Maintaining Students’ Motivation for Learning as the Year Goes On
It is very possible that the effort that you put into organising the initial weeks of school gave your kids a stronger connection to the school community as well as increased their excitement for the learning that is to come. On the other hand, as the semester progresses and you work toward maintaining the same level of inspired momentum, you might discover that it is increasingly difficult to find the same amount of preparation time that you devoted at the beginning of the year.
With the help of the insights that have been gleaned from neuroscience research, you are able to rekindle the connections, engagement, and drive of your pupils long after the initial thrill has worn off.
THE NEUROSCIENCE OF MOTIVATION
A drive to learn, to experiment, to work, and to persist is an example of motivation. As a neurologist who was formerly an educator, one of the topics that interest me the most is the neurology of learning, particularly learning that is driven and successful. Increased effort and the ability to see the effectiveness of one’s behaviour, choices, focus, and performance directly correspond with increased levels of intrinsic motivation in students. Intrinsic motivation refers to the satisfaction that comes from participating in an activity for its own sake, as opposed to receiving a reward from an outside source.
Dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that provides us a surge of satisfaction when completing a goal we’ve chosen, is one factor that contributes to the development of intrinsic motivation. When one’s levels of dopamine increase, their sensation of satisfaction as well as their motivation to continue to sustain attention and effort also increase. Other mental processes, such as memory, attention, perseverance, and creative problem-solving, may also benefit from an increase in dopamine levels.
THE VALUE OF CHOICE
Dopamine release can be stimulated by a variety of activities, including but not limited to: meeting desired challenges; socialising with peers; activity; humour; and music listening. If you want to keep your pupils motivated or give them a new lease on life, it can be helpful to have an understanding of the factors that raise their levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Choice seems to raise students’ levels of intrinsic motivation, which supports their prolonged effort and persistence in academic tasks. This is one dopamine booster that I’ve discovered to be quite successful, and it’s one that I’ve found to be particularly useful.
Students develop their sense of judgement and their ability to make decisions when they are given the opportunity to make their own learning decisions. There is a possibility that some pupils will experience anxiety when given an excessive amount of independence out of concern that they will not act responsibly. You will be able to assist your students in developing abilities in evaluating, selecting, and carrying out the consequences of smart decisions if you begin by giving them only limited options to begin with. You will notice further rises in your students’ confidence as well as motivated work toward the goals they have selected as you provide them with more possibilities for choice and expand the bounds of their learning as self-directed learners.
SOME CLASSROOM EXAMPLES
Beyond the initial few weeks of school, the following are some methods in which students can be given choice to rekindle their enthusiasm, involvement, and effort in their study.
In the area of world languages, when students are learning vocabulary in the target language, you can give them an option of how to deepen their knowledge of the material and how to evaluate their own progress. The introduction of a brief comedic film in the target language might be a good way to pique the audience’s interest and demonstrate the personal significance of this kind of assignment. Look for videos that depict happy expressions, laughter, and people and locations that your students may relate to in order to find those videos. Their mission is to articulate, in any way they see fit, the reasoning behind why they found the clip to be humorous. You may give them permission to use dictionaries, direct them to the relevant sections of the textbook, or have them work in flexible groups with either you or their classmates.
You can give them guided choice in demonstrating their achievement by allowing them to write or speak about the humour they found, to draw a cartoon strip reflecting something in the video, or to make their own videos on the humorous topic that was emphasised in the video. You can also give them the option to make their own videos.
In the area of language arts, one way to encourage kids to learn the fundamentals of punctuation is to have them select a book that they enjoy reading and use it as a learning tool for punctuation.
Ask students to pick a favourite piece from the text they have chosen, and then have them reproduce that section without the punctuation. After that, you produce duplicates of these documents without punctuation that are anonymous and arrange them in bins that are labelled with the level of difficulty (as you determine it). You have the option of adding information to the topic in order to help the new “punctuators” choose a subject that is of interest to them. You can also give them the option to choose the level of difficulty of the task; this way, they can continue at their own pace through ever more difficult levels of difficulty.
It is the responsibility of the students to ensure that the selected text can be understood by adding appropriate punctuation. You should be aware that the punctuation choices made by the original author are not the only appropriate ones, and when students make various choices, the teacher can debate the distinctions between those choices with the class. Your students will receive feedback indicating they are acquiring mastery as they utilise punctuation to make sense of more difficult texts. This feedback will indicate that they are progressing toward the goal of becoming proficient.
After you have completed this activity the first time, you will have samples of student work that you can share in subsequent years. Ideally, these samples will show a progression from a text with no punctuation to a text with incorrect or incomplete punctuation, and then on to a readable text with the appropriate punctuation.
Math: Do you find the metric system tedious? Students should be allowed to convert standard values into metric measurements based on anything that interests them, such as recipes they wish to produce or sporting statistics they are interested in.
Try to find ways to make learners more aware of the positive emotional sensations that come about as a result of their continued endeavour to learn something new. When they are in need of a boost in motivated excitement and effort for upcoming goals, remind them of these events. You may want to display pupils images of themselves smiling during such occasions.
Students’ levels of effort, academic success, and enjoyment of learning are all significantly influenced by their levels of motivation. It will make a difference in your students’ ability to maintain their motivated effort throughout the upcoming school year if you give them a variety of options to engage in new learning and to progress through challenges that are within their reach, along with feedback on how they are doing in relation to the goals they have chosen.