School is oftentimes like a poorly-designed game... Good games, however, don’t punish failure. They always provide an avenue for players to see incremental success and make headway.

How to Bring Motivation to the Classroom

Everyone has been in a rut – when you feel frustrated and aren’t experiencing any motivation to carry on with whatever you are doing.

What’s really at the root of this problem though? Motivation is a funny word that teachers often use incorrectly on their students. Many teachers claim that their students are unmotivated, as if motivation was an intrinsic character trait that everybody had different levels of. This isn’t the right way to think about motivation. In fact, motivation and drive comes from pleasure of accomplishment and incremental success. If you give a child a task to do, like assembly of a large jigsaw puzzle, and they work on it for a while with no discernible progress, it’s obvious that they’ll get frustrated and lose motivation to continue. However, if they’re able to figure out the first step of filtering out the edge and corner pieces and start assembling the frame of the jigsaw puzzle, they’ll experience continual progress and replenished motivation to keep solving the puzzle.

So here is the source of motivation – it comes from progress. This is particularly important in the classroom. If teachers think that students are unmotivated, the students should not be blamed – this means that the learning process and the actions of the teacher must be adjusted. Following this model, the primary job of teachers should be to ensure that every student is making progress and experiencing incremental success in the learning process. This is what games are so good at and why all children love them – it’s not because they’re easy.

In fact, games are oftentimes fiendishly difficult and challenge stretch the players’ abilities to the limit. However, when players overcome a challenge and make visible progress, they experience a rush of pleasure and continued motivation to keep playing. Why is it, then, that games are so hard but kids still want to play them, and the same doesn’t hold true for school? The answer is that school is oftentimes like a poorly-designed game. When students fall behind, there is a lack of support. They don’t understand what’s being taught, and are never given a chance to catch up. Failure is fatal. Good games, however, don’t punish failure. They always provide an avenue for players to see incremental success and make headway. Learning should be the same way – teachers must support the continual learning progress of students by keenly observing them and ensuring they are being properly and adequately challenged. This should be regarded as a powerful tool to keep their motivation levels high.

Related to this same point is the concept of social learning. The most effective type of new learning comes from binding of new knowledge to past experiences and knowledge and from making the material at hand both meaningful and relevant to students. Who better to socialize and learn with than a child’s peers, whose cognitive networks and past experiences are very similar? Peer-supported learning and interaction with others provides a backdrop upon which kids can measure their progress and understand the success they’ve achieved already. The teacher should support this process and manage the presentation of challenges and assignments to make sure that students don’t get stuck, but see real personal progress to keep them motivated.

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