Tip of the Week

January 11, 2021

Student Motivation: Reframing our Thinking

It’s a difficult time of year for students to conjure motivation. They’re just back to school after a long break and are staring at a long second semester. It’s cold outside, it gets dark early, and we’re in the midst of a pandemic that limits students’ ability to let off steam. Many demotivating factors are at play at this time of year — and especially this year.

Motivating students is an age-old question. In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink interestingly explains that research has shown that extrinsic rewards aren’t as effective as we’ve been conditioned to believe. Try as we might, money, XBox consoles, iPhones, special dinners, etc., aren’t lasting motivators. Rather, he goes on to explain, it’s autonomy, mastery, and a sense of purpose that get our motivational juices flowing. 

So how do parents and educators help students find that internal drive? It’s not a simple proposition! However, following Pink’s hypothesis, if we focus on teaching students how to learn and achieve and guide them to set short, attainable goals along the journey, we will be providing them with the foundational tools they need to gain autonomy and mastery, and find a deeper purpose to their schoolwork. In time, our students will become intrinsically motivated students. It starts with a willingness to reframe our thinking on what truly motivates students and follows with a commitment to strengthen executive function skills. 

Daniel Pink’s book is written about business models, yet his hypotheses are relevant to education. If the topic interests you and you’d like to delve deeper, here’s a short, animated summary of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.