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Motivating Students

Our first ever guest blogger is the creator of our hugely popular PD course on Behaviour Management, Bob Brandis. Bob runs a website He has extensive experience is dealing with student behaviour and runs several support programs through the site that assists all teachers in supporting behaviour management in the classroom. Membership to this website is free.


Motivation is a big issue for teachers. Unmotivated students make teaching painful. They refuse to participate in the learning activities and their moaning, groaning and negative attitude can quite often undermine your teaching.

Learn strategies to motivate the unmotivated

We all know that praise has an impact on behaviour.

Praise works well on behaviour. It makes a difference if the kids value the praise. Unmotivated kids are a different matter.

Unmotivated kids are seldom motivated by praise about behaviour. You see, the reason these kids are not motivated doesn’t have behaviour implications.

Unmotivated students lack motivation towards learning.

Unmotivated kids have an issue with learning. The task:

  • may be too difficult,
  • may not meet their needs,
  • may be inappropriate to their beliefs.

Whatever the reason, the answer is not a behavioural one.

Motivating for the unmotivated requires different strategies.

Praising unmotivated students needs a different tact. We all know kids rise to encouragement. Their behaviour changes but not usually their attitude.

Some teachers go to extraordinary lengths to praise and cajole unmotivated kids. It just doesn’t seem to have any impact. The lack of student response to your actions can be immensely annoying. The kids don’t seem to respond so the teachers just heap more praise on unmotivated students to no avail.

Let me offer some words of advice. Stop with the praise already!

You cannot motivate a student unless the student sees themselves as a learner of what you are teaching.

A student won’t become motivated unless they see themselves as a learner.

For some kids that as far away from reality as possible. They just DO NOT BELIEVE they can consume what you are selling.

It is like my level of motivation if you try to sell me a skate board. There is no way in the world that I will ever be able to skate. Or so I believe. If you were teaching me how to use a sewing machine, I would be equally as motivated. I just don’t see myself as a successful learner of what you are teaching.

In the classroom context, if you are teaching the addition of unlike vulgar fractions, your students will become unmotivated if they do not see themselves as a partner of this skill.

You can praise the student for sitting up straight, writing neatly, playing the classroom game of being quiet, putting their hands up until the cows come home. It won’t change their level of motivation.

No amount of encouragement about classroom behaviours will make a difference to their motivation because they just don’t relate to you as a receiver of what you are selling.

Intrinsic belief is the only thing that is going to make a difference. They are not going to jump through hoops to get a sticker or a star or their name on a good chart because they do not believe they can jump through the hoops you have on offer.

These students need a success switch turned on. So, unlike what I have suggested in the past about finding them doing something good, ignore it. Don’t heap praise on behaviours.

However, find the slightest learning success and ring the bells, raise the flags and stop the buses. They are on the right track to LEARN.

So what is they haven’t mastered addition of fractions yet. But just suppose they were on track to finding equivalence. Now they need acknowledgement. Not the stuff where you release the pigeons, ignite the fireworks and have the tabernacle choir sing 45 versus of Hallelujah.

The type of acknowledgement needed at this juncture is feedback. These students will respond to feedback about where this success fits into their learning continuum.

“Fred, it’s great that you can find equivalent fractions. That’s the first step to solving addition problems.”

That will motivate Fred like nothing else will.

Fred now sees himself as a learner. A real learner. He is now a consumer of what you are selling. He can see his purpose in your classroom.

Patting Fred on the back without the productive feedback will have little impact.

But mention that Fred is about on track to successfully negotiate his way through the quagmire of the addition of fractions and he will feel 10 foot high and bullet proof.

Look out for part 2 of Bob's thoughts on motivation - 'Motivating the Unmotivated'