A Passion for Learning: Nine Ways to Motivate Students

 (Blogpost Part 1 of 3) Based on excerpts from, Unlocking Student Talent: The New Science of Developing Expertise: Fogarty, Kerns, Pete: Get even more insights into motivation—and the explore the other two elements of student talent, practice and coaching—by purchasing your copy of Unlocking Student Talent today. 

 Research has shown that experts are made, not born—and motivation is the spark that sets students on the path to mastery. It is the first key element of the new science of expertise. Together with practice and coaching, motivation empowers students to reach their fullest potential.

However, as researchers K. Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool have noted, educators are unlike sports or music coaches: they “must help every child improve their performance and start building skills, no matter how little motivation they may have.” Based on Unlocking Student Talent: The New Science of Developing Expertise, the latest book by Robin J. Fogarty, Gene M. Kerns, and Brian M. Pete, this guide provides practical strategies for sparking a passion for learning in every student.

Inspiring Motivation: Starting the Journey

Inspiration is the initial ignition, the flash of discovery, the “aha” moment where a student decides what they want to do and where they want to go. It’s how all great journeys get started.
Increase exposures to new and diverse experiences.

The more experiences that students have—and the more diverse those experiences are—the more likely students are to discover new interests or abilities they want to pursue. From show-and-tells in the classroom to field trips to museums, theaters, and businesses, each new experience is an opportunity for inspiration.

Explore stories of greatness.

Videos, stories, and examples of successful individuals—especially those who overcame an initial lack of talent, such as ballerina Misty Copeland being told she had the wrong body type and was too old to start ballet at age 13—can help students realize their own potential for greatness.

Eliminate the idea of average.

When the US Air Force decided to make an airplane cockpit based on the “average pilot,” they made a startling discovery: Not one of the pilots was average! Instead of comparing themselves to an average that doesn’t really exist, encourage students to focus on what makes them unique or how they would like to be unique.

Invigorating Motivation Continuing the Momentum

As students progress along their talent journeys, they’re bound to stumble at some point. There are roadblocks, frustrations, and failures. Invigoration is how the tough keep going, even when the going gets tough.
Set personalized goals.

It’s easier to get where you’re going when you have a specific destination in mind. Setting personalized goals according to student’s interests, starting point, and learning needs is a great way to keep students motivated and moving forward. For big endeavors, consider setting a series of smaller goals leading up to the larger success.

Track progress visually.

Once personalized goals are set for each student, help them find ways to track their daily, weekly, or monthly progress toward those goals in a highly visual way. This can be as simple as crossing off days on a calendar, keeping an activity log, or coloring in a thermometer. It could also be more creative, like adding rings to a paper chain or adding pieces to a do-it-yourself puzzle.

Get up and moving.

Physical activity is a brain-friendly way to motivate students! Movement causes oxygen to push into the brain and energize the mind as well as the body. Even if it’s just to gather supplies for an impending activity, getting up and moving around can boost engagement.

Instilling Motivation: Becoming the Destination

At a certain point, the goals we pursue become part of who we are. Motivation is intensified, internalized, and instilled within each student; pursuits become personal; and learning transforms into a life-long endeavor.

Envision the future self.

Ask students to envision who they will be and what they will do in the future. Have them create a vision board or a collage depicting their dreams and aspirations fulfilled. Focusing on this vision, encourage students to start thinking about the steps they need to take to get there.

Make daily affirmations.

There is real power in telling ourselves that we can—that we will—accomplish something. Tennis star Serena Williams kept up her motivation during one competition by collecting matchbooks and writing affirmations in them. Have students include an affirmation on each piece of homework they turn in or worksheet they complete to get them in the habit of daily affirmations.

Explore colleges, careers, and job pathways.

Not every student knows what they want their future to look like. Help them explore the possibilities through school-sponsored career days, guest speakers in the classroom, field trips that offer authentic learning experiences, and the promotion of positive role models from history as well as current events.

Thanks to the support of our co-author, Gene Kerns and his fabulous team at Renaissance Learning for sharing.

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