Thesis: How to Motivate the Unmotivated Student

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¶ … Motivation

"Motivating the Seemingly Unmotivated Student"

Approximately 25% of students in the late 1980's were living at or below the nationally established poverty level. Children from these poor families were identified as having higher rates of needing special instruction vs. other same age students from more advantaged homes (Young & Melnick, 1996). Today, the numbers of "at risk" students has grown exponentially and compounded for students who are recent immigrants, represent an ethnic or racial minority, and are poor (Barber, et al., 1988). As more than 90% of urban middle school enrollment, these youth attend schools with weak curriculums, limited access to more challenging academic instruction, and proven alternatives to instructional strategies (Russ, 1993).

Students who come to school facing challenges in the home, systematically disenfranchised because of race or ethnicity, may find it more difficult to focus in the classroom and may present as unmotivated. At the same time, instructors may seem frustrated not knowing what to do to capture that particular child's interest in learning, or holding their attention (Hootstein, 1998). In addition, students come from elementary schools with experiences, beliefs, and expectations that significantly contribute to their learning and motivation to learn. Oftentimes, students find they have not been sufficiently prepared for the increased rigor, limited flexibility, and expectations of most middle school environments (Frye, 2010). According to Rudolph, Clark, Lambert, and Kurlakowsky (2001), "adolescents who believe that academic success in not under their control… may feel ill-equipped to deal with the novel demands of middle school" (935).

As such, finding a way to successfully motivate the unmotivated student is very important; taking into consideration not only the academic challenges they face, but their home, social, and economic environments as well. In order to effectively motivate students, one needs to ensure relevant subject matter (to the child's interests, concerns needs, and experiences), having an interesting and motivated instructor and instruction, supporting a students sense of control within the learning environment, and expectations of success (Hootstein, 1998).

Literature Review

Ginsberg and Wlodkowski, in their work "Creating Highly Motivating Classrooms for all Students" point out that even in optimal learning conditions; wherein class sizes are reasonable, there is mutual respect between teachers and students, and families and school personnel work together, motivation can still be illusive (11). This is not a new phenomenon, as there has not been nor is there currently, in the United States, a classroom situation where all children and their circumstances and conditions are all alike and uniformly contribute to their academic success (11). Although new pedagogical frameworks and annually renewed strategies supported by sound empirically-based research can serve as a guide to possibilities, because every student is influenced and shaped by multiple social contexts, as well as socio-cultural influences such as poverty, racism, and other injustices, there are no easy answers as to how to motivate the unmotivated student (12).

"Understanding and encouraging motivation is an on-going process that requires educators to examine and reconsider their own histories, experiences, and interpretations" (12).

There must also be an investment in understanding from the students perspectives, their struggles and communities and apply that understanding to the ways in which they individually struggle with societal inequalities.

Ginsberg and Wlodkowski posit that every individual is motivated to learn and that the role of school personnel is to elicit, encourage and support each student's intrinsic motivation. In so doing, learning experiences must be engaging and relevant, respectful, and successes must be recognized in ways that matter to the students. Because motivation can not be precisely measured or directly observed, scholarly research has focused on stories for indications of interest, signs, behaviors and the words people say. Although the information may be helpful to teachers, it is still challenging to recognize and identify students intentions and to understand their behavior. Because students present with such varied experiences, histories, and worldviews, it is difficult for teachers to interpret their purpose and will; resultantly, misconceptions are common (19).

Because conventional wisdom and scholarly research indicate that students who are motivated with surpass those who are unmotivated in learning and performance, teachers commonly want to gain knowledge of motivation in order to give all students the best chance to have an excellent education. Teachers need to find learning activities that are satisfy students intrinsically.

In order for students to consistently learn well, they must feel respected, buy into their learning experiences being relevant, and accept challenges that can be effectively accomplished (Wlodkowski & Ginsbert, 1995; Csikszentmihalyi, 1997; Lambert & McCombs, 1998).

The pedagogy proposed by Ginsberg and Wlodkowski is culturally responsive and based on the intrinsic motivation to correct the imbalance of intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation. They posit a motivational framework that is culturally respectful and capable of creating a common culture among students and their teachers that is acceptable to them. The framework is composed of four motivational conditions that are continuously created and enhanced.

Establishing inclusion is one of the four tenants of the contextual framework of culturally responsive teaching. To establish inclusion, practices and principles that contribute to the learning environment that is respectable to all involved and facilitates connectedness between teachers, students and the community, must be employed. From a scientific viewpoint, when students are encouraged by the academic atmosphere to use their own cultural and social strengths, they are then able to construct cognitive connections that aid in making information and knowledge relevant and bring knowledge within their personal control (Vygotsky, 1978). A positive attitude must be developed through personal and cultural relevance. The assumption that students should simply be ready to learn is a misconception adopted by a number of school administrators. Enhanced meaning brings about challenges and actively engages students in the learning process. The concept of enhancing meaning strengthens and expands learning in ways that are important to students and possess social merit. Lastly, engendering competence utilizes principles and practices that aid students in authentically identifying that they are "effectively learning something valuable" (26).

According to the authors, a culturally responsive curriculum is a transformational curriculum, wherein students examine subjects from a variety of academic, political, and cultural perspectives in ways that are socially meritorious (Banks, 1997; Nieto, 1992; Butler, 1993). This kind of curriculum design encourages students to see themselves and others realistically and equally and this is supported through all resources for learning. In addition, a transformational curriculum requires teachers and school administrators to objectively evaluate materials currently used in the school to determine if they are fair cross culturally.

Further, Ginsberg and Wlodkowski purport that enhancing meaning provides connections and patterns that link perception to important questions or goals, motivation is intensified because of the obvious relevancy. This "deeper meaning" accesses more intense feelings that are interconnected to the ways in which we have been socialized in our homes, schools, communities, genders, ethnic affiliations, etc. Susanne Langer (1942) posited that there is a basic pervasive human need to attribute meaning in one's own environment and search for and find significance everywhere. This meaning, however, can't be separated from the people we are as cultural beings or what our purpose is (Ginsberg & Wlodkowski, 2000).

According to Ginsberg and Wlodkowski, there has been a great deal of scholarly research done with regard to assessments, grading practices, and their impact on student motivation. The authors maintain their philosophy regarding the essential purpose of assessments is to "engender competence" in students in ways that the students will perceive as valuable (p. 174). "Intrinsic motivation is elicited when people within and across cultural groups know they are competently learning from a meaningful activity that leads to a valued goal" (p.174).

When students are afforded a real life context for demonstrating what they have learned, their perception is enhanced because what they have learned is relevant, is appealing on a pragmatic level, and is affirmative as it relates to their experiences and background (Kasworm and Marienau, 1997).

Landen and Willems, in their article, "Do You Really Know How to Motivate Children?" posit that motivation in learning is a varied and complex process (p. 283). When viewing extrinsic incentives, they looked to the work of Greene and Lepper (1974) which indicated the use of external incentives to learning show that rewards can "backfire" and a child's intrinsic level of interest in learning and activities related to learning may be undermined by the use of these external rewards and the controls that accompany them.

Four separate studies were conducted with preschool and elementary school students where the students performed tasks to receive an extrinsic reward. Results indicated that the children's level of interest significantly diminished as compared to those children who were required to perform the tasks but received the reward without prior notice. The authors determined that the extrinsic reward was most ineffective when the children expected to receive a reward for task performance. Contingent upon these results, Greene and Lepper (p. 54) proposed that (1) immediate objectives should be attained without the sacrifice of the established long-term goals. When children were presented with a powerful… [END OF PREVIEW]

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How to Motivate the Unmotivated Student.  (2011, July 17).  Retrieved May 21, 2019, from

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