At this point in the year, students’ motivation may be flagging. Some may be overwhelmed by all the work they have to do for their classes (on top of their responsibilities at their jobs, at home, and in their relationships). Others could be frustrated that they’re not “getting” the material their instructors are covering, and may feel ready to give up. And, a few may just be focused on Spring Break!
Yes, students are responsible for keeping up their own motivation. However, there are ways that you can help them build their enthusiasm and stay focused on their success. In their book McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers, Fourteenth Edition, Marilla Svinicki and Wilbert J. McKeachie include ten ways that you can spur on students’ motivation, help them engage in your course, and encourage them to take more ownership over their success. We’ve summarized these suggestions below.
1. Allow students some degree of choice and control. For example, if you assign a paper or research project, you could provide a list of potential topics and let them choose from among those topics.
2. Show your enthusiasm for the subject and your students. Let students know how teaching and research motivate you. When you demonstrate your passion for your subject, as well as your sincere concern for your students, students are more likely to become enthusiastic about your course as well.
3. Make class a “can’t-miss” experience. If you engage your students through dynamic lectures, interactive activities, and lively class discussions, they’ll be less likely to assume that they can get what they need solely from the readings or their study buddies’ class notes.
4. Teach with purpose. Clearly communicate the value of what you’re teaching and ensure that you’re reinforcing the relevance of course material to their lives.
5. Let them know you believe they can succeed. Help your students see and believe that the power and ability to adapt, change, and improve their learning strategies is within their grasp.
6. Promote revision as an opportunity to master both topic knowledge and writing skills. While the projects are still in these draft stages, use written feedback (rather than grades) as a means of supporting mastery. You could also consider establishing peer-review groups to facilitate the revision process; this also has the benefit of eliminating the need for you to read and evaluate each draft of every student’s paper yourself.
7. Use a criterion-referenced approach to grading, rather than grading “on the curve.” If your expectations, criteria (and point values) for assignments, and desired learning outcomes are clear to students from the start of the course, they will know exactly what leads to success and can thus feel more confident about the possibility of succeeding.
8. Eliminate some of the “guesswork” from tests. Keep the format and structure of your exams consistent from test to test, so that students can become more familiar with (and thus less anxious about) your approach to testing. Other strategies, such as providing one (or several) of the essay questions ahead of time, can help students feel more confident and in greater control of their experience at test time.
9. If most students miss a question on a test, don’t be afraid to “drop” it. Instead of accounting for that question in the overall grade on the exam, use the occurrence as an opportunity to re-address the topic and confirm that your students understand the material. By doing so, students can recognize that you are concerned not only about their performance, but their mastery of what you’re covering in class.
10. Keep your feedback constructive and informative. Provide criticism in a manner that frames problems as something that can be addressed and resolved, rather than as something that’s intrinsically wrong with the student. (147-149)
Share your tips for motivating students
Now, it’s your turn! How do you encourage students to get, and stay, motivated? Share your tips in our poll below.
Reference: McKeachie, Wilbert J. and Svinicki, Marilla. 2014. McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers, 14th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.