Over the last fifteen years I have done a lot of "required reading" in my life. During college I had to read lots of books on the mind, human behavior, neuroscience, and of course, lots of books from Freud on psychology and what makes people tick. And while I feel many of the books I was told to read laid a basic strong foundation of the human experience, I never felt as though I got a good grasp of what truly motivates people. I do understand the premise that we are generally motivated by pleasure and move away from pain, but I always felt a bit dissatisfied with this explanation.
Dr. Sam Miller, founder of the Parenting Teenagers Academy recently released a book that I felt did a good job at the very least, providing some tools on how to help motivate teenagers. With so many teens distracted on their devices with screen time, I am beginning to worry that many of today's youth are not going to be able to focus as the mature. This can have a direct impact on how kids stay motivated to complete the tasks necessary for them to accomplish any of their goals.
In his recent book, Dr. Miller provides some steps he discovered during his counseling services that led him to some profound insights and I wanted to share some here:
1) Help students trust themselves to succeed. When students trust themselves to succeed at a task, they are more likely to challenge themselves in other situations which will build more confidence. Be sure to recognize student achievement in terms of personal worth and not just success on a particular assignment; this will encourage the student to carry that confidence into other learning situations.
2) Make the attainment of goals probable but uncertain. Everyone is motivated to complete easy, reward-based tasks. It’s the more difficult ones, often accompanied by delayed gratification, that make us want to give up before we begin. On a day to day basis, aim for goals that are achievable but require just enough work to keep students engaged. It’s a fine line between interest and disengagement, but it’s this tension that keeps us all motivated.
3) Give accurate and authentic performance feedback. A large part of continued motivation is feedback, but be careful not to make it personal. They should change their behavior, not their self-worth, as a result of constructive criticism.
4) Relate achievement to students’ self-esteem. One teacher tells her students she “likes how they’re thinking” every time they provide a good response. This not only motivates her students to keep getting the right answer, but also to keep seeking praise for the way they use their heads.
5) Stimulate sensory curiosity by making abrupt changes that will be perceived by the senses. Change the learning environment around mid-way through the semester. Paint the walls a different color. Students will respond to the new environment and be inspired to think outside the box.
6) Stimulate cognitive curiosity by presenting a problem or question as a puzzle to be solved. Pose questions not as opportunities for reward or humiliation but as puzzles to be solved. Draw out the “right” answer by asking multiple sub-questions of different students, asking students to respond to each other’s answers, and making the conceptual investigation feel like a game or a riddle.
I really like the idea of changing the learning experience to being more dynamic as I feel this will truly help teenagers stay motivated to be highly engaged and more involved not only with their academics, but all areas of their life.