Despite our best efforts as educators and parents, many students still underperform or struggle academically. Most teachers observe that their students would succeed if only they would invest more effort in their work. In some cases, we see a grave lack of student engagement leading to classroom management challenges, low student achievement, and high drop-out rates.

While some studies cite boredom and disinterest as the cause of these problems, perhaps they are actually symptoms of a broader issue: lack of motivation. Numerous studies have shown that, as student motivation goes up, so do effort and student achievement, in both short and long term situations. In addition, attention, which is a scarce resource in most classrooms, has also been proven to increase with kids’ motivation levels. As we empower students to increase their own ability to focus and apply effort, we witness them becoming better able to process relevant information, which impacts their ability to succeed academically. This, in turn, will set the foundation for an intrinsic love of learning, by teaching students to value their own progress and growth.

Here are three techniques you can use to increase students' motivation:

Understanding Students’ Values - Much like anyone else, students will work for the things they value, especially when they have a hope or expectation that they will succeed. As educators, we can work to understand what our students’ value, and incorporate it into the activities we plan. For example, in the next writing assignment, ask your students to prepare an article that covers a person they admire, describing him/her as vividly as they can. Get them excited about the prospect of acquiring journalistic experience. After the assignment is completed, encourage your students to reflect on the approach they took to work on it. Questions you might want to consider are:

  • How did you feel when you first got the assignment? Can you describe how you developed your approach to working on it?
  • How did you enjoy writing about a topic that you like? Do you think this affected the outcome?
  • What have you learned about your writing skills during this exercise?

 By developing innovative, engaging assignments, we can help our students to incorporate their learning into other areas, contributing to their development of intrinsic motivation that will spark a lifelong love of learning.

Get to know your students, learn what they value, and put this information to work towards empowering them!

Embracing a Growth Mindset - What makes students understand that they can be successful? Students’ expectations and interpretations of events can influence their motivation levels as well as subsequent actions that they take. A growth mindset—the belief that a person can develop an ability, such as intelligence, through effort, practice and learning—leads students to have a greater sense of self-efficacy, as they understand that their own achievement is within their power, and that their past performance does not define their future potential.

 Why is this important? Research tells us that when students perceive their abilities or intelligence as a defining feature of their identity, they may feel threatened when experiencing challenge, perhaps interpreting it as a risk to their own sense of self-worth or identity. Their response to this “threat” has been referred to as a helpless response, and many of us have seen examples of this in our classrooms: bright students who have easily completed prior grade levels while escaping a sense of challenge are suddenly paralyzed when they encounter a concept that does not make immediate sense to them. When we teach these students that their abilities or intelligence changes with their behavior and increasing with effective study skills, we are providing them with mastery learning strategies, instead of the helpless strategies they had previously relied on (defeatist thoughts such as, “this assignment is stupid”, “I’m just not a math person”, etc…). We can also incorporate emotional regulation strategies that will enable them to manage their own frustrations—for example, reducing anxiety through techniques to manage its physical symptoms, such as breathing exercises, showing them this is also a skill that can be learned.

What first steps can you take?

1. Mindset Assessment – get to know your students’ Mindset. Do they believe that intelligence is malleable? What is their attitude toward effort and mistakes? We designed a Mindset Assessment Profile tool and accompanying survey as an effective reflection exercise, see download information here.

2. Introduce the concept of expandable intelligence, and dedicate time for a classroom activity that will explain how intelligence can grow. You will find a suggested activity in our introductory guide (see download information here).

3. Introduce the concept of Fixed vs. Growth Mindsets. There are many activities that educators use to introduce this concept. You will find useful resources in Jennifer Maichen’s post, and you may want to check out Nigel Holmes’ diagram. In addition, we’ll be soon launching the Growth Mindset Online Community, to assist you with obtaining and sharing ideas with other educators!

 What we have found is that students who are motivated are the ones who persist when tasks are challenging or difficult, even in the face of failure. These kids seem to appreciate school activities and learning, and their enthusiasm frequently spreads to others. Working with students to develop a growth mindset may be, one of the greatest gifts we can give our kids as educators and parents. Nothing is quite as powerful or motivating as the belief in one’s own ability to change, improve and grow. When a student truly incorporates this style of thinking, he or she will be buffered from negative experiences and made more resilient. This will quickly lead to a greater openness to new experiences and a healthier, more enthusiastic attitude towards learning.


Note #1: To find four more classroom activities that teachers have devised to increase student motivation in the classroom, read about the winners of September’s Growth Minded Educator contest!


Note #2: If you have more ideas on how to increase student motivation, please contribute to the collective knowledge and post them as comments below.