I need to know more about what motivates students and what I can do in the classroom to help them take their learning more seriously.

We all want to have motivated, interested students in our classrooms. However, most of us come into contact with students who are less engaged in the process of learning than we would like them to be. Students who are more highly motivated and engaged have been linked to increased levels of success in school and to reduced dropout rates. It is important to understand that students come to your classroom with a set of behaviors and experiences that influence how they interact in the classroom.

Factual Information

It is also important for you to understand students' behaviors will provide clues about their motivation. For example, are students only motivated when they expect to receive some tangible reward in return for their efforts? If so, they have become accustomed to extrinsic motivation. If, however, students gain enjoyment, and are therefore motivated by the work itself, they are intrinsically motivated. Research has consistently demonstrated a host of positive outcomes related to students' intrinsic motivation. So how do we keep students interested in school, or motivate those who have lost interest, thereby helping them to take their learning more seriously?

Recent research on student motivation by Carol Dweck has interesting implications for teachers. Dr. Dweck has found that students fall into one of two categories. One category of student believes that their ability is fixed and there is nothing they can do to change it. The other type of student believes that their ability and success are due to their learning and the effort that they put into learning. They understand that learning requires effort and takes time. They do not believe that their abilities are fixed but rather have a mindset of growth. Dr. Dweck's research has led her to conclude that students' mindsets are not fixed but that teachers can help students develop a growth mindset.

Classroom Activities

  • Observe the students in your classroom. What motivates them to complete their work? Do external rewards seem important to them or are they more internally motivated?
  • If you are comfortable, engage your students in a discussion about motivation. Inquire about what motivates them to learn and what might make them more motivated.


  • If your school or district has a school psychologist, invite him or her to a faculty meeting to discuss student motivation.
  • Talk to your administrator about discussing the issue of student motivation during a faculty meeting or professional development meeting.

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