Three Ways [Almost] Guaranteed to Help Motivate Unmotivated Students Pt 1

Will unmotivated students ever be a thing of the past?

Benjamin Franklin is famous for saying “there are only two things guaranteed in life; death and taxes.  Benjamin obviously wasn’t a teacher otherwise he would have said that there are only three things guaranteed in life; death, taxes and unmotivated students.

It doesn’t matter where you teach, students are students.  There are no magic formulas, nor are there any guaranteed ways to motivate unmotivated students. That being the case, there are at least three ways that are almost guaranteed to motivate even the most unmotivated students.

Today we will look at the first one and in the next post we will look at the last two:


1.  Interrupt the cycle of failure

Many times students are unmotivated because they are afraid to fail.  Unfortunately the education system is geared towards failure not success.  Generally speaking, as a student you get one chance to take a test or hand in an assessment task with no chance to learn and improve.  If a student fails often enough their self belief is demolished and they are left with no reason to try.  Most unmotivated students don’t start out that way; it is a disposition that is developed over time.

Many of the students I teach don’t have a fear of failure; they have a fear of success.  These students have become so comfortable with being a failure that they are not sure how to exist when they start to succeed (they didn’t teach me anything about this at University!)

As a teacher you need to foster an environment where it is safe for a student to fail, but not allow that failure to define them.  You can do this by:

  • Providing immediate feedback (both positive and negative)
  • Asking reflective questions such as, “What did we learn from this?”
  • Reminding the students of their past successes
  • Encouraging them to stretch beyond their comfort level and not just give them the answers
  • Celebrating good attitude and effort more than you celebrate success and results

Obviously this is not the complete picture.  We need to tie this to a culture based on a healthy rewards system, intrinsic motivation principles and so on.

The reality is that if an unhealthy class environment can produce unmotivated students then a healthy one can produce motivated students.

In the next post we will look at the next 2 ways to help unmotivated students.

In what ways do you encourage failure in your classes but don’t let that failure become a pattern?

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