It’s useful to think of a “motivation hierarchy.” Nearly all students are motivated to succeed in school, at least to some extent. The trouble is that they are also motivated in a dozen other directions. Part of the difficulty in being a teenager is in knowing how to establish priorities. It’s probably safe to say that very few of your students would place success in school at the top of their list of goals. Your job is to narrow the opportunities for expression of other kinds of motivation while in your class.
For, example, as Darcy is listening to your introduction to the day’s activity, she is also trying to catch Ryan’s eye to see if he is still mad at her. Then there is the note to her best friend about their weekend plans which remains unfinished in her notebook. She is also thinking, on and off, about how to convince her mom that she ought to have a phone in her room. On top of all this, Darcy is waiting for the right moment to tell a joke to the girl sitting next to her. If your class structure is so loose and your lesson so lacking in challenge and interest, you may be sure that Darcy will not succeed simply because her energy, her motivation, is focused elsewhere. On the other hand, if you are keeping distractions to a minimum and your students are on task, their motivation for achievement has a chance for expression.
All kids are motivated, although perhaps not toward the goals you would like. Young teens are strongly motivated to form social attachments and to interact with their peers. Just design a lesson plan that allows uninhibited social interaction and you’ll see their motivation for academic chores evaporate.
Some are motivated to gain approval from their teachers. They are attentive, responsive, ask questions before and after class and come in after school just to talk. But their written work and tests are often below their ability. Their friendly association with you overshadows their motivation to be good students.
Then there is the student who always seems terribly anxious about her grade. She is attentive and a hard worker but shows little interest in the material. She likely comes from parents who demand high grades and is motivated to please them at the expense of a genuine enjoyment of the course.
Others are motivated toward goals outside the school setting, frequently with the parents’ approval and encouragement. Extracurricular activities have become the rule in recent years. A good deal of their energy is diverted from the classroom, so their motivation for success in school has to take a back seat to competitive swimming, soccer, skating, basketball or whatever.
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