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Motivating Students in the Classroom

By McGraw-Hill Education 2 years agoNo Comments
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Students learn and process information in different ways. That’s why there are various approaches that can be taken to motivate students in the classroom. What encourages one student might not work for another and that’s why it’s important to understand different types of student motivation and how they work.

Authors Lisa Linnenbrink-Garcia, Erika A. Aptall and Reinhard Pekrun review existing research on student motivation and emotion in their paper Adaptive motivation and Emotion in Education: Research and Principles for Instructional Design. In this paper, the authors cover five educational types of motivation and the theory, evidence and potential ways to provide classroom support for each.


Five Types of Educational Motivation

Competence Beliefs and Expectancies

A student believing in what they are able to accomplish can bolster their performance. Academic self-efficacy is how a student believes they are able to perform, learn, develop and master skills. Achievement expectancies, similar to self-efficacy, are the student’s prediction of how they will perform on an upcoming task. In both competence-related beliefs, it’s important to support student success and encourage them to take control over their end results. Competence beliefs can influence student choice, their level of effort as well as their achievement.

In the classroom, there are different ways to influence academic self-efficacy. Experiences that involve mastery or verbal persuasion can help encourage student behavior. Choosing experiences that are aligned to student skills that are already present, demonstrating tasks, asking students to set achievable goals and providing effective feedback also help to encourage competence beliefs.


Casual Attributions & Theories of Intelligence

It is natural for people to try and understand how they arrived at a particular outcome, whether good or bad. In their attempt to find an explanation, students may use several casual attributions like:

  • Locus, an attribute the learner can influence like ability and effort that can elicit a feeling of pride or an attribute that was influenced by an external factor like instructor assistance that can produce a feeling of gratitude
  • Stability, a persistent activity like aptitude that can lead to hopelessness when failure is persistent or a passing or unstable influence that can lead to hopefulness in negative situations
  • Controllability, both controllable and uncontrollable causes like effort or luck can result in feelings of guilt or motivation in negative situations, pushing students to change future situations

Like attributions, theories of intelligence relate to one’s thoughts about their level of ability. There are typically two types of mind-sets when it comes to theories of intelligence: fixed and growth. Those with fixed mind-sets see their skill level as stable or uncontrollable and are concerned about proving their intelligence and believing failure is linked to low intelligence. Those with growth mind-sets believe effort can influence their intelligence, create goals, learn from setbacks and are more likely to continue after failure. Students with growth mind-sets tend to have more positive emotions, less anxiety and higher success rates.

To help students develop positive casual attributions and mind-sets in the classroom, it’s important to encourage them to know that academic achievement is controllable and failures are unstable. Students need to be made aware that their effort to learn can affect their success.


Interest and Value

A student’s value constructs can show why they choose to engage in a certain project or task. Value beliefs can help determine academic success, like determination and performance, and can influence which activities in which students choose to participate. There are several types of value:

  • Utility – the task is seen as helpful to other parts of a student’s life
  • Attainment – the student sees the task as personally important
  • Intrinsic – the task is enjoyable to the student
  • Cost – the student sees engaging in the task as negative

When it comes to interest, which includes positive feelings and placing value on the personal domain, there are two types:

  • Individual – found within each student and is more stable
  • Situational – develops depending on the context

Interests have shown to improve attention, the thought process and student determination.

There are several strategies to help encourage the development of student interest and values in the classroom. For example, choosing topics that will interest your students or provide opportunities for hands-on experience can help encourage the development of student interest and value. It can also be helpful to address the importance of certain activities by talking about it, providing appropriate materials or assignments.


Intrinsic & Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is participating in an activity because of the known enjoyment it will provide. Extrinsic motivation on the other hand is taking part in an activity because it leads to a separate result. In the past, research has related intrinsic motivation to creativity, engagement, achievement and other adaptive academic success. In relation to intrinsic motivation are the needs for autonomy, ability or relatedness and supporting this kind of motivation for your students will focus on enhancing these needs.

One way to help improve these needs for your students is by getting the right training on how to implement need-supportive practices. Research has shown that the students of instructors who had been trained to be autonomy-supportive increased their engagement in the classroom. The students were also intrinsically motivated when it came to finishing homework and had higher success rates on unit tests when they were able to choose their homework assignments.


Achievement Goal Orientations

People can have different reasons why they set particular goals to achieve. The achievement goal theory suggests two main reasons why people take part in activities related to achievement:

  • Mastery – focuses on developing ability
  • Performance – focuses on showing ability and doing better than others

Some existing research makes a connection between achievement goals and school-related outcomes. For example, students who pursue mastery goals believe in themselves more, have more positive emotions, higher levels of thinking and moderately high achievement. Existing research on performance-approach goals is more controversial and inconsistent. Students who pursue performance-approach goals are linked to minor positive associations with outcomes like higher levels of thinking, positive emotions and success.

Even though achievement goal theory has not been thoroughly tested in the classroom, there are some suggestions as to what can help encourage both mastery and performance. To help encourage a mastery approach, consider encouraging students to put forth effort and focus on improvement, learn from their mistakes, challenge themselves and be open to feedback provided privately. To support a performance approach, consider a product focus that rewards how students perform, routine or easy responsibilities, competition and more public forms of feedback.


No matter what you are teaching, encouraging student motivation and engagement in your course is paramount. When students take an interest in class, learning can become enjoyable and student engagement and motivation can become consistent and beneficial for both students and their instructors.

  Pre-K to 12, Student Motivation & Engagement
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