Eliminate Lost Potential by Teaching Motivation

by Todd Stanley

What is motivation? We believe that motivation is an internal construct…thereby, it is the creation of an environment for students to flourish with increased energy to create – attain – work toward – and/or obtain a goal. It is an intentional environment, which is prevalent and serves as an underlying foundation in classes where teachers efficiently and effectively teach and facilitate instruction – the impetus that drives a student to succeed and excel. It also initiates change, pushes, encourages, supports, and serves as a foundation for students to learn and acquire new learning and skills. As a result of a positive-motivational environment, students are drawn to and are inspired to a love of learning and to take appropriate risks to become comfortable and even thrive in unfamiliar territory. Because we believe that motivation comes from within, one of the most important steps is to create an environment whereby motivation is internally acquired and thereby, students’ potential is expanded to its fullest. 

Many times, motivation is not imminent from the classroom environment/culture. With that, many times students are unmotivated, with also lowered teacher expectations, underachievement, and the like. There are times when teachers are looking for a ‘silver bullet’ for students to be motivated to ‘learn a skill’ when the culture has not been created for the natural process of learning to seamlessly occur. It is a major part of teaching to create the environment that fosters learning and the conquering of new skills.

There are teachers who believe that a student either has motivation or does not, and there is nothing the teacher can do about it. Of course, this could not be further from the truth. There are plans and strategies that can be utilized to intentionally create a motivational environment. Also, there are practices that do not foster a motivational environment. 

The intentional establishing of a culture that motivates is especially important when working with gifted students. Many people think that all gifted students love to learn. While this is not true, a lot of times they are motivated to learn what they want to learn, not necessarily what the school is teaching. It is the fundamental difference between a bright student and a gifted student. A bright student is the one typically motivated. A gifted student may not necessarily be a bright student, which may lend itself to teachers spending additional time to plan and strategize and create an environment to motivate.

Another reason why it is important for gifted students to understand a motivational environment is that many gifted students are afraid to fail. The journey of many gifted students looks something like this; when he is in the younger grades, his giftedness keeps him ahead of the other students, always possessing the correct answer, always being the one the teacher turns to when she needs someone to provide the answer. Eventually what happens is that as the content and curriculum become much more difficult, many times his/her vast knowledge hits its limits and suddenly the gifted child is having to learn things he does not know. Suddenly, he/she does not have all of the answers. Oftentimes, this is traumatic for the student.  

It is difficult for some gifted children to transition to this. In order to cope with the change, they simply choose to take themselves out of situations where it might be revealed they do not have the correct answer. That could be anything from not taking challenging classes, to not taking part in academic competitions, to avoiding being called on by the teacher. Their motivation has waned in this case because they do not want to put themselves in a place where their lack of knowing is revealed. The motivation becomes about not being caught. Not in challenging themselves or learning.

This lack of motivation can lead to underachievement, which afflicts anywhere from 15 to 50% of gifted children. More alarming is that nearly 25% of all high school dropouts have a gifted identification in one area or another. That means 1 out of every 4 students who do not graduate have high capability but lack the motivation to finish out their school career. How would things have turned out differently had someone been purposeful about teaching these students motivation? 

The million-dollar question then becomes how do you motivate a gifted student who does not show a propensity for being motivated by school work? The easy answer is by engaging them. Of course, what this looks like is where the challenging part comes in. Different students are motivated by different things. How can you possibly find something that motivates all students? The answer of course is that you cannot, but you can find something that motivates each individual student. That is where personalized learning comes into play. If you make the learning authentic to that particular student, then she will be engaged in the learning and that is what will motivate her.

If you would like to go more in-depth on how to engage students and personalize the learning, check out my new book How the Hell Do We Motivate These Kids? available at https://www.amazon.com/How-Hell-Motivate-These-Kids/dp/1733239057/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

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