we were talking about definition…. I would walk in and, without saying a word I would write “Faggot” in on the blackboard. All Caps. Then I would explain why I did that. Not sure I could do that now without students being up in arms before I could explain myself. I wanted to teach how words shift in meaning. Definition vs connotation, etc. and it certainly grabbed everyone’s attention. Generated a good discussion.

    What helps me learn is if there is some kind of flexibility, ie, in college you select courses in your major.

    You are right, however, it is all subjective. What works for me does not work for someone else. Even if I were to have an identical twin, we would not have identical personalities (for which the world is grateful.)

  5. I completely agree that keeping student interest is one of the toughest things to do in the classroom, but there is no one way that is going to work for every students – or even for the same student on separate days. I think the most important thing is getting to know your students and what they are interested in – it’s a lot more effective than just making guesses and striking out repeatedly. Children, and people in general, love to talk about themselves and I know that if they were asked, your students would not stop talking about their interests and what they aren’t interested in.
    Something that I’ve learned that I always remind myself is we are teaching the students, not the subject.

  6. lrschmale says:

    There are some students that no matter what strategies you try, you may not be able to reach them. Hopefully, their next teacher will be able to. Don’t let it get to you and keep on trying.

  7. Maggie Glazer says:

    Hello, motivation doesn’t come from a teacher (extrinsic) it comes from within the student (intrinsic). Teachers provide opportunities for students to motivate themselves. For instance, allowing autonomy in work, encouraging mastery (not so easy for boredom, not so difficult to frustrate), and helping student discover meaning in tasks. Read Daniel Pink’s Drive and Carol Dweck’s Mindset. Keep thinking! Maggie

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