How to motivate students

An article from Edutopia on  motivating students.

What to do?

  1. Focus
    • Put the focus on motivation as the objective
  2. Time Commitment
    • There needs to be time taken away from ‘teaching’ to focus on motivation
  3. Reinforcement Through Repetition
    • Working on motivation needs to be done regularly
  4. Effective Motivators
    • Students need role models. Adults are poor role models. Peers, particularly older peers, are better.
  5. Fun for the Students
    • The motivational activity needs to be fun

How to do it?

A weekly 15 minute chat between younger (unmotivated) and older (motivated) peers. That’s it!

This is based on work by


John Hattie’s solution: collaboration

John Hattie’s done a lot of research on education and he suggests this…

  1. The one metric worth looking at is year on year progress. One school year input should lead to one school year progress.
  2. Stop comparing school performance against each other. Look at each school and try to reduce the variability in performance within schools. Even very bad schools will have very good performers. Try to learn from the very good performer within that school.
  3. Stop with interventions. There is no silver bullet. Most interventions have very low effect sizes, except for one intervention. See 4.
  4. Collaborate. This has the most promise. Within schools, let bad teachers learn from good teachers. Let good teachers feed off each other. Admin should be built around letting good teachers hone their practice.

Child Education vs Adult Education

Nobody will disagree that adult education is different from child education, but this is one of those things that’s forgotten so easily.

For starters, you have to consider developmental stages. Let’s call this “psycho-cognitive” factors. The child’s brain is simply not ‘wired’ in the same way as an adult brain, and throughout childhood you have different stages of development. I won’t go anymore into this here, but Piaget and Erikson have a lot to say. People who design curriculum used to know this, teachers usually do, but politicians and policy-makers don’t know this. We need to stop forcing the child to learn more and more before they are ready. I call this the “what to teach”.

Then there’s psycho-social factors, which determines what kind of learning environment is appropriate for a child. Here, I mean things like attention span, self-regulation and sociability. Like above, there are stages. Getting kids to work in a co-ed situation is easy; teenagers, not so much. It’s easy to keep 17 year-olds seated and quiet, but not so much with 13 years olds; they just talk and talk and talk. Younger kids love music. Older ones don’t. That’s just how it is. So knowing the psycho-social factors will tell you “how to teach”.

Finally, we have psychic factors, which is refers to the ‘spirit’ of the child. I got this idea from Maria Monterssori’s The Absorbant Mind (p. 42):

“A very banal consideration will show that the child does not progress towards death like the adult, the child progresses towards life because the purpose of the child is the construction of man in the fullness of his strength and in the fullness of his life.”.

There is a little bit of woo-woo here, but it’s not so hard to get. Here, we are talking about the ‘seed’ of learning. Think about a tree, there’s a time for growing slowly and growing fast, and even a time for not growing at all. The child is the same. There are times when they pick up things very quickly (0-6) and times when they pick up things slowly (12-14). We are human after all and we go through different life-stages so our education (or need for education), reflects this. The adult (or young adult) is learning to get a job or to make a living. The child is not. The child has no care, and shouldn’t have any care, for those things. The child is busy “growing up”. And that’s what his education should support. Instead, we have people who want thing know more and more things, however useless that may be to his “growing up”. Psychic factors determine the “why to teach”.

So when designing an education, we need to think about what, how, and why. And in answers these we remember that knowledge should always be for the child (not to make the parent or the nation proud), that the environment should be designed for the child (not what is easiest for the teacher or budget to handle), and that the reasons be for the child (and specifically his personal growth, not his economic utility).

Jay Greene’s Education Myths

Jay Greene looked at some data to unravel some myths about the education system. He has a book, but here’s a summary of the first 5 myths [1]

1. “Schools perform poorly because they need more money.” This is only true in some cases, about 10-15%.

2. “Special education programs burden public schools, hindering their academic performance.” Schools classify with learning disabilities so that the state will give the school extra money, even though the student may only need remedial help.

3. “Social problems like poverty cause students to fail; schools are helpless to prevent it.” This can be overcome and is not automatically a results killer.

4. “Schools should reduce class sizes; small classes would produce big improvements.” There are other factors yield bigger results. The gains by reducing class size are small.

5. “Certified or more experienced teachers are substantially more effective.” Higher qualified teachers don’t produce students with better grades. And teacher’s rise in effective plateaus after a short number of years.