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Unmotivated? Or Debilitated?
It's four weeks into the school year, and you are already managing unmotivated students. Some act out. Others have checked out. In either case, they are poles apart from their classmates who are working hard and excited to learn. What makes the difference? Why are some students motivated to learn, and others not?
Consider the nature of motivation, as described by Professor of Psychology, Albert Bandura: "People motivate themselves and guide their actions [based on] beliefs about what they can do... They set goals for themselves and plan courses of action designed to realize valued futures." Motivated people, therefore, act upon the belief that they can achieve what goals they desire (and they probably enjoy this process).
Unmotivated students are the ones who lack a fundamental belief in their capabilities to reach goals. They do not believe they "can do it," and so they act accordingly. For these children, extending effort in school is not only a waste of time, but a potentially embarrassing waste of time. And as they become more disengaged, they fall further behind. They act out and they check out.
Where did such an ugly cycle start?
Elementary School Journal reported that teacher belief about intelligence is a critical factor in determining student engagement. Researchers found that motivation was high in classrooms where teachers attributed outcomes to student effort. It was low in classrooms where teachers believed innate student abilities lead to achievement outcomes. (Marshall Memo #252)
In other words: Adult beliefs and practices determine student effort. Jeff Howard writes that "Children who are assessed as less intelligent... are systematically subjected to adult expectations that they are incapable of higher learning... and the self-doubt that naturally results undercuts their willingness to work." These children logically come to the dead wrong conclusion: There's no point in trying. This is a disabling thought, and it leads to the debilitation of effort.
Debilitated students are written off as unmotivated (often with the assumption that their indifference to school is an innate feature of their personalities). But debilitation must be understood as something very different from "lack of motivation"; it is psychologically induced, not an innate personality trait. When you understand the true root of the problem--debilitation--you have the power to mobilize any student's motivation.
We must continually affirm for students the connection between their efforts and achievements--that they will get smart if they work hard. This mindset is the most essential piece of the motivation puzzle. Once students begin to see the correlation between their efforts and their successes, their confidence will grow. And as their confidence grows--guess what? So does their capacity to commit their effort to learning. Debilitation can be reversed. Motivation can be engineered.
Resources in this article:
Information on Self-Efficacy
Jeff Howard, "Getting Smart: The Social Construction of Intelligence"
Available online: Efficacy Resources
Lisa Raphael, Michael Pressley, Lindsey Mohan, "Engaging Instruction in Middle School Classrooms: An Observational Study of Nine Teachers"
Elementary School Journal, September 2008
(Referenced in Marshal Memo #252)
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