Student Motivation and Expectation


Everyone knows the theory but applying it can be challenging: students will work to the level of teacher expectation. I totally believe that many students are not succeeding in the classroom because they are not being challenged. Think about it; if your boss gives you a meaningless, mindless job to perform, what would your motivation be? Yet, this is happening day after day in schools.

I love talking to students about other classes and teachers to find out what makes a good learning environment. Favorite teachers have one thing in common – they pushed students to do what they didn’t think they were able to do. Most students love a challenge. Now they are experts in disguising their love for the challenge; they will moan, sigh, make choking noises and roll on the floor (this may only happen in my class) but will almost always rise to the challenge. Original poetry, short films, and in-depth analysis papers are just some of the works I’ve seen by students which you would think an English professor produced.

This applies in parenting as well with many parents setting the bar too low for their children. A friend of Brooke’s was given a challenge by her parents to raise money (several hundred dollars) for a non-profit before she turned 13, so she made and sold scarfs raising around $1,500. Another high school student I know rallied other students together to raise over $10,000 for Habitat for Hope in Memphis. I love stories like this because it shows that students will do so much more than we think they can if we only give them the chance.

Why do so many teachers or parents fail to do this? Setting high expectations takes more time and energy than doing the “same old thing.” Selling a student on the idea and giving the time to encourage along the way is work. I am also challenged in knowing where to set the bar; I want a task to be challenging to a somewhat frustrating level but not so frustrating that students give up quickly. This is often a trial and error process in both teaching and parenting, and I think too many adults give up during the process of getting the expectation level just right. In some ways, setting expectations as a parent can be easier than a teacher because teachers have a classroom made up of individuals with various levels. Even though the buzz in education today is differentiated instruction, one teacher simply cannot set various individual levels in each class (or at least I can’t).
Being a student myself of student learning and motivation, I would love to hear some stories of how students have met the challenge or surpassed a challenge.

What is one thing you can do as a parent or teacher to raise the bar?

4 responses to “Student Motivation and Expectation

  1. Pingback: Again: Motivation 101 – How NOT to | Millard Fillmore's Bathtub·

  2. I think it’s important for teachers to understand that true motivation comes from within the student. Teachers may be successful in finding the buttons to push to trigger that motivation, but believing “a teacher can motivate” a student doesn’t cut it, any more than the business executive’s thinking a kick in the butt motivates a worker.

    W. Edwards Deming talks about “driving out fear” in the workplace. That applies to classrooms, too, I think.

    I’m always happy to discover a student has outside interests, and to point out where others in history shared those interests, or where historical actions influence those interests today. I’m happy when students brag about work from other classes, and I can compliment them on a job done well.

    But beyond that? I don’t know the magic. Every student has different motivations, and it’s a constant struggle to figure out what they are and connect them to classroom work.

    • So true. Motivation is intrinsic, but maybe in my Pollyanna world I believe that teachers can help students tap into their inner motivation. I love the “driving out fear” theory and believe this is worth teachers discussing. Thanks for weighing in on the conversation.

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