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The Art and Craft of Motivating Students

Competency and Connection


How to Help Students Feel Competent

Filling the need to be competent requires assignments that "cause students to challenge their beliefs, actions, and imagination by having them investigate and respond to issues relating to

  • survival,
  • quality of life,
  • problem solving, and/or
  • real products." 2

The more interesting and personally relevant lessons are, the more motivating they will be. School-to-work programs have been particularly successful in this area; however, the relevance of class work to future employment, quality of life, and/or life skills should be shown in traditional classes as well. If we have difficulty finding convincing examples of how class work has relevance to our students' lives, perhaps we should consider revamping our programs.

To foster competence, "learning experiences should involve "both creative and critical thinking...requiring students to:

  • define the task,
  • set goals,
  • establish criteria,
  • research and gather information,
  • activate prior knowledge,
  • generate additional ideas and questions,
  • organize,
  • analyze and
  • integrate all this information." (Farges, l993)2

For question starters promoting critical thinking and directions for writing lesson plans that facilitate critical thinking, check the lesson plan library.

How to Help Students Feel Connected

The third factor, the need to feel connected, has been successfully addressed in advisory programs, cooperative learning, and, on a smaller scale, peer mentoring, peer counseling, and community service. Whether or not students participate in these programs, they need a "climate or culture of trust, respect, caring, concern, and a sense of community with others." (Deci Ryan, 1991)2. Since student/teacher interactions play such a crucial role that even a single event can determine how the student feels about a class and how he will perform (Caruthers) 1 you may want to review some of the following suggestions for creating a warm and nurturing climate:

  • Greet students at the door using their first name. Make eye contact and smile.
  • Listen to students and show you are listening using active listening techniques. Avoid giving advice.
  • Be genuine, be clear in approval and disapproval, and let students know you don't carry a grudge . Avoid sarcasm.
  • Talk to students about their discipline problems privately, perhaps outside the classroom door so as not to embarrass them in front of peers.
  • While using cooperative learning, walk around the room giving students an occasional pat on the back. Catch their eyes and give an okay sign.
  • Take pictures of all students putting them on the bulletin board. You may want to protect them by putting them under Plexiglas.
  • Celebrate birthdays and accomplishments during a scheduled "cultural event." One per quarter is probably sufficient. Put birthdays on a database so you can wish students a happy birthday on their special day.
  • Occasionally bring in goodies, such as hard candy, to distribute to the whole class while complimenting them on their progress. Be sure it is genuinely deserved and use positive remarks such as, "You've been really working at this," and "You've been thinking and making progress."
  • Have class officers in each class such as a secretary to record assignments for absentees and a cultural experience chairman or social chairman to plan events. Let students decide the duration of the jobs and whether they will be filled by appointment or vote. Volunteer service hours can be given if officers spend a lot of time on the class job.

Remember the keys to motivating students are control, competence and connection.

1 Classroom Motivation and Achievement

2 Understanding the Keys to Motivation to Learn

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Written by Diane Walker
Updated by Melissa Kelly

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