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Cory Plough

Lack of motivation is the #1 cause for failure at my online school. I mentor about 40 kids at my HS (at least that was how many I had at the beginning of the year). Out of those 40, over 25 are failing 3 or more classes or have dropped out because of failing so many classes. I ask them, "why don't you do your work?" The most common response, "because I'm lazy."

Because we don't have students in a F2F direct-instruction environment, we can't ever "force" them to complete work. They have to complete it at home, on their own. This means, more often than not, they have to organize and motivate themselves.

That's really hard for a 16 year old to do. I have tried making my online courses all project based hoping to make the assignments more interesting. I have tried giving them a variety (25 or so) of Web 2.0 tools to use as project options in order to make the type of assessment more interesting. Neither of those are working.

I have started a social network at my school that includes 200/700 kids. Trying to build a community that creates an affiliation and respect for our school. Its in the pilot stages, so won't know if that improves grades until late next year.

We are currently trying to reform our school to make the limited time kids have on campus (4 hours/wk) much more interesting so that they might bond with our school. Hoping that the bond will turn into motivation when they get home, but won't know the results until next year.

Finding out what motivates a student when they don't have a teacher or parent pushing them is a complete work in progress. Until it works, no progress!


Often motivation comes when there is a reason to be motivated. Since every kid is on the college track, parents can sue schools when their precious misbehaves, and the future is tainted with 3 trillion in debt, maybe we should bring back old fashioned motivation techniques like, graduating, working hard and achieving to get into college, repeating a grade when the teacher says so; you know, when a consequence is the motivation.


@ Corey - sounds like a huge challenge! Does part of your program include instruction in organization to help them out? I wonder sometimes if motivation isn't something that needs to be more explicitly dealt with as well....just a thought.

@tft - evidently that has stopped working, which is why we are looking to new methods! It would definitely make our lives much easier if motivation was the same simple recipe for everyone, but I don't think it can be that simple. Not everyone is on the college track - how do we account for motivation for those students who have different goals?


Hi Tracey,
I do focus on this concept.

I've seen two factors at play in motivating kids (actually, in motivating anyone!!).

1) The student's relationship with the teacher. Does the student feel connected? Empowered? Listened to and heard? That kind of classroom culture has a huge impact on motivation to learn, in my opinion! And Corey's comments above show how hard it is to function without that relationship!

2) Part of that culture - the part about being empowered - includes a respect for the individuality of each student. I think that has to include helping children figure out what their own strengths and weaknesses are -and then honouring and validating that for them.

I remember working with a Grade 2/3 class, going through a project to help them value their similarities and differences as a group - as well as recognize their individual strengths.

It was tough, at first, to get them thinking about their strengths until we got them thinking about what they LIKE to do. Often, they like it because they're good at it, so they do it more and get better at it, etc...

One of the project tasks was for them to form into their own teams, based on their strengths. Then they completed the project, each doing the part that they excelled at. Talk about motivated!

Don't we all work harder and better when we're being valued for our contribution? And when we're allowed to make that contribution in our own, unique way?

Put that together with a caring leader/coach (the teacher) and it's a powerful combination!



I'm going to take this last bit and pull it out of context, slightly...

"Don't we all work harder and better when we're being valued for our contribution? And when we're allowed to make that contribution in our own, unique way?

Put that together with a caring leader/coach (the teacher) and it's a powerful combination!"

What if this were not in reference to students and teacher but to teachers and administrator?

I think the result could be equally, if not more, powerful!


I completely agree!

Take it another step - what if this were in reference to the leader of an organization (say a Superintendent!)? That leader has an opportunity to set the tone and culture for everyone in that community - all of the departments, administrators, teachers, students, partner groups, and unions involved.

Each one of us, at each level that we participate in our school system, has the opportunity to lead in this way - to listen to others, to respect their point of view, to mirror and validate their strengths. The resulting energy is extremely powerful because it creates an attitude of "how can we make this happen?", instead of "nope, that won't work!"

It's the big reason that I think true transformation of our education system will come from collaboration - all of us working together in this way, each leading and participating in building this kind of culture.

I'm just putting together a group blog to have exactly these kinds of collaborative conversations - check out http://www.thinkingschools.ca and let me know what you think!

Scott McLeod

Can we give every employee a change to work from their strengths and be f'n amazing?



@ Heidi and Scott - yup, those are exactly the kinds of directions I'd like to see us going in :)
Heidi, I'm going to look at your site this weekend, when I have a few moments to breathe!



Just to add another idea...I think real motivation for students comes from seeing that what they do is worthwhile. Are we shocked that students aren't motivated when asked to complete worksheets or book reports to a specific formula? Sure, we as teachers may see the value but they probably won't. This is where technology can really help-it gives a broader audience so students can see that what they do has an impact. It also allows us to go beyond those basic reports (since they can probably copy the info form someplace anyway) and instead challenge them to do something with it. Apply. Synthesize. Surveys show that students want to be challenged...they like technology...let's connect the dots!


Kevin W. Riley

On Thursday Miguel took one of the classroom laptops, flipped it open and took a picture of his butt. But then he printed it to the computer next door. So the students standing there waiting for their stuff got a pixelated image of Miguel's butt and gave it to the teacher who then brought it to me since I am the principal. First reaction (after we laughed) was... "now what would possess Miguel to take a picture of his butt? He is three weeks from being promoted to the 9th grade. Great kid. Funny, intelligent, charming. But, man, he does some dumb things. (We had to suspend him for bringing a knife to school a month ago and for punching Alberto in the head a few weeks before that). "Think Miguel! Think!!!" OK... so if his teacher had assigned him to take a picture of his butt he might not have done it because Miguel does what he feels like doing. Or more accurately, he does what seems relevant in his world. So he might not do his algebra homework and he might not finish his research paper on the Mayans. I wonder... how do we connect with what Miguel wants to do so that what he wants to do is consistent with the pro-social behaviors that will help him succeed and get along with others? And how can Miguel's motivation to do stupid things be held in check? Especially when the stupid things he does are just stupid to us? Because in the culture of 8th grade students at Mueller Charter School, it was adjudged that 1) Alberto had it coming, 2) the knife was an accident and 3) nobody really wants to see Miguel's butt. And when you strip away the cosmic trappings of academia, that's how the forces of motivation work in classrooms every day.

The Science Goddess

Student motivation is a topic near and dear to my heart---and the focus of my EdD. I'm looking at it through the lens of teacher grading practices, but this is really a piece of the much larger issue of classroom environment.

How do adults communicate with students in words, room arrangement, posters/bulletin boards, etc. in ways that promote the value of learning as opposed to rewards/punishments?

Intrinsic motivation can be built and nurtured, but we as educators need to take a hard look at things we say and do. Most teachers might say they want to develop lifelong learners, but very few are actually using the practices to make that happen.

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