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5 Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Unmotivated Students


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When I ask teachers what their biggest struggles are, one issue comes up on a regular basis: student motivation. You are able to reach many of your students, but others are unreachable. No matter what you try, they have no interest in learning, no interest in doing quality work, and you are out of ideas.

For a long time, I had no solutions; the problem was too complex. I have had my own unmotivated students, and I never had any magic bullets for them. Still, the issue kept coming up from my readers.

So I decided to do some research, to try to find what the most current studies say about what motivates students. This is what I found:

  1. Students are more motivated academically when they have a positive relationship with their teacher.
  2. Choice is a powerful motivator in most educational contexts.
  3. For complex tasks that require creativity and persistence, extrinsic rewards and consequences actually hamper motivation.
  4. To stay motivated to persist at any task, students must believe they can improve in that task.

Stopping the Buck: The Teacher’s Role in Student Motivation

The research on motivation wasn’t hard to find; it seems as if any teacher with an Internet connection and an hour or two should be able to learn everything they need to know about the topic.

So where’s the disconnect? If we as a collective group of educators already know what works to motivate students, why are so many students still unmotivated? When I talk with teachers about the problem, I don’t hear much about the research.

Instead, we blame technology: “Students are so distracted by their phones.”

Or we blame the parents: “Parents just don’t want to be bothered” or “They don’t want their kids to fail/experience setbacks/take responsibility.”

Or we make sweeping generalizations: “Kids today just aren’t like they used to be. They act so entitled.”

Are we passing the buck? Maybe. It’s certainly easier to blame outside forces than it is to make big changes in the way we teach. Unfortunately, even if ALL of the above statements are true, we can’t do anything about those things. The only piece we really have control over is what goes on in our own classrooms.

So let’s look at our own practice. When we set aside all the outside factors and just focus in on our time with students, how are we doing? How much alignment is there between our own instructional moves and the research on student motivation?

I have put together a list of five questions we can ask ourselves to see if we really are doing everything we could to boost student motivation. To keep me from getting too preachy, I’ll do the exercise with you, reflecting on the years when I was a classroom teacher with middle school students.

Okay, let’s go.

The Questions

1. How is your relationship with your students, really?

Multiple studies have shown a significant connection between student motivation and the quality of the teacher-student relationship. A good teacher-student relationship provides students with a sense of stability and safety, which sets the stage for more academic risk-taking. So what kind of relationship do you have with your least motivated students? How well do you really know them? Do you have conversations with them about the things they care about? Or have you more or less given up on them?

My response:
At first, I’m thinking I did pretty well in this area. I taught English language arts and my students kept journals, so I got to know them well. But when I think about my less-motivated kids, I’m not so sure I can say the same. The connection I had to Andre, one of my seventh-graders, consisted entirely of me getting him to make up missed work. It was all we talked about: the missing work, why he wasn’t turning it in, how important this stuff was for his future. When Andre saw me coming, he probably just saw a looming cloud of nag. We never really talked about the stuff that mattered to him.

How we can do better:
Just becoming more aware of the value of relationships is the most important step. From there, consider one of these resources:

2. How much choice do your students actually have?

Study after study points to choice as a major factor in motivation. Most of us have probably heard this, but we may not have fully embraced it. After all, providing choice can be messy, with students completing different tasks at different rates, making it hard to be consistent with grading. It can also mean a lot more prep work: If you’re going to give students three different options for an assignment, that means you have to prepare all three options ahead of time. Or do you? Isn’t that kind of prep work more in line with worksheet-oriented teaching, where students are doing low-level work that was largely prepared by the teacher? If students are engaged in more long-term, authentic, creative projects, it’s much easier to provide them with choices, because we aren’t constantly trying to provide them with new busywork every day.

My response:
I was pretty good about letting students choose topics for writing assignments, but I also required a lot of seat work as well. I wanted students to do their work at about the same pace, and I knew next to nothing about differentiation. Now I’m thinking about Matt, another one of my unmotivated seventh graders, who was incredibly smart. He sat way low in his chair in the back of the Gifted & Talented language arts class he’d been assigned to, way cooler than all the others, and he gave minimal effort. I used the same nagging approach I’d used with Andre, with minimal success. Now that I know more about differentiation and choice, I realize I could have had a conversation with Matt about letting him work ahead on some things. I could have allowed him, and his classmates, more input on the larger assignments I gave them. If I had given Matt a more active role in his own learning, he might have been more engaged.

How we can do better:
There are lots of ways you can allow more choice in your classroom without having to completely overhaul your way of doing things. Even adding a small amount of choice to what students already have is an improvement. Consider letting them choose:

3. Are you relying heavily on carrots and sticks…or Jolly Ranchers?

Many, many teachers count on rewards (“carrots”) and punishments (“sticks”) to motivate students. And those who study motivation tell us that extrinsic reinforcement can be motivating if the task is something easy: If you’re trying to get students to clean up the classroom quickly, for example, offering class points toward a party can get them to speed up. But for tasks that require creativity and complex thought, extrinsic rewards actually reduce motivation. In your class, how much of your motivational approach is extrinsic? How often do you use grades, treats, privileges or punishments to prod students into doing something they don’t really want to do, something they have no real interest in? If extrinsic reinforcement is your primary approach, you may actually be killing off any natural motivation students might have otherwise had.

My response:
I score myself pretty low here. As a teacher, my classroom management was a mess until I learned how to control students with names on the board, extra credit, whole-class rewards for good behavior, and the ever-reliable bag of Jolly Ranchers. I did those things because they worked. But there’s a difference between getting kids to do what you want and truly, deeply motivating them.

How we can do better:
Try to catch yourself the next time you’re about to tie a challenging activity to a reward or consequence. When introducing a task, try focusing on its inherent interest or value, or how much students are going to learn, rather than on a separate reward or grade. Consider the difference in these two statements:

If you have a tendency to go for the first option, you are going for the easy win, the extrinsic reinforcement. If you find that this doesn’t do much to motivate your underperforming students, try moving more toward the second option and see if anything changes.

4. Do your words contribute to a growth mindset or a fixed mindset?

What could be wrong with saying “You’re so smart”? It’s nice, right? It boosts their confidence, no? Well, it’s more complicated than that. Students are motivated to persist at a challenging task when they believe they can get better at it. That requires them to have a growth mindset, a belief that their intelligence and abilities can be developed with effort. Teachers can have an impact on this mindset with the things we say to students. So when we say “You’re so smart,” “You have natural math ability,” or “You’re a great writer,” we are telling the student it’s their natural ability that got them where they are. We’re contributing to a fixed mindset. And that’s not motivating.

My response:
When I was in the classroom, I knew nothing about growth mindset. I thought kids would feel great if I told them they were smart or talented. I can remember a conversation with Janae, a student who commanded the attention of her peers with ease but got into trouble a lot and did poorly in school. I remember pulling her aside and telling her that I thought she had strong leadership qualities, and that if she could just get her grades up, she had a bright future ahead of her. Yeah, that didn’t work. If I wanted her to “get her grades up,” I would have been better off noticing a well-constructed sentence or complimenting the way she got her group back on track during a cooperative learning activity, showing her exactly what kind of choices she should keep making to be successful.

How we can do better:

5. What are you doing to make your content relevant to students’ lives?

I think this is another one of those principles that’s been around for so long, we assume we’re doing it more than we actually are. But showing students how the content relates to their lives really does make a difference. When students believe they are doing something authentic, something that will improve their lives or have some kind of impact, they are naturally motivated. So how are you doing in this area? Do you regularly provide opportunities for students to connect what they’re learning to the world they currently live in?

My response:
I got pretty lazy about this. Just like crafting a good opening and closing for each day’s learning, I often cut corners on making my material relevant. I was often much more focused on getting through content and tasks than I was on making it meaningful. I was pretty good about giving writing assignments on topics that mattered to them, but I don’t know how clearly I connected what they were doing to how it could help them. For example, with something like argumentative writing–I was probably more focused on “this is how you get a good grade on this” rather than on “this is how you change someone’s mind.”

How we can do better:

Where to Go from Here

The purpose of this exercise is not to beat ourselves up. It’s just a way of deeply diagnosing a problem most teachers struggle with. There’s a very good chance that the technology, the parents, or the entitlement are playing a role in what we perceive to be reduced student motivation. But there’s a very good chance that our instructional decisions play a role as well.

So pick one area and start there. Make a small adjustment this week and see what happens. Share in the comments where you think you could improve, then come back and tell us what changes made a difference. To solve a problem as complicated as student motivation, there is no magic bullet; instead we’ll need a set of tools that we blend and refine over time. This is a process that will definitely be slower and more frustrating than a single, easy solution, but we’re professionals. This is our craft. We can do this. ♦

Keep in touch.
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  1. Christine Bainbridge says:

    As an SLP, I have to get students to do what is hard for them all the time. The things that have worked consistently to motivate them is involving them in their own goal setting and progress tracking for specific skills. When they see the data improve, they actually realize the work is paying off. When it goes down, I employ growth mindset strategies to help them figure out what is getting in their way, and formulate a plan to try. When the students “see” their improvement plan worked in the data, they get excited and usually keep going. Involving students in discovering how they learn has been one of the most powerful motivational tools I’ve found.

  2. Kathy says:

    Thanks, Jennifer. This is exactly what I’ve been struggling with, especially in my art classes of middle and high school students. I’m looking forward to trying some of your suggestions with some of my unmotivated kiddos. Your site and podcasts are the B Vitamins my teaching has been lacking. Bless you! 🙂

  3. The points illuminated here are valuable. I have also found that acknowledging a student whose work may be less than perfect, yet improved is a huge teaching tool. I teach middle school orchestra. The ensemble knows aurally who the “strong” players are…That does not always translate into knowing who the hardest, most persistent workers are. We have discussions about why practice at home is needed, how much time do we have to reach mastery before the performance date… It leads to some rich reflections. Thank you for sharing this article.

    • Lynn Franckowiak says:

      It is so important to think of how our words are impacting our students. I need to focus more on language that promotes a growth mindset when praising students and critiquing student work. This article/podcast helps remind us of ways we can build on and improve our teaching and interactions with students to improve student motivation in the classroom.

  4. Wow. This may be one of your best, Jenn. The way you model reflection on your own practice is powerful and motivates me to do the same. I have shared and will be sharing this post. I believe I will return to this one. May even include it in my staff handbook!

  5. Donna says:

    I think one part of the research that gets missed is the work of Michael Tomasello and joint attention and joint intentions. Our school uses this as a way to establish the student as the one who determines the focus for their learning and the teacher’s role as one who follows into it. I think the challenge in most situations is teachers are trying to find the “thing” that will develop the student interest and motivation rather than never stepping in to save the student (basically). Like, our students choose texts to read and then read them together in small groups. The teacher is expected to do nothing but make sure kids are following the rules for the group. When kids get to a part of the text they don’t understand, they must try to find ways to solve it. Only after they have shown they collaborate well and have tried together a couple strategies to resolve it can the teacher finally interject to suggest a strategy. This is how we teach everything. There are no “lessons” in the traditional sense. If students are unmotivated, we facilitate them identifying why and how to change that (we do this at the classroom level and admin).

    It’s not the easiest pedagogical model to implement. It can be frustrating as a teacher and it doesn’t totally solve student motivation. We still struggle there to a degree (our high school has 27% IEPs, 19% ELL and all on average enter reading at a third grade level), but it is different because it puts the “how do we motivate students” question onto the students themselves. Sorry this was so long! I had a hard time condensing ?

    Tomasello has written a lot but here is one document:

    • David says:

      Thank you for this resource! It is incredibly informative! 🤓👍

  6. Thanks for sharing this. Here’s something else that I’ve found is really effective for a lot (but not all) students in my 6th grade Language Arts class: I use small group instruction all the time. Like, 20 minutes of each 60 minute class is small group instruction. I do this 2-4 times each week.

    While the rest of the kids are working independently or in their own small groups, I pull a small group and work through the assignment with them. We sit together, we chat, we talk about the assignment, and it gives me a chance to provide not only academic support, but also that “something extra” where I get to make a connection and give really specific comments and feedback.

    I rotate through my groups each week and at this point in the year, the kids pretty much know when it’s their turn. It’s funny because if I deviate just a bit, some of the students are like, “Hey, I though it was my turn… Aw, man!” And I have to say, Ok, I’ll get you tomorrow. Whether they need the academic help or not, it’s about so much more than that.

  7. Jamila Appleby says:

    This article was fantastic!! Many things you said resonated with me because I’ve often thought the same thing, especially with extrinsic rewards. It’s like we think we have to give students a “thing” to work for. I believe students lose sight of what they are doing and once they get the “thing” they are too consumed with earning the next “thing” then they are with the process of learning. We are training students to work for “things.” Which I admit always shocks me if how they “work” because many kids can get these items outside of school. Occasionally I’ve overhead a student say “I got that at home!” Or mumble I got better stuff than that at home!” And I quietly chuckle because I think to myself… nope you can’t fool this kid! Thank you for this article. It’s great food for thought and could potentially change our learning environments if we have the courage to do so. Change is hard but it must happen even if it’s unfamiliar or uncomfortable or we will continue to lose our students and wonder why. We can blame parents, technology, students, the generation, etc.. But until we look upon ourselves and our practice, we will remain where we are.

  8. I want to not only agree with Laurie (in the comments) that this is “one of your best” but I think it is your best. I have taught motivation at workshops for years and some of these are tenets I teach. Much of it comes from the great motivators of our time. Well done. I hope more teachers read this and take note and start practicing it.

  9. re Carrots, Sticks, Jolly Ranchers…Another possiblility: “Here are 12 math problems to do. Do any 10 of them”. THAT, I believe, is real choice. Re student relationships…I don’t think one can overestimate the value of meeting&greeting each student at the door at beg. of every class. You’re instantly rewarded with a ‘pulse’ on your students before even starting class– who is joyful, who is sad/teary, who is angry, who is pals with whom, who has s/t to share +++. I submit it’s a Gold Mine!…even though you also have 6 other things that need to be done at that very same time.
    Finally, this is a superb article & site in every respect, Jenn! My compliments.
    Bkgnd… I taught HS students for 20+ years and JBYAM am also a NBCT.

  10. I think there is a lot of motivational power in complex collaborative tasks which lead to performance, where students face the deadline of ‘showtime’, are accountable to their peers and get the genuine feedback of a live audience. I’ve blogged about one such project taking my 5th graders all the way from online research to the creation of a living museum of the Ancient Greek Agora. Check out From Research to Re-enactment, or 55 Kids in Sheets on my blog.

  11. Tomoko says:

    I’m an EFL teacher in Japan, and one of my students came up to me one day and told me she had tried speaking English to a new American girl at her Japanese school (What’s your name? How old are you?). I was so so proud of her and wanted to give her candy or something, because it takes serious guts for a non-native to do that! But I caught myself, realizing I didn’t want her to be friendly or try speaking English for candy. So I told her, “That is so so great! What will you ask her next?”

    Thanks for your thought-provoking articles!

    • I love this story, Tomoko. It’s hard to fight that urge to reward, but I think your instincts were right on track. It helps to have research to back it up! Thanks for sharing your story.

  12. Dilip raja says:

    Good reading

  13. Thank you so much! It’s been really useful and inspiring 🙂

  14. Cyndi says:

    As a kindergarten teacher, I completely agree with the idea that building a positive relationship between teacher and student is an important part of motivation. However, I found it interesting to read that extrinsic rewards actually hamper motivation. As a school that uses PBIS (Positive Behavior InterventionStrategies) I need to rethink if the rewards motivate certain students. I also need to help students see who they can improve the things they can control.

  15. Just catching up on blog posts and I absolutely love this. While none of it is new to me, it’s a timely reminder and great to think about – we can never have too many reminders about reconnecting with our students and reflecting on our practice. Thanks 🙂

    • Hey Gill. I think that’s part of the reason I wrote it. A lot of it is stuff we know, but there’s just so much stuff in our heads, so many things we’re trying to remember, that sometimes the fundamentals completely slip away from us. I’m so glad you liked it.

  16. Chuck says:

    This is a great article. I think these processes also work if an administrator needs to keep a teacher motivated as well.

  17. This is a fantastic article! Great reminders for experienced teachers and super ideas for newer teachers! These can also work in other areas, in the workplace, with managers and employees. Thanks again 🙂

  18. sameera says:

    Hi jennifer, i’m amazed at the amount of work you’re doing. Great work!
    I too was once a teacher and am retired now. I’ve got twin grandsons who are in middle school now and am worried as one of them comes home without completing his work in a lot of subjects. Is he demotivated? his parents are worried too as both of them are above average in their class and i simply can’t understand why he doesn’t complete his work. The more we talk about it the more he gets angry and clamps up. I’m from Maldives. I live separately but visit them twice or thrice a week.

  19. David A Hochheiser says:

    Great post. Truly a tremendously important topic and gut-check for all educators. Personally, when I think of students motivation, I always defer back to Schlechty and this graphic that paraphrases some of his work.

  20. FRANKIE FLEXZY says:

    This message is to Sameera encourage that your grandson to get connected or a close relationship with the teacher these will make him feel motivated and also making him to solve all his problem with the teacher. Moreover your grandson should also try to have study partner which will help him in completing the problem he faces.

  21. Michelle says:

    This post interested me right away because I am currently a senior in college to become a math teacher. With that, I have put myself out there to gain experience before actually student teaching. Right now I am an undergraduate TA for a college preparation to calculus math course and I find a lot of students are not motivated in discussion. So I try to think of ways to encourage them to work hard and think about the overall concept, but I it is hard to find ways it relates to them on a personal level. Maybe I need to research the mathematics more but I was hoping someone might suggest a good resource for that. For instance why do college students care about Domain and Range? I’d like to be able to make the material more interesting and relevant to them I’m just not sure it’s possible with this certain area of mathematics. And if it’s not, then what do you suggest that may help motivate them in this context?

    • silvia lombardini says:

      everything I needed to know about physics I learned from reading comic books (by james kakalios)
      the number devil (by hans magnus enzensberger)

      two fantastic but serious books.

    • Jess says:

      Hi Michelle!

      I think with some aspects of learning, the trick is to step back and look at bigger-picture motivations about why students would be interested in the material. For domain and range, specifically, it’s hard to get non-math-nerds particularly excited, but when you discuss the possibilities that this knowledge and skills can give them, it can really grab their attention.

      For example, I am an artist and art teacher, yet I use math ALL the time; calculating how many supplies I need for a certain number of students, the percentage that my clay projects will shrink in different kiln firings, of course budgeting, assessing student scores, etc. I care about math because of how it is relevant to my core interests.

      I once had an AP art student who didn’t care at all about our assignments because she felt they were irrelevant to her, but then I found out that she wanted to be a cake decorator, and set her to 3-D projects centered around that. All of the students still had to cover the same material, but whereas one might make a painting about it, another might make a sculpture, another a charcoal drawing, etc. If the material WAS a painting, then the subject of hers could be a cake design, with the idea that she was presenting a custom design to a potential client she really wanted to impress- that way she was still learning the painting techniques, but was also very motivated to do the project well. She still wasn’t passionate about painting, but saw it’s relevance and found motivation.

      Of course there are many, many students I never figured out how to reach, but that has been the most useful trick I have found so far. I hope it helps!


  22. Katherine says:

    I found the article to be just another “blame the teacher” article. There’s no way to 100% successful 100% of the time. I teach high school English, and what I’ve learned is that some students simply don’t want to learn. They are only in school because the law requires them to be there. Yes, I’ve worked at motivating those students, and I’ve been successful with some. However, this article clearly states that the only person who has any control of learning is the teacher, and that’s just wrong. I hope no first year teacher reads this article.

    • David Winet says:

      No argument there. But you know what, it can be fun to try!

      • Jessica says:

        I like your positive attitude, I liked the article as well. Of course there will always be challenging students to motivate, but the only person we can control is ourselves and if we are committed to encouraging them, these are realistic things to try. They may not work, but better than throwing our hands up!

    • Anna says:

      Dear Katherine,

      It is unfortunate that was your take-a-way. I re-read this article again and again and I am just not seeing it as a “blame” the teacher article…rather it is empowering for teachers and gives concrete suggestions. I hope you have resolved whatever you were dealing with that clouded your perception in such a way.


  23. David Winet says:

    Loved it, including the format (What you did then what you shoulda done!)

  24. This is one of the only sites out there I see really questioning how things are done (in a respectful way) and providing answers.


    Regarding number 1 it is why I’d love to see “Listening” added as a skill for teachers to learn in college training. I have a post coming on this at When I worked in sales we NEEDED to know about our customers to best match them up with how to help them. We were trained to listen closely.

    This is a learnable skill that can be improved. The benefits would be huge.

  25. Julia Hedges says:

    I really enjoyed reading your article, and I appreciate the specific strategies given for helping at risk students. This week, I’m going to:
    1. speak for 2 minutes a day with a particular student who although does well in some skills is more challenged in others.
    2. Provide specific details regarding areas of improvement and encouragement for other areas through a “growth mindset”.
    3. Give my students a choice (within their assignment) this week.
    4. Continue to make material relevant to their lives: I try to do this each class (in some way or the other), but I will be more aware of this when planning my lessons.

  26. Lisa Nelson says:

    After reading this, I realize I have done a lot of things wrong! Working in the PE department as an aide, my job is to help educate the importance of physical fitness and help the PE teacher with games that keep us physically active and burn calories at the same time, we also learn sportsmanship and new games. I see people being chosen last for a team and others not interested in playing due to lack of ability. I try to encourage those, but tend to draw myself to the active ones who are doing the correct thing. I need to work more on the teaching part so those un-athletic kids feel more of a part of the class.

  27. Dudley Rosenblatt says:

    Wow jennifer, another brilliant post on such a relevant topic, no matter what you teach.

    During the reading I was thinking about the word curator, as I think this is exactly what you do with research information. You curate them for your readers. To my surprise (or not!) , At the end of the post , u used the same word! It was Like the “cherry on the cake” to me.

    I appreciate the straight forward way you present your content. It really motivates me to keep reading and get until the end. Like a good movie you cannot stop watching and anxiously expect to a great end. And you succeed to do that!

    Thank you for sharing !

  28. silvia lombardini says:

    great read, thanks for posting

  29. Serena says:

    This is wonderful! Thank you for being brave and vulnerable enough to share your reflections on your own growth & progress. I think these tips are useful not just for working with students, but also with colleagues and peers 🙂

  30. Thank You Jennifer! I was reminded that student motivation is a difficult issue to overcome, however we can always keep trying new strategies. Your list of “how we can do better” was both informative and relevant. I really appreciate the opportunity to learn about new strategies. I can relate to what I did early in my career vs. what I want to do now – now that I know better 🙂 Thank you!

  31. Alexis says:

    Hi, Thanks so much for this! Starting Monday, I’ll:

    1. Make time to talk to one student a day for 2 minutes about something other than school or work

    2. Jot down notes in my plans on how to make content relevant to students’ lives

    3. Let students choose the order of the activities they do for at least 2 class periods

  32. Arjan Harjani says:

    Hi Jennifer,
    Again, another fabulous podcast that touches on an aspect of the classroom which sometimes gets overlooked in the midst of the dust of to do lists and content mastery, etc. for students. Your five questions are like a “wake-up” tonic and a clear reminder about what is really important in helping our students achieve success and confidence. Developing a relationship with each and every student is so vital but also something that has to be started from DAY 1!
    Your candid sharing of experiences and reads from the blog are a further proof of the task that lies ahead of us! And that is to continue focusing on these 5 basic approaches and stay with them because research and experience have led to these findings.
    Thank you for providing us with these enrichments. All the best.

  33. Missy B says:

    Hi Jennifer,
    Thanks for your hard work and for encouraging us to be the best teachers we can be!

    In the intro you mentioned a link to the research articles for the points you laid out. I can’t find it in the post – do you have that available? Would love to take a look at that!
    Thanks! Missy

    • Hi Missy,

      The collection of resources were once on Bloomboard, but we realized their platform changed and we’re not sure they are still there. We’re looking into it, and will get this post updated just as soon as we can. So sorry about this!

  34. Ginger says:

    I love this post and plan on sharing it with my colleagues.
    Where can I find the “Motivation Matters” document that is referenced?

    • Hi Ginger,

      Glad you enjoyed the post! Jenn once had a collection of articles on Bloomboard, but we’ve recently discovered they are either no longer available or just really difficult to find. Motivation Matters was probably one of the resources in that collection – we’re in the process of checking into this and will update the post some time soon. Thanks for your patience and understanding.

  35. Mark Marini says:

    Maybe motivation isn’t the thing at which we should be looking. In the last twenty years as an educator, I’m yet to meet a student who doesn’t want to do better. Dr. Ross Green (Lives in the Balance), in his book Lost At School, shares the idea that “Kids do well when they can.” If that is true, many students who appear unmotivated, probably have reached their adaptive ability, and, literally, cannot do what is asked. It may look lots of different ways, but I’ve found that with a few simple questions, I can find out if it is motivation or not. “Do you want to do well in school?,” “Do you want to have [insert negative result of current behavior]?” With a switch in my thinking, I’ve found that most students, when they can complete the work that I am asking, are completely motivated . . . even the ones who looked unmotivated.

  36. DannaD says:

    I love your posts! I was particularly interested in the articles you referenced in the blog, and the research that helped you prepare this post. Where can I find these?

    • Hi Danna,

      The collection of resources Jenn used were available on Bloomboard, but unfortunately their platform changed and because we’re not able to find them anymore, we removed the Bloomboard link from the post. We’re really sorry.

  37. Molly Dearing says:

    These tips and tricks are great! I knew a positive classroom community was important but I didn’t realize how it related to classroom motivation until now! Thank you for the great post.

  38. Bayley Goldsberry says:

    This was a really helpful article for me to read as a pre-service teacher! I’ll be starting as an intern in a high school this Fall, and as I’ve been observing and doing some teaching with a mentor teacher, I’ve had this question come up a lot. How do we motivate the students who are not motivated? I’m already finding that it’s much easier to praise and give attention to the students who are engaged, and to ignore the student who is completely disengaged. I’m trying to think more about this now so that when I begin teaching, I don’t continue that mindset. I love the first point you made about creating positive relationships with our students. This seems like the most important part of teaching, but it does seem difficult. As a pre-service teacher, I’m struggling to know how much I should be giving of myself emotionally to my students and how much time I should be spending getting to know my colleagues and administrators. The balance between the two seems a bit precarious, but I think there’s a way to maintain relationships with both groups. I also wonder–what are the best ways to maintain boundaries between a teacher and their students? I can think of some obvious answers, but this is something I struggle with–the line between solely friendship and teacher-student friendship, where there is still respect and authority from student to teacher.
    I was also very surprised to know that extrinsic motivation does not work well for students on creative projects and assignments; it does make sense, though, now that it’s broken down a bit. I am glad to know this as I move forward. Thank you for writing this post and distilling such great information for us teachers!

    • Thanks for sharing, Bayley! You’re right – teachers need to build strong relationships with their students. For learning to take place, this is a must. But this not the same as building a friendship. My friends are the people I talk to and do stuff with socially – my friends are my peers. So what does it mean to have a strong teacher-student relationship? How do we get to know students and build that much-needed trust and communication? If you haven’t already, check out the many resources found on our Building Relationships with Students Pinterest board. There are a lot of great ideas to look through. Great question. Hope this helps!

  39. Patti Weckerlely says:

    I am in my 2nd year of teaching 6th grade social studies. I totally agree that making connections with the subject matter is super important when working with reluctant students. My problem is that Ancient Civilizations is a tough one for an eleven year old to wrap his head around and connect to his present day life. I would love some help in this matter as the on-going question is “How is this going to matter in my life?” And, unfortunately, I was not a history major!

    • Lisa Turner says:

      I recently retired from 31 years of middle school teaching. I, also, was not a history major, but chose to teach social studies as it incorporates all of the other contents – reading, writing, math, science and real world applications. I taught mostly Maya, Inca and Aztec civilizations, but origianally Ancient Egypt was also part of the curriculum.

      There are so many mysteries in history!! Rather than focusing on not repeating history, what kinds of problems could we solve by looking at what past generations learned? And, we will NEVER know if anthropologist and historians are ever completely sure about their conclusions!

      The amount of current research on ancient people is amazing. One year anthropologists actually took King Tut’s mummy to a portable CT scanner to solve the long questioned cause of death. The kids were facinated! So much of what we know about the Maya wasn’t even known until the 1970s. And, there is so much to learn from looking at how advanced these ancient cultures were. The ancient Maya came up with the idea of using a placeholder in math! I would tell my kids that they should imagine what they could discover if they weren’t on video games so often.

      And, finally, what would future generations infer about us from what we leave behind? This is an excerpt from a really cool book:

      No matter what kids are into, there is something they can latch onto from history! I’m clearly a little passionate about this. Check out the National History Day site, contest and resources. It’s authentic historical learning.

  40. It is an interesting post. Motivating students is the most challenging task and it is hard for a teacher who sees a lot of students every day to get to know them well. A teacher can inspire the students by giving them the necessary work, the appropriate and transformative work. Although incorporating problem-based learning is a method of teaching that uses complex real-world problems, it is a great way to improve intrinsic motivation and is accepted by most schools. Thanks for the wonderful information.

  41. Laura Cummins says:

    I love using projects in class but I haven’t thought about publicly displaying them. (They’re submitted online).

    What a great way to add intrinsic value to a project. Thanks for challenging me to evaluate and improve.

    Fantastic post 🤗

  42. Tony Frazier says:

    Love all information . A lot steps in this process but if you put them in a daily lesson plan i think you see a improvement in time being utilized and managed better .

  43. Donna Bloor says:

    What a timely reminder. I have never before felt such a disconnect from my students as I have this year. Reading this article has been a little reality check, and made me reflect on how did I connect with this group of students and why was it different from every other class? Thank you.

    • Katrice Quitter says:

      Yay! So glad to hear that this helped to prompt a little self-reflection about your year!

  44. Donna English says:

    I loved reading this article. It made me realize that I am doing things right. Students like structure and stability – and after (and during) Covid this structure is even more important. As I am writing this, students just completed the PSAT9. In talking with other teachers who proctored the exam,I was saddened to hear how many students did not take this assessment seriously. Everyone who tested with me took it seriously. I credit that to not using the carrot/stick approach – there was no bribery, no threats, , just hard work.

  45. Julie Tourjie says:

    As a support staff working with special ed students, I found this information very relevant. Even after 30 yrs in education, I find that encouraging students to want to do their best, challenging. Thank you for your varied suggestions.

    • Margaret Harris-Shoates says:

      I’m glad you found this post helpful, Julie! I’ll be sure to share this with Jenn.

  46. Matthew Mullens says:

    Great post. I believe pursuing a growth mindset is critical in the classroom. I can’t remember where, but I read about a study that was done with two groups of students. One was encouraged with comments like ‘you are so talented’, the other were praised for their work ethic. The first group excelled in easier tasks, but when faced with more difficult tasks tended to either avoid them or do poorly. The second group were more consistent in their approach and tended to attempt all the tasks. They also tended to do better across all tasks. The researchers explained this by concluding that it was harder for the first group to live up to their praise, and they were worried that if they failed at a task, they would no longer receive it. The second group, however, were not as concerned about failing, only about living up to the expectation about being a hard worker.

  47. Lori Walker says:

    Thank you for your for all your positive suggestions.

  48. Sam Bledsoe says:

    daily the students are greeted with a fist bump, and we talk about stuff going on locally, so as to meet them on a level playing field. This tends to help with the overall outcome of student learning, and teacher/student connections. Technology will unfortunately be an issue, phones, chromebooks, and just general off of the subject for the day. having students participate in power points and tasks does generally help, but there is still a need for better connections within the program and school setting.

  49. Felicia Bradley/Case Manager says:

    When students feel a sense of belonging I find them to be very motivated to participate in class.

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