Student motivation matters

Published on Friday, June 1, 2012

A recent report by the Center on Education Policy (CEP) looks at a forgotten aspect of school reform—student motivation. The report, Student Motivation—An Overlooked Piece of School Reform, underscores the need for teachers, schools, parents and communities to pay more attention to the role of students in school reform. While there is no single strategy that works to motivate all students, or even the same student in all contexts, the many different sources reviewed by CEP suggest various approaches that can help improve student motivation, the report finds.

The CEP report pulls together findings about student motivation from decades of major research conducted by scholars, organizations, and practitioners. It features six accompanying background papers that examine a range of themes and approaches, from the motivational power of video games and social media to the promise and pitfalls of paying students for good grades.

The following are just a few of the many ideas included in the report:

  • Programs that reward academic accomplishments are most effective when they reward students for mastering certain skills or increasing their understanding rather than rewarding them for reaching a performance target or outperforming others.
  • Tests are more motivating when students have an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge through low-stakes tests, performance tasks, or frequent assessments that gradually increase in difficulty before they take a high-stakes test.
  • Professional development can help teachers encourage student motivation by sharing ideas for increasing student autonomy, emphasizing mastery over performance, and creating classroom environments where students can take risks without fear of failure
  • Parents can foster their children’s motivation by emphasizing effort over ability and praising children when they’ve mastered new skills or knowledge instead of praising their innate intelligence.

Many aspects of motivation are not fully understood, the report and background papers caution, and most programs or studies that have shown some positive results have been small or geographically concentrated.

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