Engagement and motivation

Disengagement from learning is a serious problem in schools, not only for the visibly disengaged (such has those who drop out from school), but also for ‘disengaged achievers’ – students who are adept at achieving good grades, but are turned off learning by school, and who often struggle when given more independence at sixth form or University or in the workplace.

In the UK, former Chief Inspector of Schools, Mike Tomlinson, reported that ‘over 20,000 young people in Britain each year give up on going to school by the age of 14’. In research undertaken for the UK government 10 per cent of British students reported that they ‘hated’ school. This is found in disproportionate levels amongst students from poorer backgrounds.

When tackling issues of engagement, education literature tends distinguish between two types of motivation:

Extrinsic motivation: Sweets, material rewards and treats, special privileges.
These motivators tend to have only very short-term positive effects and not normally effective long term. They have a habit of creating a temporary appearence of improvement in behaviour, but often at the expense of any genuine change in attitude or long term effort.

Can Money or Other Rewards Motivate Students?

Intrinsic motivation: Choice, autonomy and challenge
These motivators are certainly more challenging to generate as they involve the student developing a sense of pride and purpose in the their learning, increasing independence and greater resilience. However, the evidence suggests this type of motivation can have a long-term, positive effect on student achievement.

A place to start when thinking about intrinsic motivators might include:

Carol Dweck: Growth Mindset

Dan Willingham: Use of praise or Use of narrative

Student voice Another approach is looking at student feedback to help pick out areas in your teaching you might look to develop (as well as areas that are going well). I discuss one approach to this – using a student survey based on the MET tripod – here:

Investigating teaching using a student survey

You might also find some inspiration and ideas from Teachers’ TV: 3,500 archived short TV programmes related to teaching and learning.

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