Give up on that right now. Why? Because it’s not your job. It’s not anyone’s job to motivate anyone else to do anything. First, it’s a losing proposition: once you start down that road you’ll never turn back (see all the learning-by-doing talk in prior posts). Once students get used to the idea that they have to be provided with a reward, a prize, a something in order to take action, to learn to do work, whatever – all hope is lost. They will expect it, it will have to grow in substance over time and you’ll exhaust yourself.
Besides, this is not how people are actually motivated, naturally. If we “condition them” to be so, then surely they will, but out of the womb this is not how it works. Humanity is a self-motivated species. That’s right. What really gets us going, deep down, is what interests us. It’s our values that propel us. There’s plenty of research out there to support this – I’m not making this up! – and a lot of it is nicely reviewed, summarized and discussed in Daniel Pink’s latest book (Drive – the surprising truth about what motivates us, www. danpink.com).
Motivate students? No. Do students want to learn? Damn straight they do. What? That’s not what you see or experience? Oh, sure, students all over the place in traditional schools are completely UNmotivated to be there or to learn. No kidding. Let’s differentiate between what is true naturally and what is observably true. (Sort of like how all people who have functioning brains possess reason – that’s how our brains work – but because we also have free will we have to choose to exercise our reason- it’s not automatic. Since so may folks DON”T choose to do this it causes some folks to say “people don’t have reason, I see it all the time”. The issue isn’t that people don’t have reason, but that they don’t use it.) Okay, human motivation – by nature we all want to thrive: that’s what living things do. We want to sustain our lives, to begin with, then do better, improve, thrive, succeed.
Students will show this self-motivation if we provide them with a learning environment that is consistent with their nature. But lock them in rooms segregated by age and talk at them all day and ask them to remember stuff that we tell them during periods that we determined… well, that won’t so much work. You’ll lose them. And then you’ll have to stand on your head or whatever to get their attention and interest. Good luck with that.
Just like with adolescents (earlier post) and what is natural and what is culturally manufactured: provide the wrong stuff and you’ll get a messy outcome. We need a better program for learning – the old program was never very good anyway. The hardware is fine, we just need appropriate software now.
Motivated to do something about it?