True classroom motivation comes from inside each of your students, not from anything you can impose on them from outside - so we come again to my stance against extrinsic rewards ...or "junk-food motivation."
Many teachers use a constant application of treats to reward good behavior in their students, but just as many also use them to encourage high performance.
In both instances, but especially in the area of classroom motivation, they are ignoring basic human characteristics. To illustrate, we must use a sports analogy.
Football Team A...
...has a well-meaning coach who has lots of great football knowledge but deep inside lacks confidence that he can motivate his team just by his words and example. So every time one of his players performs well, he rewards them by giving them an energy bar and a Red Bull.
Over time he has noticed that he must spend a lot of money on snacks to keep his team motivated to perform.
Football Team B...
...has an energetic coach who also has lots of great football knowledge, but also lots of passion for the game. He is not a great motivational speaker, but when he talks football, you can see his eyes light up.
He doesn't even think of giving out treats for great performance; to him, the best reward is just giving his team members a chance to show the world how great they can be when properly guided and pushed to perform.
Any time they play each other, Team B crushes Team A.
And would anyone really have predicted otherwise?
In spite of being surrounded by examples in the world of sports, in spite of having belonged to clubs or groups that inspired members to give extra effort, in spite of all the evidence...many teachers simply don't believe that:
A. A classroom of kids can be formed into a cohesive team
B. Kids want to belong to a winning team
C. A teacher can create such a team
"Junk-food motivation," which includes:
...will never, never create the classroom motivation and performance you are dreaming of in your students. Instead, over time, you will find that they become like petting-zoo animals: generally well-behaved if you approach them with a treat, but surly and unresponsive if you don't feed them.
You don't need the junk-food crutch for motivation in the classroom. You really don't. And even if you are not a natural-born motivator (who is?) you can form a team to which kids want to belong.
It would be nice if it were as easy as saying, "run 5 laps and memorize the playbook." It's not. And I can't give you some magical single thing that replaces M&M's. But I can tell you that if you take the articles in this classroom management 101 section to heart and apply them, then you will end up with a class that wants to be on your team and will often motivate themselves to perform.
I love math and I work hard to get my kids to love it too. In one of my classes, the kids all achieved a 3 or 4 (meeting or exceeding in a standards-based grading system) on the first test. They were so proud they asked if they could set a class goal that all of them - including the special-ed kids - would achieve at least a 3 on the next test.
I had misgivings about their approach to motivation in the classroom but they all insisted, and also insisted that we put it on a poster so they could sign it.
The result was that we worked our tails off to accomplish the goal. Extra practice sheets, kids spontaneously teaming up with those needing help to give them extra attention, a classroom volunteer to work with small groups, close coordination with the Special Ed teacher to assist.
And you know what?
They did it. They sat on pins-and-needles while I scored the tests and were jubilant when they all passed. They didn't do it for a trophy, or a ribbon or a candy bar. They did it just because it made them feel like winners.
That's real classroom motivation.
I did reward them. I was so excited that I had to. They got to use the laptops to spend a half hour on a math website playing multiplication games with a partner.
I guess I'm just a softy.
We achieve classroom motivation effectively by:
A. Being excited about learning...so excited that it infects the kids
B. Setting the kids up to be successful by being a devoted educator
(perfection not required)
C. Celebrating individual achievement and group "wins"
with compliments and attention
That is the essence of motivation in the classroom. Everything else you do, as outlined in this classroom management section, will set the stage for success. When you apply the spark, like any great coach, you'll find that your team wants to be winners.
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