Since I have started writing for this blog, I have read countless articles about student motivation, but I have never read something quite like what I came across today in The Arizona Republic. The article, “Student brains hold clues for instructors,” argues that thoughts are triggered by emotions and consequently, by exploring the relationship between emotions and thought, teachers can effectively tap into student motivation levels.
Well-designed learning environments help students "feel" the need to choose to become inspired, motivated, and eventually empowered. They are at the root of a positive disposition that leads to academic success. An effective teacher knows how to design an environment where student motivation triggers the cognitive and the physical-activity domains of their brains.
The article’s author, Mark Ryan, goes on to outline a couple of neurological research conclusions and how those findings fit into the classroom. Although I am by no means an expert in neuroscience, most of what he talks about we’ve discussed in one way or another on this blog at some point. For example, he says that “meaning trumps information,” so wherever possible, it’s important for teachers to give context for lessons, rather than just teaching facts.
But some of the classroom implications he talks about seem a little funny to me. He says that “learning is a process by which you decide what you want or do not want to learn"-- the implication being that if teachers create a challenging but secure classroom environment, students will be inspired and motivated to learn. That may be true, but I think a better question to be asking here is how that environment can be created.
Either way, the conclusions Ryan draws are thought-provoking and look at student motivation from a perspective I don’t often encounter.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Motivation Matters blog.