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10 ways to better engage and motivate our students

What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning? I have no doubt that our answers will all be very different, depending on who we are, and even the day of the week, but the underlying reasons will most probably fall into one of two categories.

Extrinsic motivators are ones where you do something, not because you enjoy it or because you find it satisfying, but because you expect to get something in return or avoid something unpleasant.

Intrinsic motivators are those where the reward comes from the activity itself. You are performing an activity for its own sake rather than from a desire for some external reward.

Intrinsic motivation does a great job at fostering creativity and problem solving skills. Whilst we cannot change who a student is as an individual, there are things that we can do to help students develop their own intrinsic motivation when it comes to learning:

  1. Know your students - get to know them as individuals to discover what they’re interested in and how they learn best. 
  2. Make sure they have a solid foundation - build up students’ confidence and make sure they have the resources they need before they begin.
  3. Set goals together - give students ownership of their learning by setting goals with - not for - them.
  4. Give specific feedback - give students feedback that focuses on their strengths instead of their weaknesses and be as specific as you possibly can. 
  5. Make the connection between classroom activities and real-world situations - if students can see why they are studying a specific topic it helps them engage with it better. 

Traditionally, schools have had an emphasis on external rewards such as grades, reports, merits and stars for example and these are useful in motivating students to learn something new, providing feedback on progress towards a set goal, or developing an interest in an activity that the individual has shown little interest in.

However, studies have shown that we need to use rewards carefully if they are to continue to have meaning for our students. So what do we need to consider when looking for ways to motivate and engage our students?

  1. Clear goals - It is important that the goals that students are working towards are clear and attainable for them. Nothing is more disheartening than being measured against a standard that you can’t possibly reach.
  2. Foster growth mindsets - Carol Dweck talks about the importance of ‘not there yet’ in her book on Growth Mindset. Let students track their progress so that they can see how far they have come, but crucially what they have to do next to move forward.
  3. Be spontaneous - not everything has to be mapped out! Receiving a surprise reward can go a long way to making a student feel good about what they have achieved and spur them on to even greater things.
  4. Let students have a say in what the rewards should be. If they have helped to set a goal, they are more likely to work towards it, and if the reward at the end is something they have chosen, then it has greater value to them.
  5. Make sure you share the good news. Seeing other students being recognised and rewarded is a good motivational tool for their peers. Recognition is all the more powerful when it comes from multiple sources and this is also a good way to get parents involved.

In a perfect world, all our students would possess strong intrinsic motivation. They would be fully engaged during all of their lessons, excitedly completing work set out of a pure desire to learn. In reality, we all know that is not the case. As such we need to try and strike a balance between fostering intrinsic motivation and using extrinsic rewards to help our students engage in the learning process. If we can achieve this, then the benefits will be felt by everyone involved - teachers, parents and crucially students.

“Motivation is like food for the brain. You cannot get enough in one sitting. It needs continual and regular top ups.”

Peter Davies


In our latest ebook: The Rules of Student Engagement, we share useful techniques to empower students to become self-motivated learners. Download today to discover ways in which edtech can help you manage the process and simplify teachers’ lives.


Discover how your school can boost student motivation and parent engagement with Epraise; Firefly's solution to learning engagement 

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