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Understanding the Keys to Motivation to Learn 
ByBarbara L McCombs   posted on01 Feb, 12 5550 Views 0 Comments Motivation Add to favorite

Trying to reach students who seem to have lost interest in learning and are displaying no motivation to learn in school, or who are defeated or turned off to school for any number of reasons, is a frustrating and all too common experience for teachers in todays classrooms and schools.

WHY IS STUDENT MOTIVATION TO LEARN A PROBLEM IN TOO MANY OF OUR TRADITIONAL EDUCATIONAL SYSTEMS? IN CONTRAST, WHAT IS PRESENT IN THOSE SCHOOLS WHERE MOTIVATION TO LEARN IS NOT A PROBLEM?

These questions have intrigued educators and motivation researchers for years, myself included. As both a parent and an educational psychologist, I have watched my two children start out with a boundless love of learning, natural curiosity and motivation to learn and explore their worlds, and an initial excitement about school. I have also watched this excitement and motivation become seriously eroded by the time they reached middle school. What happened to their natural motivation to learn and the motivation of a growing number of our nations school children?

Exploring these questions, I have discovered some fundamental principles or keys to motivation to learn and to the identification of the instructional policies and practices that can re-inspire students to love school and help them recapture their natural motivation to learn. This article highlights my discoveries and their substantiation in current research. It provides specific guidelines for changes in practice that can help teachers and administrators positively address student problems with motivation to learn--whether they are in traditional teacher or curriculum-centred schools or in the growing number of learner-centred schools. Lets look first at what we know about motivation to learn; then at the conditions of schooling that can foster rather than actually work to destroy this motivation; and, finally, at what can be done to ameliorate or eliminate the negative conditions.

Understanding Motivation to Learn

The frustrations that many teachers feel in trying to motivate hard-to-reach students come from the realities of time pressure, the large number of students with learning and emotional needs, heavy accountability demands from administrators and parents, and other stress-producing situations that exist in many of our schools. It is helpful for teachers to know what those studying motivation are discovering about the nature of motivation to learn and the ways it can be developed and enhanced in students. This understanding helps teachers realize that almost everything they do in the classroom has a motivational influence on students--either positive or negative. This includes the way information is presented, the kinds of activities teachers use, the ways teachers interact with students, the amount of choice and control given to students, and the opportunities for students to work alone or in groups. Students react to who teachers are, what they do, and how comfortable they feel in the classroom. In short, this is because motivation is a function of what motivation researchers Deci and Ryan (1991) describe as natural needs for control, competence, and belonging that exist in all of us.

KNOWING HOW TO MEET INDIVIDUAL LEARNER NEEDS FOR CONTROL, COMPETENCE, AND BELONGING IN THE CLASSROOM IS ONE KEY TO STUDENT MOTIVATION TO LEARN.

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