Strategies for Unmotivated Students

As instructional technologists, we often get questions from faculty members about student motivation. What happens when you plan engaging lessons and your students still are not interested or participating in class? This is an area of concern for many faculty members, and unfortunately, there’s no one size fits all solution.

After getting a question about this in one of my recent sessions, I decided that I wanted to find out more about strategies concerning unmotivated students. I found a great article from Jennifer Gonzales at Cult of Pedagogy that addresses this topic and wanted to share it here.

According to Gonzales, current research about what motivates students says that:

  1. Having a positive relationship with one’s teacher can influence a student’s motivation.
  2. Students are more motivated when they are allowed to make choices related to learning and coursework.
  3. Contrary to popular belief, extrinsic rewards actually negatively affect student motivation.
  4. In order to be motivated, students must feel like there is room for improvement in a particular task.
  5. Students are more motivated to learn things that they believe are relevant to their lives.

Based on the research, here are some suggestions for unmotivated students:

  1. Use icebreakers, journals, and one-on-one conversations to build relationships with your students.
  2. Allow students to choose how they’d like to complete assignments when possible. Some students may prefer creating a multimedia project to writing a paper. Can a particular learning goal be met using different modalities? If so, allow students to choose how they’d like to show their knowledge.
  3. Focus on the value of a particular task. Explain how a student’s participation in the task will benefit the student outside of the classroom.
  4. Provide specific feedback on student work rather than generalized statements such as “needs improvement.”
  5. Make connections between classroom content and students’ lives or current events.

Gonzales included many more suggestions and resources for things that you can do to improve student motivation in your classroom, including questions to ask yourself about your own teaching, which can be found here
What are some ways that you plan to use these strategies in your classroom?