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For students to be successful, they need to be engaged in their learning. Students who are motivated are more likely to persevere at their work, pay attention in class, have better learning outcomes, and derive joy from their successes. Often, elementary school students are eager to learn and quick to absorb new information; however, by high school, an estimated 40% are chronically disengaged. While the justification may be that school is boring, there are many reasons behind losing the spark to learn.

First, students want to engage in work that arouses their curiosity. If they feel that they lack autonomy or the ability to be creative, they can quickly become unmotivated. During a time of discovering who they are and who they want to be, it is important for them to relate to their learning – which can look different for every student. Students may also be less motivated in schools that focus more on rigid teaching techniques as opposed to self-expression, and teachers who have not found ways to make their learning relevant, valuable, and authentic may find their students losing interest.

Since the start of COVID-19, student engagement has especially been an issue for many teachers. With the closing of schools, starting online classes, and the uncertainty of the world around them, students are finding it difficult to focus on schoolwork and learning. Even with schools reopening, the mental toll of the last year is likely to cause problems with readjusting back to the classroom.

While numerous intrinsic and extrinsic factors may justify the lack of desire to learn among students, there are many strategies that educators can apply to boost student motivation.

Methods to Help Boost Students Motivation

Instill curiosity.

Stimulating curiosity is key to education. Students should have a desire to understand the concepts, their relevance, and the ways they can be useful in solving problems outside of school. A good teacher should be able to start a class with an introductory hook that arouses students’ curiosity about a topic. For instance, a teacher can use brain teasers, historical examples, or a multimedia source at the beginning of the class to hike students’ excitement and readiness to learn. Specifically, students are motivated to engage in learning a given topic as long as they understand its relevance to their day-to-day life.

Teachers should also clearly state the learning goals so that students can understand the expectations and the amount of effort needed. Furthermore, curiosity can be simulated through rewarding students for attaining specific goals, coming up with noble ideas in their project work, or providing plausible evidence and argumentations to justify their claims.

Convince students they are competent.

Students should be encouraged to work hard and develop competence and proficiency in their areas of specialization. The desire to be competent in a given area drives the need to develop knowledge, attitudes, and master skills. In most schools, students’ academic performance is representative of their competence. In a mastery-based system, the focus is more on learning and less on grading. For students to master the skills, instruction should be orchestrated to provide opportunities to learn through inquiry, participation, and doing.

For example, when homework is viewed as a feedback mechanism rather than just an exercise for completion, students are more likely to gain valuable insights. They also learn quicker and remain engaged when they are able to get instant feedback when solving a problem. Parents and teachers should encourage students to put the effort into their schoolwork so that they learn with a purpose, attain academic excellence, and are intrinsically motivated to use the knowledge they have gained. Moreover, students who feel that they have the capability to achieve are more motivated to learn and pay attention.

Avoid comparing students.

Students need to be motivated by their own growth and not of others. Calling out a student for not knowing an answer can make them feel embarrassed and cause them to lose interest in the lesson. This can also happen if someone answers incorrectly and you move to someone who knows the answer. If a student gets a question wrong, take that moment to teach the entire class instead of asking others the same question. This prevents students from feeling alienated or “less than” their peers. Also avoid having them grade each other’s papers as this can make certain students feel uncomfortable.

Connect classwork to real life.

Choosing relevant materials is a huge motivator; if students fail to find meaning in their schoolwork, they are more likely to become bored. Get to know your students so that you can tailor lessons to their personal interests. Some of the popular trends right now include video games like Among Us, current TV shows, and video apps like TikTok. Find a way to integrate these topics into your lessons to peak your students’ interests.

Another way of motivating students is by using specific examples that reflect their day-to-day life. For instance, teachers can demonstrate how mathematical concepts (e.g., currency exchange, interest rates) can be useful when managing personal finances. Science lessons could benefit from a trip outside to identify types of plants or observe the weather. Knowing that their learning can be applied to real life situations can make students feel more connected to the lesson.

Encourage peer relationships.

Peer relationships are important in all aspects of life. Students need to feel like they belong, so try encouraging friendships through group work. For example, different students can research and explore different topics, come together to discuss their ideas as a group, and then compare their findings with other groups. By doing so, students with different learning abilities work collectively to achieve a common goal, thus develop a relationship and support for one another. To avoid distraction, learning objectives and instructions should be clearly stated to provide students with an idea of what they are expected to accomplish while in groups.

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Allow your students to have a say.

Empowering students to have a voice, make choices about what they should learn, and how they should engage in knowledge development increases their engagement and participation. They may work in small groups to problem-solve together, explain how specific topics are relevant to their lives, and offer ideas on how they can be supported to learn. To keep students engaged in learning, teachers should foster student agency and democratic practices in the classroom.

Use different teaching approaches.

Using the same teaching approach over and over can result in monotony and reduced engagement. Every student learns differently, so switching teaching styles ensures that everyone has a chance to understand the material. Teachers can use an auditory learning style that involves talking and listening, which is best for linguistic learners. It includes activities such as word games, stories, reading aloud, and group projects. Other students learn best with visuals: charts, pictures, videos, taking notes, and solving puzzles. Activities such as role-playing and hands-on activities can help kinesthetic learners who learn best by touching, moving, and doing. Songs and poems can teach musical learners who learn best through sound and rhythm. Lastly, to keep logical and mathematics-oriented learners engaged, teachers can support them by creating patterns, exploring, developing connections among mathematical concepts, and debating the material.

Reward academic achievements.

Research shows that incentives can help motivate students when given for academic achievements such as reading a book or finishing a worksheet. However, this method is not as effective when rewarding based on performance levels instead of achievements, such as achieving a certain score on a test. For younger kids, incentives can include stickers or toys when they complete a task, while high schoolers are more interested in gift cards, passes to excuse one homework assignment, or even virtual rewards for their favorite video games and phone apps.

Keep lessons short.

Students, especially younger children, tend to have short attention spans. Teachers should plan activities in intervals that keep students active and focused. During a single lesson, you could have a short video, a discussion, and a demonstration or game that applies the learning to real life. The change of pace allows students to stay engaged and avoid getting distracted while applying different teaching methods for a single lesson.

Ask questions.

To engage students in active thinking, ask questions regularly and give them time to prepare responses. When the students are ready to respond, they can signal you by a show of hand to share their answers with the rest of the class. You can also engage shy learners by having them answer on paper and checking their answers as more outgoing volunteers share their answers.

Use technology.

Technologies like smartphones and tablets are familiar and students find them engaging when used in learning. The use of adaptive software like ReflexMath has the capability of adjusting tasks given to students based on their responses. Unlike physical teachers, the adaptive software makes it possible to have personalized learning with immediate feedback, thus keeping the students highly engaged.

Improve participation in virtual learning.

Virtual learning is a relatively new phenomenon for school-age children, with many schools turning to online after COVID-19 hit. Online teaching and learning platforms have a lot of advantages, but there are several setbacks too. The pandemic is a new experience that can be difficult for students to navigate at home, especially if they are in a noisy or busy environment. Disengagement and unenthusiasm is likely to hit an all time high for many students.

This can be hard to combat, but encouraging the students to use headphones and find a quiet corner in their homes can help. Breaks between learning can also help them recharge and stay motivated. Younger students typically need more interaction to stay focused, so asking questions and allowing them to answer is vital. There are also many online resources you can use, such as virtual museums or field trips. These are not only fun, but they also change the pace and make the day more exciting.

Final Thoughts

The pandemic has hit the education world hard – but there are several ways to help students stay engaged during such a difficult period of time. You should be flexible as every child has different learning styles, attention spans, and personalities. While one may excel with just lectures and taking notes, others need more stimulation and hands-on learning. Tailoring lessons to each and every student can seem impossible, but utilizing the methods above can ensure that everyone is included and encouraged to learn. Above all, be patient with your students. The last year of their education has been unlike any other, and having an understanding teacher can make all the difference in the world.