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What can we do to motivate our children to achieve their full potential?

Guest Blog written by Rebecca le Poer Trench.

During this busy time of internal and external exams we witness pupils with varying degrees of focus and seemingly varying degrees of motivation to succeed. Pupils often seem more motivated in some subjects than others, and their attitude towards learning can change over time. This has made me wonder how much motivation is internal and how much we are motivated by external factors to persevere. Also, if motivation is partially external, what can we do to motivate pupils to achieve their full potential, or to keep trying when faced with challenges or perceived failure?  

This train of thought has led me to the work of Daniel Pink who breaks motivation into two types: intrinsic and extrinsic.  He explains that “extrinsic motivation is driven by external forces such as money or praise. Intrinsic motivation is something that comes from within and can be as simple as the joy one feels after accomplishing a challenging task.”[1]

Providing extrinsic motivation to pupils seems relatively straightforward; praise, a prize, or a credit, would be considered effective. In comparison, ways to stimulate intrinsic motivation is less obvious. When searching for a practical strategy I came across the concept of motivational interviewing.  David Pink exemplifies this technique, which was developed by Mike Pantalon from Yale: 

“Let's say a student isn't doing his algebra homework—not because he's bored or because it's too difficult for him, but simply because he doesn't feel like doing it. You could say, "Daniel, on a scale of 1 to 10, how ready are you to do your algebra homework?" He might say, "Well, I'm a 2." Our instinct is to respond, "Hey, what's wrong with you?! Come on, you should be a 9!" Instead, the follow-up question in this technique is, "So Daniel, you said you're a 2. Why didn't you choose a lower number?" That question always throws them. Daniel has to explain—maybe for the first time in his life—why he's not a 1. He might say, "Well, I know that in the long run, if I don't get this down now, I'm going to be in big trouble in math. Also, although I'm not sure what I want to do later on, I've thought about going into engineering or medicine, and maybe if I don't master math, I won't be able to do that." Daniel begins to articulate his own reasons—not yours or mine or the teacher's—for doing something.” [2]

This is an alternative questioning approach that pupils may not be used to, but could be a useful strategy to help those struggling at this time of year. It allows pupils to articulate their concerns and start voicing what their internal motivators are. This could be useful both inside and outside the classroom to allow us to motivate young people to persevere and therefore succeed.

[2] Azzam, A. (2014). Motivated to Learn: A Conversation with Daniel Pink. Motivation Matters. 72 (1), 12-17.


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