Many kids and young adults struggle with motivation. These are the kids who are slow to start classwork, often don’t turn in homework, and may even seem to refuse to attempt any assignment they view as a challenge. It can be extremely frustrating, especially because these students are often bright and capable in their own way. Here are some strategies you can use within your classrooms to help support their needs and help them be successful while still holding them accountable.
1. Keep your expectations high. Even when kids are struggling with finding motivation, you want to give the message that you expect greatness from them.
2. Give choices. Allowing a choice in an assignment or task gives kids power and helps them feel more in control of what they are accomplishing. Choice can mean choosing between two different worksheets, choosing their own lab group, or choosing whether to write or type an assignment. Consider finding a choice that fits a student’s individual strengths or interests. If a student isn’t motivated to write a research paper on a famous poet, allow them to present about their favorite musical artist. Instead of completing a lab report on cells, have your artistic student draw and label a diagram of a cell. It’s okay to think outside the box with this.
3. Allow accommodations when necessary. Simple accommodations, like a word bank, a calculator, or a word processor can help kids get in a better mindset for finishing a challenging task.
4. Talk to the student. Find out what is behind the lack of motivation to complete work in your class. Perhaps the student struggles with your content area, doesn’t understand the way you give directions, or is having some major issues at home. Talk privately and compassionately with the student and you can find out a lot.
5. Work out a plan. For students really struggling with getting tasks done in your class, try working out some incentives. Find out what the student would like to work towards – extra points on a quiz, a homework pass, or sitting in a special spot in your classroom. Then, make a plan so that your student can work towards earning that incentive. Maybe when he or she finishes homework for an entire week, they earn something special. Not only does this give the student something to work for, but it also helps build your relationship, too.
6. Work through motivation challenges together. Use this Motivation Workbook to teach about motivation, identify motivational challenges, and make a plan for success. Consider trying the Free Motivation Workbook Sampler which includes identifying what motivation is, understanding lack of motivation, strategies for improving motivation, and a motivation journal.
7. Talk to other adults who work with that student. Look for trends. Find out where the students does well and find out how you can replicate that in your class. For example, I worked with a student who did considerably better in his history class than his science class. With some investigating, I was able to notice that the science class lacked the same structure that his history class had. It was a simple thing to replicate once the teachers were made aware. Another important consideration is the time of day that the student is struggling. Is it in the morning when he or she didn’t get enough sleep? Or maybe around lunch time is challenging after being in a less structured social setting? These are just some examples of what you can consider.
8. Have Weekly Check-Ins. Meet with the student once a week to reflect and review progress. Talk about what went well and work through struggles that came up. This is a healthy time to go over grades too. Lots of times kids want to do well, but it sometimes feels out of reach for them. A weekly check-in makes reaching their goals more manageable and realistic.
9. Consider executive functioning challenges. Executive functioning challenges can impact learners in a big way, especially as kids and teens get older and the work load gets more difficult. If a student isn’t starting their work, is it because they struggle with task initiation skills? Do they feel overwhelmed because they are lacking strong organization skills? Understanding these deficits can help you put a plan in place.
10. Talk to parents. When you find yourself not making enough progress with your student, talk to his or her parents. Share what you have tried and see if there is anything at home the child can work for and if parents could talk to the child, too.
11. Keep your cool. It’s easy to get frustrated at kids who lack motivation but remember that they are just kids. There is often a reason why students won’t initiate tasks, even if we don’t know that reason at the moment. Take your time working with the student and show you are proud when you see progress – even just a little means baby steps in the right direction.
12. Use different teaching strategies. Add some different techniques to make learning a little more fun. Consider STEM and hands-on activities, create learning centers, or play review games.
13. Continue building a relationship. Relationship-building isn’t a one-time technique. It’s a long-term approach you can continue to use to support learners who are struggling. There are many strategies you can use to continue working on relationship-building. For example, talk to your students about hobbies and let them teach you about their interests.