Education Chat

Student Motivation: What Works, What Doesn't

Psychology professors Edward L. Deci and Carol Dweck and middle school teacher Susan Graham discussed what works and what doesn't work to motivate students to do better in the classroom.

Student Motivation: What Works, What Doesn’t
August 30, 2006

Guests: Edward L. Deci, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester; Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University; and Susan Graham, middle school teacher at Gayle Middle School, Stafford County, Va.

Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):
Welcome to today’s online chat about what works and what doesn’t work to motivate students to do better in school. We have a large number of very interesting questions waiting to be answered. So let’s get the discussion started ...

Question from Joe Petrosino, Mid Career Student , Penn:
Trust matters in schools as cited in the works of Bryk and Schneider and many others. What does the panelfeel about establishing levels of trust in a school between the taechers and the administartive team as it relates to todays topic?

Carol Dweck:
My work shows that people do not thrive in an environment in which they feel judged, but they do thrive in an environment that they they feel is interested in their development. An administration that simply judges and evaluates its teachers will not win their trust, but an administration that shows it is interested in helping teachers improve and grow will be seen as the teacher’s ally. Teachers who live in this more trustful environment may then be encouraged to create such an atmosphere in their classrooms--presenting themselves as resources for students’ learning rather than judges of their ability

It has been repeatedly shown that a classroom that emphasizes students’ improvement and learning fosters better motivation and achievement than a classroom in which students’ abilities are judged.

Question from Charity Welch, Associate Professor, Coppin State University:
Are there group differences by age, gender and or ethnicity for causal factors and solutions for student motivation?

Edward L. Deci:
Generally, there are not these types of group difference. In other words, the basic principles of motivation are the same for all groups of students. Of course there are superficial differences. For examples, the content of texts that males versus females, or African Americans versus Caucasians find interesting will differ, and thus the motivation for doing a particular task might be different by groups. But the basic principle that all students will need to feel a sense of (1) competence of efficacy, (2) autonomy or self-initiation, and (3) relatedness to others in the learning setting in order to be optimally motivated does not differ by groups. The solutions for students motivation come from examining the degree to which the interpersonal climate in a learning setting allows students to satisfy their three basic psychological needs (i.e., competence, autonomy, and relatedness). To the extent that they are able to satisfy their needs by doing school related work, they are likely be motivated.

Question from Joanne Zosel, Mathematical Sciences Instructor, Solon Springs High School:
Due to the nature of the subjects I teach, it is easy to get most students engaged in learning, wanting to do their best. There are a few students who have built such a wall around themselves though that I can’t get them to trust me let alone teach them anything. What are some ways to break down this barrier?

Susan Graham:
Are you a fine or practical arts teacher? We often have the luxury of having students choose our classes, but occasionally I get students who considered taking Teen Living 8 as the lesser of the evils presented. I respect that wall of indifference when I confront it because it may be the only defense the reluctant learner has against failure. Benign neglect can sometimes provide enough privacy for this student to risk trying something new. But excessive praise for a tentative effort can drive them back behind to their safe haven of non-engagement. I think it raises the risk factor beyond their toleration level.

Rubrics that require both self-assessments and teacher assessment can be effective motivators. When my students produce a product, they must evaluate their own work based on quality of the product and quality of the work process. I discovered quite by accident that expectation of performance and actual performance are often completely disconnected. Low achieving students predicted low grades even when they gave themselves mid to high scores on the rubric. Conversely, students who tend to perform well in academic classes but have pretty poor motor skills have stated that they deserved a high grade because “I always make As”. When students can recognize their own successes and identify their own need for improvement, they are more likely to take ownership of their own learning.

Question from Lyn Jefferies, Curriculum Coordinator, Australian Science and Maths School, Adelaide Australia:
I am interested in how each of the guests conceptions of motivation and engagement differ. What is your opinion of intrinsic motivation as a personality trait? Is there a correlation between teacher self efficacy and student motivation? thankyou

Carol Dweck:
My specialty in motivation is the study of students’ beliefs about their intelligence. My research shows that students who believe their intelligence is fixed (they have only so much and that’s that) tend to worry about how smart they really are. Their motivation and engagement are tentative--when a task gets too hard, they lose interest and flee. But students who believe their intelligence can be developed get deeply involved in learning and remain engaged in the face of difficulty. We have shown in many studies that their engagement and intrinsic motivation is hardier.

However, this does not mean that intrinsic motivation is simply a stable personality trait. When we have taught students the view that intellectual skills can be developed, their intrinsic motivation and their engagement in their schoolwork take a sharp turn for the better. In my writings, I talk about how teachers can encourage this view.

Question from Judy Hundley, principal at Bonham Middle School in Temple, TX:
At my school, we have found that the greatest motivation comes from students knowing exactly what they have not mastered, conferencing with them, and keeping this information in front of them. This is very difficult with new teachers and data organization. What success have other schools had in organizing data, teaching teachers how to assess what students know, and giving feedback on a regular basis to their students?

Edward L. Deci:
I believe that non-critical, non-evaluative feedback is extremely important for motivation. Feedback has to be fairly concrete and presented in a way that is not pressuring, not controlling, and not demeaning in order for the students to truly benefit from it. For students to get good feedback and for teachers to conference with them about their progress is very important. It is especially important in those conferences to elicit the students’ perspectives about their own performance, to hear out their concerns, and to have a real interchange, not just a meeting in which a teacher lay his or her views on the student. Doing this takes skill on the teachers part, and for administrators and seasoned teachers to help new ones develop these skills will help the whole school.

Question from Sharon Feuge, Mathematics Curriculum Specialist, New Braunfels ISD:
What role does the larger community play in motivating students, especially at the secondary level? How can community groups (businesses, youth groups, social services, etc.) work together to foster motivation for learning in adolescents?

Carol Dweck:
The community can play an important role in motivating students. Often community groups seek to identify and reward the students with obvious brains and talent, ones who are already thriving--and that’s fine to a certain extent. However, to really motivate students in general, community groups should emphasize their interest in the DEVELOPMENT of talent. When I first surveyed the literature on people who have made outstanding contributions in all walks of life, I was amazed to find that most of them were not outstanding or unusually talented to begin with. They had passion and commitment and they developed into the extraordinary people they became. Community groups can look for this passion and commitment, and help students gain the resources to turn their passion into genuine accomplishment.

Question from Cindy Gibson, Teacher, Southeast High School:
What teaching strategies increase student motivation?

Susan Graham:
The most effective instructional strategies are ones that put students in control. I am a firm believer in discovery or project based because students use multiple learning modalities that encourage development of skills and mastery of concepts at the same time. Students who see a connection between the concepts they are learning, the authentic assessment they are developing, and the real life application beyond the classroom have answered ultimate student motivation question-- “Why do we have to learn this?” Time on task improves and classroom managment problems decrease. I teach Family and Consumer Science so I have the luxury of food preparation to reinforce life and physical science content. History can be revisited in terms of clothing and housing. When students go home, they may remember the project first, but the likelihood that they will recall the concepts goes way up. Of course the great responsibility of the teacher is not to allow producing a project to displace the concepts that it was intended to reinforce.

Question from Patricia Jennings, M.Ed., Ph.D., San Francisco State University:
I am interested in how teacher stress and emotion regulation affect students’ academic performance. Do you have any data on how teacher stress and emotion regulation affect their ability to motivate their students? From my observations, skillful teachers can skillfully use positive emotions to generate enthusiasm and interest. It would seem that anxiety, nervousness, etc. would have the opposite effect. Please comment. Thank you.

Edward L. Deci:
When teachers are stressed, they tend to be controlling and demanding with students, and they tend not to provide support and enthusiasm for the students. This has been shown to have a strongly negative effect on the students’ motivation and performance. Students need an accepting, supportive, and nourishing context in which to learn, and teachers who are feeling negative emotions and are not effective in managing them will not be able to supply the needed support to students. Teachers enthusiasm about teaching has been shown to postively affect students enthusiasm about learning.

Question from Kim Weaster, Teacher, University Charter School:
What evidence is there that homework influences motivation? Thank you, Kim Weaster

Carol Dweck:
It is not homework per se that influences motivation, but the TYPE of homework that is given. Hours of tedious drills can turn drain students enjoyment of a subject, whereas assignments that help them realize the importance of a subject, learn interesting things about the subject, and feel a sense of progress in the subject can clearly enhance motivation.

A teacher should always think: What am I conveying to students with this homework assignment? What is my goal for the students? If the answer is that your goal is to help them to understand something important, new, and interesting, then you’re on the right track.

Question from Nina Salomon, Project Manager, National Mentoring Partnership:
This is a question for Susan Graham. From your direct experiences in the classroom, how much do you believe not having a positive role-model, i.e. parent, mentor, caring teacher, influence a student’s motivation level?

Susan Graham:
It is terrifying when teachers realize that they may be a major influence in someone else’s child’s life. But the reality is that we often are. The terror comes because we can never be sure when it’s happening. I taught a young man who gave me nothing but grief and produced minimal work. To be honest I disliked him and I had to work hard at being nice. Because I teach an elective, he kept coming back year after year like a bad penny. The third year he reported to my class I asked him why he chose my class. He said I was his favorite teacher because I was nicer to him than anyone else at school. He still drops by to visit and he turned out okay. We’ve been discussing these kids on Teacher Leader Network and actually, this sort of story is pretty common. We may not motivate these children to produce the results we want, but we may be meeting real needs and producing results that can’t be easily measured.

Question from Rosa Smith-Williams, Dean of Instruction, Davis High School:
When a student has failed a state test that is required for graduation several times, how do you motivate him to continue to study?

Edward L. Deci:
Have individual meetings with him or her. Try to understand what is going on for the student with respect to the subjects and the tests. Keep your own enthusiasm for the student’s succeeding; provide specific and meaningful feedback that allows the student to understand what he or she is doing well; and work with the student to solve the problem of how to succeed. The solutions to these problems have to be built on the student’s particular circumstances.

Question from Antoinette Woodson, High School Educator/Kumon Instructor:
Can you comment on the fact that other countries with much LESS opportunity and financial support from the government, home, and school systems are increasingly besting our Countries “best” students? (Yes they are!)

Carol Dweck:
Why are our students behind students from other countries? There have been several trends in our country that have not served our students well. One was the self-esteem movement, which although well-meant, was often misguided. Educators often tried to make students feel good rather than helping them learn. Students were not given challenging work and were often over-praised for work that was far from outstanding. How can students come to love challenges and initiate valuable learning under such conditions? What’s more, my research shows that over-praising children’s intelligence can actually harm their motivation and undermine their learning. The other trend has been to teach to the achievement test, rather than teaching students to think, to engage in the learning process, and to enjoy mastering new material. Higher achievement results from the latter.

Question from Lynn Gilbertsen, Program Coordinator, Family Focus, Inc:
How can educators best engage parents to help keep students motivated to complete work outside of the classroom?

Susan Graham:
Or to paraphrase your question: How do we motivate parents to motivate their children?

First of all, teachers need to be sensitive to ownership of children and their time. Just as the teacher would probably resent a student being pulled out of class to take care of nonessential family business; parents may feel that we are infringing on their time and territory with nonessential assignments.

Before assigning outside work, I would suggest that the teacher ask herself: How does this assignment support my instructional goal? Have I clarified the learning goal and value of the assignment to my students? Can the student articulate the purpose of the assignment to his parent? Will completion of this assignment compete with the priorities that parents have set for their families? How do I feel about my supervisor presenting me with work to be done on my time at home? (Ouch!) Parents want to see their children to be successful, but they don’t want to see their children frustrated or burdened with work for which they can see little value. This doesn’t mean that I am anti-homework, it just needs to meet real learning goals to be motivating for students and parents. Judicious use of outside assignments and good communication with parents is essential if we expect parents to accept us as partners in the development of their children.

Question from Dr. Gail Derrick Associate Professor, Regent University:
How do teachers and educators foster intrinsic motivation to learn rather than focus on the external rewards often associated with successful learning (extrinsic motivators)?

Also, the question of teacher motivation-- is the focus of the teaching on grades, state tests and assessments versus love of learning, independent or self-directed learning? My colleagues and I have focused on the development of autonomous learning behaviors (desire, resourcefulness, initiative, and persistence in learning) as a goal of learning (education and the process of schooling).

We recently completed a study on motivation that found that teachers should assist students’ development of affective as well as cognitive strategies in learning new content. Learners need assistance in becoming autonomous learners and teachers play a key role in providing this assistance. Little (1995) writes that teachers cannot be expected to foster the growth of autonomy in their students if they do not themselves know what it is to be an autonomous learner. The relationship between learner autonomy and intrinsic motivation (e.g., Fazey & Fazey, 2001; Reeve, Bolt, & Cai, 1999) suggests the need to foster intrinsic motivation in teachers if teachers, in turn, are expected to promote learner autonomy and intrinsic motivation in their students.

Should the focus be on teacher motivation first perhaps?

Edward L. Deci:
Sounds to me like you have pretty mcuh answered your own question. Teachers’ motivation for teaching very much affects students’ motivation for learning. When teachers are interested and enthusiastic, there is a far greater chance that the students will also be interested and enthusiastic.

We have found that when teachers are pressured and controlled, they in turn pressure and control students. So we need to do the opposite--that is support teachers, not pressure and control them.

Yes, teachers need to be autonomously motivated, and the school systems need to provide them the supports for autonomy, competence, and relatedness they need to be autonomously motivated. When teachers have the supports for satisfying their needs, they in turn support students for satisfying theirs. In that case, teachers are motivated to teach and students are motivated to learn.

Question from Anne Herald, research supervisor, PA School Boards Association:
What can school officials do to help students understand the value of performing their best on assessment tests?

Carol Dweck:
Many students resent the assessment tests. They feel that they will be judged by their scores on them and they are are afraid they’ll look dumb. Under these circumstances, students don’t want to invest in the test.

School officials should convey to students all along that these tests show their learning and all the progress they’ve made through their hard work. Their score is, in a sense, a reward for all the work they’ve done. This orientation toward the test should make them more eager to show their skills when they take the test.

Comment from Francisca Saldana, Home School Teacher and owner, New Beginnings for a Better Tomorrow:
What are the primary reasons students are unmotivated in school? Why do students work hard for one teacher, but just skate by with another? What tactics work best to get them fully engaged in their classes?

Good Day, Do anyone of you beleive that if a technical trade is offered to a student that relates with the subjects they are learning about in the classroom can spark the excitement in a student to want to learn without becoming bored in the classroom, that is being taught by the teacher. I am currently applying this form of education to my home school students, so they can see the importance of learning about reading, math, and writing including all of the other required subjects that is included with earning a highschool diploma. This approach method I am analyzing based on the student’s interest. By interviewing the student, I ask them about their interest, thier strength, and weaknesses, in order to know and understand how to keep my students interested in learning in order to overcome thier weakness in certain subjects.

Question from Mark Rohland, Staff Writer, Consortium for Policy Research in Education:
Education research seems rarely to consider the personality of the teacher as a motivator in improving performance. Yet students often mention personal connections with teachers as prime motivators. Should we look harder at the role of teachers’ personalities, and how could we do that?

Carol Dweck:
One teacher factor that is really important is the teacher’s belief about students’ ability to learn and to expand their intellectual skills. When teachers convey that they are there to help all students develop their abilities, students will trust and form strong connections to the teacher. (If teachers instead convey that they are there to see who’s smart and who’s not and to treat them accordingly, students are more likely to see the teacher as someone who is not on their side.)

Teachers who believe that all studentts are capable of intellectual growh, who are there as resources for students’ learning, and who set high, challenging standards for their students (which they help them achieve) will be teachers who are good motivators and memorable teachers.

Question from Howard Goldberg, Reading Teacher, PS 233:
At my school we see a gender gap in our ELA exam scores. For example, in 2005, 71.6% of our third and fifth grade girls scored Levels 3 or 4 compared to 61.1% of our boys. Can you suggest ways to motivate our boys to read more and to improve their performances on language arts exams?

Edward L. Deci:
Start by understanding their point of view about the situation. Give them material to read that is interesting to them. Have individual discussions with them about their performance. Elicit their feelings about how they are doing and how they would like to be doing. Provide them the support they need to try these reading tasks and to persist at them.

Question from Rachel Woodburn, Montessori Primary Teacher:
How well does the Montessori method of education line up with your learnings about what keeps children motivated?

Edward L. Deci:
The Montessori method has been very effective in developing interesting methods of instruction, in encouraging students to experiment and explore, in providing students support to learn and grow. In general, the methods go a long way in providing the conditions students need to feel effective, related, and engaged.

Question from Carrie Furrer, Research Associate, NPC Research:
What role do peers play in terms of classroom motivation? Can peers serve as motivational resources in the classroom, and if so, how?

Carol Dweck:
Peers play a crucial role in classroom motivation--they create a culture in which hard work and learning are valued or not valued. As I explain in my book, Mindset, peers can create a culture in which they defy the teacher and refuse to work. This happens when they feel the teachers is out to judge and label them. However, when students feel that the teacher is their ally in learning, they will support and motivate each other in their learning.

Question from Conny Jensen, GT advocate and president of a Colorado GT parent support group:
Especially in the case of intellectually and academically advanced students, flexibility, autonomy and self-paced learning (through compacting) are great motivators, so why is it still so difficult to have such common sense strategies implemented in our public schools? Furthermore, why do we not create proficiency based diplomas instead of those that require students to fulfill Carnegie Units, or seat time, whether they need this or not?

Thanks for considering my question.

Edward L. Deci:
In part, the answer to your question is political. The issue of achievement is one that nations are measured on--the US wants to be ranked high among nations on educational acheivement--and so education becomes one arena in which political battles are fought. Instead of trying to develop systems that work for teachers and students, policy makers often try to impose political agendas.

Generally, federal and state policies are developed that apply to all students rather than to subgroups, so advanced learners live with the same laws as all other students. Therefore, your question is really a general question, not a question that applies to this subgroup.

Tracking has generally been found to be problematic for the greater good, so there is a tendency not to treat more advanced students in ways that are wholly different. But it is always important to keep in mind that all students need to have optimal challenges in order for them to remain motivated.

I agree that there should be more flexibility for all learners, and we should work hard to create nurturing conditions within which all students will learn.

Question from Kate Cushing, Assistant Director of Operations, Roads to Success:
How successful are incentives (e.g. monetary rewards) in motivating students?

Carol Dweck:
Monetary rewards are not a good solution. They may get students to do things, but they will not make them enjoy learning or learn deeply. In fact, these rewards will do just the opposite.

Many students don’t work hard because they don’t think they’re smart and they don’t want to look dumb. The solution here is NOT to try to convince them they are smart. It’s instead to teach them a new way of seeing things. We have had great success motivating students by teaching them about their brain and then showing them how to apply the lessons to their schoolwork. We teach them that every time they apply themselves and learn new things, their brain forms new connections and they, over time, can become smarter. This is extremely motivating--they are in charge of their mind and its growth. Schoolwork becomes something that makes them smarter, not something that makes them feel dumb.

Question from Shri Krishan. Teacher. Ethan Allen School ( A juvenile correctional institution ):
Subject Math. Two questions.

These youths have skipped school. They do not have good retention and need practice and have to repeat the work they have done in class. They do not want to repeat the work at all. How does one over come that resistance. Repeating ( practice )is very important to learn any thing. Second. They do not like the subject Math at all. They are older than 15. Their skills are also very low ( some of them can not subtract whole numbers ). They resist learning the low level skills. With out being proficient in these skills, they can not learn higher material. How does one overcome that resistance. Thank YOu.

Susan Graham:
Life hasn’t been easy for these kids has it? It seems like the thing they have the most practice in is failure. I’m not going to tell you that this is going to be easy because these young people (Are they boys? That’s what I’m seeing in my head.)are highly motivated to protect themselves from failure and rejection. I agree that practice is essential for simple computation to reach automaticity. Until that happens, more elaborate applications will be so burdensome that they will become discouraged and give up. This is one of the times where motivation is most likely when you provide a distraction from the real goal. Tell them that they win, you need a break from trying to teach them math and then bring our games. Play Blackjack and Yatzee. Play any card game where you have to add up scores. Consider low level Sudoko puzzles. While we would love for all students to be intrinsically motivated, you need stealth and candy for this situation!

Question from Lisa Connell, reporter, Eagle Times, Claremont, N.H.:
What are some ways that teachers can inspire a student to learn, particularly if that student, as a number of them in Claremont, N.H. are, is from a family living at or below the poverty level. Education is not a priority in these homes. Consequently, the teen pregnancy rate in Claremont and towns nearby is the highest in N.H. How can teachers overcome this to impart to the student that he or she can create a life beyond their financial and socioeconomic circumstances?

Thank you, Lisa Connell

Edward L. Deci:
Make individual contact with the students. Let them know that you are interested in them as individuals. Reach out on a one-to-one basis. Find out what interests them; engaging them in activities that interest them. Provide positive feedback when they make progress. Don’t be comparing them with others, but have them think about future goals to work toward. If they have low aspirations, it is becuase they are afraid to have higher ones. Be supported and help them dream about realistic ways that they can imporve their own circumstances. These kinds of improvements will occur when the students feel noticed, listened to, and cared about.

Question from Beth Bartruff, Assistant Professor of Education, Corban College:
As a teacher of future teacher, what are some things that I can do to help my student teachers develop the qualities needed to be the kind of teachers that will motivate students?

Carol Dweck:
Student teachers need to learn several things that are key in motivating students. First they should learn to focus on students’ effort, learning, and progress and not their underlying abilities. Praise for effort and progress motivates students, praise for ability ends up undermining their motivation. This is because praise for ability tells them that they always have to look smart, so they stay away from hard work and get discouraged when they make mistakes.

Teachers must also learn to tell the truth. They should not hide students’ skill deficits from them in an effort to protect their self-esteem. Students need to know where they stand and what they need to do to improve--even it the effort required of them is great. In my writings, I discuss more ways in which teachers can play a large role in motivating students.

Question from Paul J. Smith, Facilitator, Accelerated Learning Center, Little Rock School District:
Do you have a summary of the best student motivation techniques for teaahers to use?

Edward L. Deci:
Relate to students from their perspective.

Provide activities and materials that are interesting to students and relevant to their lives and wrap these into the processes of learning basic skills and material.

Provide students with as much choice as possible about what to do, within the structure that exist within that educational setting.

Believe in the students’ capactities and provide optimally challenging activities and instruction.

Provide meaningful rationales for why you are making particular requests.

Minimize the use of controlling language that is full of words such as should, must, have to, and so on.

Listen to their interest and concerns.

Question from Paul J. Smith, Facilitator, Accelerated Learning Center, Little Rock School District:
Do games help to motivate students to learn?

Edward L. Deci:
Games can help to make learning activities more important. However, the evidence makes clear that using rewards for games tends to have a negative rather than postive effect on sustained motivation, and similarly setting up the games in a way that students are encouraged to try to beat each other also tends to have negative motivational effects in terms of long-term motivation. Having students be active and having them work together in game like activities can be very engaging.

Question from Bill Betzen, Technology Teacher, Quintanilla Middle School, Dallas ISD:
It often appears that the goals we invest the most time in for our students are relatively short term goals, such as just one year for the TAKS tests here in Texas. Is it not also necessary to invest time encouraging students to have long term goals, often focusing on those goals, to achieve the most productive growth mindset? Is the failure to invest more time encouraging long term goals for our students a major current failing of our educational system? (We have our middle school students focus on 10 year goals through a rotating time-capsule letter archive system []. I shared it with Dr. Dweck this summer. It is great to see Dr. Dweck on your program! I hope she has time to address the mindset concepts which have so much potential for helping us improve the educational process.)

Carol Dweck:
This is so important. Many students do not understand how what they are doing in school now plays into their long-term goals. Yet if teachers convey that students are growing and building their brains every time they learn, students will think about their effort as an investment that will yield benefits well into the future. It is tremendously empowering to students to understand that they have the starring role in their own intellectual development and that they are in charge of who they will become--with of course the help and guidance of their teachers.

Question from Jon Turner, Asst Superintendent, Cabool Schools, Missouri:
What type of research has been completed on professional development with teachers relating to student motivation? Do teachers see this as a need they have? Are there specific strategies that are more effective relating to PD and student motivation?

Edward L. Deci:
Most teachers are concerned about student motivation, and they indicate that they are interested in learning more about it. The questions are usually posed in terms of students not performing well. Various methods have been developed for facilitating student motivation. The ones that are most effective are learner oriented. They include providing as much choice as possible; allowing students to work together on projects; calibrating the material to the interests of the students; being sure that the material represents optimal challenge for all students; and allowing students to be active in their learning rather than just sitting an listening.

Question from Greg Colyar, 8th gr. science teacher, Eureka City Schools:
An article in Education Leadership called for a new busing program based on socio-economic factors to balance schools, and I was wondering if there any studies indicating motivational differences among students based on their socio-economic background, and what research or techniques are available to motivate students whatever the background. Thank you for a transcript of the responses as I am in classes during the live chat.

Edward L. Deci:
The topic of busing students to reach some type of equality has been a big issue for decades. The topic has been researched and much has been written about it. I am sorry to say that I do not know that literature very well, so I am not in a position to comment.

Yes, there are differences in average performance that relate to socio-economic factors. But best teaching practices apply to all students. Creating learning contexts that allow the students to feel competent, to feel like they belong, and that give them initiative will help to motivate all students. And trying to understand their perspective and relating to them from that perspective will help motivate all students.

Question from Barbara Bartholomew, professor, CSUB:
Is low teacher motivation, or low teacher morale, likely to impact student motivation in the classroom?

Carol Dweck:
Absolutely. Students need to feel that learning is exciting and that their teacher is completely devoted to helping them develop their intellectual skills. Students should feel that they and the teacher are on a most exciting journey together, one in which the teacher is a source of encouragement and inspiration and one in which the teacher is elated when the students apply themselves and master new things. How can this take place in a classroom with low teacher morale?

Question from Paul J. Smith, Facilitator, Accelerated Learning Center, Little Rock School District:
How can teachers of like math in secondary school be motivated to motivate their students to read better?

Susan Graham:
Increasing student skills in reading and writing are our school improvement goals for the year, so this is a question that has been on our leadership team’s collective mind for a while. We acknowledged that teachers have such autonomy in their classrooms that coercion is neither effective nor efficient. Administrators can’t afford sufficient award to entice teachers to take on additional instructional responsibilities. The key to motivation comes down to answering the question, “What’s in it for me?” Unless a secondary math teacher can be convinced that incorporating reading will result in improve math performance, it is unlikely that there will be any interest. If an administrator can produce persuasive evidence that reading improves math performance and follow up by providing training to learn strategies for reading in math, teachers will probably be willing to attempt those techniques. Without training and support, the early benefits may be minimal, and the initial motivation to try incorporating reading instruction in math will probably die off.

Question from SSmithAnderson, Leadership Development:
What characteristics must a teacher (or administrator) have that lends itself to motivating students to achieve?

Susan Graham:
These teachers set high appropriate expectations for all students. In this discussion too often we keep the “high” and leave out the “appropriate” part. High expectations do not mean that everyone will do the same things equally well. I might even go so far as to say the very best student motivators step aside and help their students set appropriate learning goals for themselves. That can be risky because sometimes what a student defines as success may not align with the expectations of parents, teachers school or society. They motivate students to make qualitative changes in their value sytems by helping them define their own goals.

Other student motivators are turn-around specialists and super teachers who make quantitative changes. They get results by modifying behavior. They are charismatic leaders who are masters at coercive and incentive based motivation. They are particularly appealing because they compel others to join them on a quest providing the vision and the pathway to reach a visible and measurable.

Kids aren’t all the same, there is a place both styles of motivation. But there are a couple of characteristics all effective teachers seem to share. All great the great teachers I have know have a sense of urgency that their work is vital for the welfare of society. None of them seem to be willing to give up on a child becausee the all seem to recognize potential in every student. Finally,this may sound obvious, but all the really great teachers don’t settle for great satisfaction from their work. Tney get great pleasure in from their work and their students.

Question from Dionn Brown, Content Coach:
I work with math teachers in urban environments and they always seem to be struggling with the issue of motivation. Are there any suggested approaches for motivating students affected by poverty?

Edward L. Deci:
It is not at all unusual for students in inner city schools to feel like no adult knows them or cares about them, so they tend not to identify with school, and they tend to be disaffected.

To turn that around requires making meaningful contact with the students. That is, teachers need to know the indiviudal students and show that they care how the students are doing. Maybe it means calling them when they don’t show up for school and talking with them about obstacles to doing their school work. It requires being patient and being supportive.

Also, the classes need to be engaging. Are examples used relevant to their lives? Is the instruction done in an interesting way?

Question from Silvia Neves:
What books give teachers good strategies to motivate students for nine months inside the classroom?

Edward L. Deci:
Deborah Stipek Motivation to Learn Johnmarshall Reeve has a trade book about classroom motivation but I can’t think of the name of it. You can no doubt find it on the web. Ed Deci Why We Do What We Do.

and there is always a lot to be learned from Ginot’s books such as Between Teacher and Child; Carl Rogers’ books such as Freedom to Learn; Maria Montessori’s books on learning.

Question from Paul J. Smith, Facilitator, Accelerated Learning Center, Little Rock School District:
How can educational technology motivate students to learn?

Susan Graham:
When computer based skill drills were first introduced they were popular because students received instant feedback and immediate extrinsic audio and visual extrinsic rewards. Three of the five senses were engaged and that is certainly a positive, but this sort of application can easily degenerate into conditioning rather than real learning. Pavlov would be proud, but it doesn’t do much for retention or application. Learning games are an improvement because students need to apply what they know in order to win. My kids love the USDA website Food Pyramid Nutrition Blastoff, but again, the risk is that the student will work to win the game rather than to master the concepts. Engagement and motivation are not the same. Well designed Web Quests can be excellent learning tools and the best ones that involving students in making decisions and solving problems by collecting and analyzing information do offer personal satisfaction and when done with a partner or team encourage group learning. On-line classes built on platforms such as Blackboard are beginning to move from the university level into the K-12. What a wonderful way to accommodate students’ pressing constraints of time, health or location and allow them to move on to self-actualization!

Question from Natalia Kinch-Rice, Science Teacher, Wakefiled MS. Tucson, AZ:
Mr. Deci: As person I believe that motivation comes from within, what best practises or advise could you give to help teachers who work in very low socio economic area, that really works for students.


Edward L. Deci:
I have already addressed this in a previous question, but to summarize:

Be interested in them; listen to them to understand what they need; be excited about teaching; relate to each student as an individual and let each one know you care about him or her; providing challenging material to learn; provide positive feedback when progress is made; refrain from being critical and evaluative; address difficulties as problems to be solved between the teacher and student rather than as an occasion for the teacher to be critical or demeaning with the student.

Question from Mark O’Brien, Parent of gifted HS student:
My wife and I have been pretty successful in avoiding being labeled ‘helicopter parents’. We strive to provide a balance of support without removing responsiblity for our 9th grade son. His performance is uneven (A to C), and he chooses whether to perform well or not, based on his perception of a) whether the subject matter is ‘important’ or not, and b)the intellectual capacity of the teacher. How do help him to understand the immaturity and shortsightnesses of this approach in dealing with teachers, specifically?

Carol Dweck:
I am not surprised by what you are saying about your gifted son. I have heard this many times. Often gifted students make excuses for not working hard in order to cover up their fear of not being as gifted as they’d like to be. If they tried their best, went full-out, and invested in their studies, they might not look and feel as smart as they wish to. In fact, many gifted students believe that the should not have to work hard to do well. They think gifted means automatic achievement with no effort. My suggestion is to take the emphasis off the gifted part, and put the emphasis on the learning and effort part. Show him that that is what you value. All great achievers distincguished themselves through dedication and hard work--not coasting on their brains.

Question from Conny Jensen, Education Advocate, Greeley, Colorado:
Currently under the No Child Left Behind law schools, which show low achievement scores for students, are hard at work to remedy the situation by taking drastic measures. Lock step curriculum, elimination of recess, whole day kindergarten with strong focus on building literacy skills, lots of testing, etc. How is it possible to motivate students to learn in such strict environment which sucks all creativity out of our kids as well as their teachers?

Thank you for considering this question.

Edward L. Deci:
It is a tough one. The high stakes tests pressure administrators, teachers, students, and parents. It is hard to maintain optimal motivation under such circumstances. I see two ways to address this.

(1) Work at the political level for more effective legislation.

(2) Work within whatever demands are there and do the best you can. Administrators can support teachers to teaching engaging material that helps students become better readers, writers, and math students. Teachers do not have to teach to the tests in order to facilitate better test scores. They can focus on teaching interesting and important material, and if they do that well, making the material rigorous for all students and relevant to the local, state, and federal standards, there can be exciting and engaging work going on. The tests work against that, but we do not have to let them sap us of all our energy and enthusiasm for students and for the educational process.

Yes, losts of schools are responding by falling into step, and using practices that are not best practices. But some districts and schools are not letting the laws/tests be so undermining. They are doing engaging teaching regardless of the tests. And, happily, their students are make good improvement.

Question from Larry Clark, Director of the Jones Institute, Emporia State University:
In our extrinsic motivated society can we ever get back to intrinsic motivated learning?

Edward L. Deci:
Yes. Teachers differ in the degree to which they are intrinsically motivated and the degree to which they promote intrinsic motivation in students. Some do it very well. So, it can be done.

Administrators differ in the degree to which they are intrinsically motivated and the degree to which they promote intrinsic motivation in teachers. Some do it well.

So, even in our extrinsically oriented culture, some school administrators and teachers facilitate intrinsically motivated learning.

What we need to do is facilitate more of that. Professional development can help

High stakes tests, of course, work against intrinsically motivated learning. But if the district and school administrators facilitate engaging instruction and provide support for teachers, the teachers will be able to teach well, engaging the students, and still get good test grades. But the more districts focus on the high stakes tests, the more teacher teach to the tests rather than teaching in engaging ways, and that undermines the type of teaching and learning that we seek.

Administrators have to take risks and affirm that they want to teach well, in ways that promote interested learning, and then support others to do the same. Yes, it can be done. It’s not easy but it can be done.

Question from Kenneth Kay, professor, Philadelphia University:
Often it is the parents who need motivation or guidance how to support their children. What are effective programs to support and monitor parental involvement?

Carol Dweck:
I fully agree! Many parents are under-involved and many parents are involved in the wrong way--needing their children to be the smartest and the best.

Parents must be made aware that they have a key role to play in their children’s motivation and achievement, but it is often not the role they think. Parents should stop being so invested in how smart their children are--children pick this up and often become anxious or reluctant students. The role of parents is to value and support their children’s effort, learning, and progress. Our research has found that supporting children in this way creates children who love to learn, enjoy challenges, and know how to persist in the face of difficulty. This is exactly what we want our students to be!

Question from Alethea, Regional Director of a not-for-profit:
Do you find that students are more engaged when a direct connection with the impact of what they’re learning can be drawn to their lives? If so, what tools/techniques do you suggest to achieve this?

Susan Graham:
I find that students are no different from most adults. We don’t really care too much about learning things unless we need to know. Younger students need the approval of adults and so teacher approval is a real motivation. The older and more self actualized middle school student really doesn’t need my approval, so I have to figure out how to make what I have to offer something he or she wants. I am so fortunate to teach Family and Consumer Science because all day, everyday, I can connect concepts to food, clothing, shelter, personal relationships, and employment readiness. Sometimes I wonder if policymakers ought to ask high school students what they feel they need to know. Career Academy schools are doing just this with a lot of success.

Question from Linda Kelly, high school teacher, Virginia, member of the Teacher Leader Network:
What are the most important student characteristics that teachers should consider when motivating students? What is different about motivating middle school students and high school students?

Edward L. Deci:
Be aware of their levels of competence so you can provide challenges that are optimal for them.

Be mindful of their level of self-initiative so you can work to facilitate greater initiative in all students.

Find out what interests them and try to provide interesting learning opportunities.

Attend to the degree to which they are off-track, disaffected, interrupting other students so you can set appropriate limits. But do the limit setting in a supportive way that does not become a power struggle but simply allows the student to learn that he or she can chose how to behave but there are consequences to every choice he or she makes.

Question from Melissa Brown-Sims, Research Specialist, Learning Point Associates:
How do you motivate students who have been ostracized or ridiculed by their peers such as those who have been placed in Special Education classes?

Carol Dweck:
Stan Davis has a wonderful book about how to help children who have been ostracized or bullied (and children who do the bullying). Some of his techniques are based on my research, and help students school motivation as well as their social adjustment.

Question from Alice Krueger, RMC Research Corporation, Center on Instruction:
A follow-on question to Dr. Dweck’s answer to Lyn Jefferies question: How, specifically, can you teach students that their intellectual skills (distinguished from intelligence, I assume) can be developed and improved?

Carol Dweck:
In my book new book, Mindset, I give lots of suggestions.

Question from Rachel Gallet, Education Consultant:
What strategies would you recommend to teachers who need to motivate students of color who have experienced discrimination and harassment at school?

Carol Dweck:
There is exciting new research about motivating students of color. Often students who encounter discrimination feel that they are be-ing told: Your group is not as smart as other groups. Even if they don’t believe that themselves, they feel that they are in an environment that does. We and others have found that a learning environment that focuses on the idea that intellectual skills can be developed through learning is highly effective for children of color and motivates them.

In fact, we have been developing a program (called Brainology) based on this idea and have tested it in the New York City schools. It teaches children that every time they learn, their brain forms new connections and over time they become smarter. Students who went through this program (many of whom were students of color) showed a real turnaround in motivation and grades.

Comment from Ryan Camire, JFYNetWorks, Math Teacher, Boston, MA:
This is just a comment on strategies. I have previously worked as the math teacher in a high school for struggling inner city students. These students have consistently run into a pattern of failure and motivation is extrememly difficult. When at all possible I did my best to find an area of strength in each of the students regarding a particular topic we were studying. For the student that had this strength, he or she would, with my help, take on the teacher role during that class period. This definitely increased the self confidence in the teaching student and also increased the awareness of most of the learners.

Question from Dr. Don Greenberg, Associate Professor of Graduate Education, Touro College:
If we want our students to love school and to develop sound critical thinking skills, we must make the learning experience as authentic as possible. This requires students to take more accountability for the learning process. This requires a more Constructivist based approach in the classroom. Yet with all the assessment tests give at almost every grade level, teachers feel they must implement a Behaviorist approach (Chalk and Talk) to prepare students for these assessments. What can we do in the classroom to make learning an exciting experience and reduce the anxiety over these assessments.

Carol Dweck:
This is a real dilemma, but I believe there are many things we can do in the classroom to convey to students that we value learning and to teach them to learn more effectively. My research shows that when students value learning (over just performing well or looking smart) they eagerly soak up and use effective learning and study strategies. My research also shows that educators can foster this orientation toward learning by valuing students’ effort and progress and by modeling a love of challenge and problem-solving--even in a Chalk and Talk environment.

By the way, a learning orientation also makes students less anxious about assessment. They do not see it as a measure of their underly-ing intelligence, but as a reflection of their current skills and as a sign of what they still need to learn.

Question from Fay Sweney, teacher Lake City High School:
Can high school students be motivated by grades?

Susan Graham:
You bet they can be motivated by grades if they are concerned about college entrance! The problem is adults have preached GPA and acceptance so diligently we forgot to give equal importance to acquiring knowledge for purposeful applications or simply the personal satisfaction of knowing. Senioritus is the inevitable outcome. Once they have accomplished the goal of college acceptance they have lost their motivation for classroom performance. Of course the situation is more serious for those students who are not college bound. It is not surprising that these students really don’t care about grades. School is something to be endured and there is always a GED and since getting a diploma is what we set as a goal for them. It really doesn’t matter which path gets them there since either will get them an entry level job. A mature high school student ought be motivated by his own needs and those are likely to be focused social interactions and preparing to earn enough money to live independently. Eighteen year olds are so ready to take on the world! They are eager to do real stuff that matters. Connecting learning to job skills provides both extrinsic and instrinict rewards.

Question from Rachel Gallet, Education Consultant:
What basic cultural content does a teacher need to know to demonstrate to multicultural students that the teacher values them and their input?

Edward L. Deci:
They need to know what life is like for the students from each of the cultures, and they need to show respect for each culture. It is best, for example, if they demonstrate interest in events from cultures other than their own. Listening openly to students talk about their lives will go a long way toward giving school adults the information they need to realte well to students from any culture.

Question from Charles Whitney, Prof. em., Harvard University:
How do you find sources of intrinsic motivation?

Edward L. Deci:
Intrinsic motivation is within each of us, although it may have been squelched to differing degrees for different ones of us. Help students find their intrinsic motivation by being interpersonally supportive, by giving them choices that are optimal for their level of development, by listening to what they say and even what they don’t say to get an idea of what is important to them and what is interesing to them and then use that information to get them more engaged.

Intrinsic motivation flourishes when people feel satisfaction of their basic psychological needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy. If people’s intrinsic motivation has been seriously undermined, helping them rediscover it and nurture it is a kind of developmental process. Build relationships with them, and work from where they are as you encourage them to explore and to take risks. Then treat those experiences as learning experiences (as ways for them to find out what works well and what works less well) rather than as a opportunities to evluate them.

Question from Debbie Kohuth, Professional Development, St. Lucie County Schools:
How are student motivations different at the secondary level? Or do secondary teachers with multiple classes of numerous students have less time to know and design work that meets the motivations?

Carol Dweck:
Although it is important for teachers of all students to make students feel that they are collaborator with the students in a valuable learning process, it is especially important at the secondary school level. Here students worry about how smart they are, how they will look to their peers, and being controlled and judged by their teachers. Many teachers play into these fears by being controlling and judging. Instead, teachers should show students that they value the growth or their minds and are dedicated to this as a teacher.

Question from Patricia Burger, E/BD Program Coordinator, Minneapolis Public Schools:
It is so difficult to keep students motivated who are significantly behind in core abilities (reading/writing/math), especially at the high school level when appropriate appearing curriculum is too difficult. Thoughts/suggestions?

Carol Dweck:
I agree. It’s for this very reason that we have been developing a new program (although at the junior high school level) for students who are falling behind and losing motivation. Many times these students begin to believe that intelligence is just a fixed trait and they don’t have it. School becomes painful and they become more and more discouraged.

In our program, called Brainology, we teach students that intellec-tual skills are expandable--that every time they try hard and learn something new, their brain forms new connections and over time they become smarter. Students are excited by the concept that they are in charge of their minds--that they can make their neurons grow-- and our research shows many make a real turnaround in motivation and grades. These ideas can be implemented in any classroom.

Question from Robert A Maus, Teacher, Grissom Middle School:
Some of my brighter students seem just to skate by. The effort is not there on a regular basis, thus daily work is terrible but test and quiz scores are very good. What suggestions do you have to help me keep them consistent?

Carol Dweck:
This is a great question. Often bright students think the name of the game is to be smart, and if you can do it without any effort, then you’re even smarter. In fact, our research shows that many of them believe that effort is just for people who lack ability. This view really stunts their achievement later on since all important endeav-ors require effort.

It is therefore important to show bright students (actually all stu-dents) that you do not value low-effort successes--they are a waste of time since students clearly haven’t learned as much as they could have. At the same time these bright students need work that chal-lenges them and makes them work hard for their successes. The message should always be: You have to work hard to really develop your abilities and fulfill your potential. Coasting on you brains is self-defeating in the long run.

Question from Claudine Locascio, Program Director, Colorado Alliance for Arts Education:
Could you please comment on the effectiveness of integrating the arts - music, theatre, visual art and dance - into core curriculum as a means to motivate and engage students?

Edward L. Deci:
I think it is a good idea to integrate such things into the curriculum. But let’s keep in mind the various groups whom you want to reach. How about integrating sports? How about being sure that the music includes music that is relevant to each of the different cultures represented in the classroom. To reach the students you have to think from their perspectives. What art, what music, what theatre, what visual arts, what dance, and what sports will be most likely to interest them. I am not suggesting that you can not also introduce important art or music that doesn’t particularly interest them (it may be useful to know something about classical music, and to know something about old masters), but the point is that the start point needs to be where they are at.

Question from Phyllis Dinwiddie, Curriculum Specialist, Colton School District:
What strategies can you suggest to be used by a fifth grade teacher to get unmotivated (mostly male) English Learners who have experienced failure (low performance on standardized tests) in the past, to become interested in academic success and want to achieve in school?

Edward L. Deci:
Make individual contact with them. Invite them to talk about their expriences with the tests. Work with them individually if possible to help them begin to make progress. Progress builds on itself. The failures have them threatened, and you have to get through that. Remain supportive, and don’t push them. Try to find material that is interesting and relevant to them. If the material is interesting, they will want to read it, and perhaps write about it, if they can do that without feeling threatened. So, be sensitive to their feelings and needs, and it is likely that at least some of them will resond positively.

Question from VKL Non Profit Director:
What are your suggestions for motivating parents who do not value education and who send their children to school with a strikingly similar attitude?

Edward L. Deci:
The only possibility is to make contact with the parents. you could send them notes or emails about things that are going well with their children. You could call them occasionally to fill them in on what is going on in school. Parents are used to getting negative messages. Change the tactic to providing positive messages, and it can begin to change their attitudes. Send them a special invitation to parent-teacher conferences. There are no guaranteed ways of doing it, but this will make a difference for some parents.

As for the students’ attitudes, they are probably a cover up for feeling threatened, or inadequate, or unsure. Hear out the students. See if you can find material that interests them, and work from there. If they are learning something that interests them and the teacher is supportive, slowly they will come to value education more.

Question from O. Thompson, Parent:
What is being done in the area of training for new teachers and professional development for established teachers to equip them with knowledge and tools that can help them motivate students?

Edward L. Deci:
Different things are being done in different places, of course. At the Institute for Research and Reform in Education, for example, instructional specialists have developed many modules for addressing various issues that teachers face. These include such varied issues as inclusion of special needs students; how to pace classroom instruction; how to know when students have learned something; what types of assessments works best in what situations; how to ask effective questions; and so on.

There are specialists at various universities who are also writing about approaches to professional development that are most effective--for example, that last beyond the meeting because they get teachers actively involved and have them focus on how they can use the material in their own classes.

Question from katherine bradley, teacher, perry high school:
What affect does participation in extracurricular activities play in student academic achievement? Do athletes perform better academically during sport season?

Carol Dweck:
It depends. Students can learn good or bad lessons for academic achievement from extracurricular activities. For example, they could learn that they are good at sports, but not at academic work. It is important, therefore in all extracurricular activities for students to be sent a clear message that effort (guided by experts) is what makes you better at anything--sports, school, music, art... This is how extracurricular activities can support academic motivation.

Question from Jacqueline Barbour, Substitute Teacher, Richmond Public Schools:
What’s the best way to motivate students when the teacher is gone?

Susan Graham:
Before I noticed that you were a sub I was going to say the best way to motivate students was: DON’T BE GONE! Subbing is really hard and you have so few buttons to push. Acknowledge that you are not their teacher and that establish that you will do the best you can to meet her goals for the class and you hope they will partner with you to accomplish that goal. If they are elementary kids, they may try to please you. If they are high school kids, they may ignore you. If they are middle school kids they will probably try to make you cry or cuss. It’s not about you. It’s about their developmental level of motivation in regard to self management. Knowing rules and being able to follow them feels good when you are in first grade. When the sub changes the rules, the students are insecure. Apply the rules matter to older elementary kids. If the sub and fellow classmates don’t do the rules, this child is motivated to point out the mistakes. They’re not tattling, their just demonstrating their accomplishment. Middle school kids do analysis of the sub and the rules. You are a science experiment. What will happen? How many times can I get away with it? It’s actually valid when you think of it this way. High school kids are sythesizing their own rules, so if they don’t like what’s going on, they’ll just do something else. I hope knowing this will help you. And thank you from all of us who leave our students with you and hope for the best.

Question from Dave Harner, District Coordinator, Wicomico County Public Schools:
We see negative movement in the areas of student attendance, discipline and academics during our transition years from elem-middle (6th grade) & middle to high school (9th grade). Looking for some kind of psychological root-cause analysis, what is different about these two years and how can schools better support students.

Edward L. Deci:
Making the transition puts students in new settings with new demands, and it is hard for people to accommdate to new situations. Further, students going through these transitions move from the top of the totem pole to the bottom. In eighth grade they are the senior students of the middle school. In night grade, they are the rookies of the high school. That is a big blow.

What to do. Support them and get to know them. Are there small group meetings where the nineth grade students get to know an adult? Are there meetings where small groups of students include some freshmen with sophmores, juniors, and seniors? What you need to do is figure out ways for the new students to a school to have an identity that is within the school and includes learning as part of the identity.

In First Things First, a comprehensive school reform, groups of students across grades (9, 10, 11, and 12) meet weekly with a teacher, and the group stays together over the year and from one year to the next. The students and teacher deal with any kinds of problems that are relevant to the students’ school work. Students need to feel recongized and included. If they don’t, there is a good chance they will be lost to the system.

Question from Sandra Lippman, Director, Partners in Performance, Educational Consulting:
1.)To what level of ability do you feel a class needs to be taught to engage all students in lessons and learning activities? By this I mean, with diverse backgrounds and ability levels, where do you think a teacher can capture and maintain the interest of learners across the spectrum of individual needs and learning styles?

2.) Can you share research-based methods or strategies that have gained your confidence, or won your heart - - said with a smile - - for dealing with reluctant readers and the esteem issues that hold some students back from greater engagement and higher levels of achievement?

Thank you for considering one or both questions.


Edward L. Deci:
The levels need to be varied, allowing the more advanced students to take on challenges that suit them while others take on challenges that suit them. In other words, you have to be a real artist in terms of having all students do rigorous work, but having it be somewhat individualized, in subtle ways. Give a little extra help to students who need it while those who don’t are working on their own. And so on.

Reluctant readers need extra support, and that starts with making individual contact with them. Hear out their concerns, listen for their indicators of low esteem. When you hear it, the message you want to convey is something like, I understand that you don’t always feel good about yourself, but I want you to know that I respect and care about you. Use your own words, and don’t do it in a way that sounds like you are arguing or dimishing them, but let them know that you accept them for who they are and beleive in them.

Question from Shri Krishan, Teacher at Ethan Allen School Wales Wiscosin 53183:
Subject Math, Students are incarcerated by law. There are a lot of things on their mind. Most of them have skipped school. Some of them for many years. How do you motivate them.

Edward L. Deci:
Develop personal relationships with them. If there is no adult in the learning setting who knows them, shows concern for them, is checking up on them, and helping them solve their problems, you will not stand much chance of motivating them. It is the relationship that is the basis for fostering motivtion.

Question from Kelly Gross, K Teacher, CNC:
I have a few students who struggle with writing. It is very difficult for them to reproduce letters and numbers. One will absolute resist writing anything after a certain point. I have tried associated it with things they like and enjoy doing. How can I help them enjoy writing and at the same time accomplish the assignment?

Edward L. Deci:
I suspect that the ones who absolutely refuse to write feel incompetent and inadequate. They probably need the opportunity to work on a one-on-one basis, with no pressure, to try things out. You need to be very sensitive to not disapproving, and as much as possible allow them to express any feelings they are having about this. The more secure they become in their feelings when with you, the more likely to will both express their feelings, and try out new things. The blocks appear to be in their feelings, and I suspect you will need to deal with those feelings to make real progress.

Question from Mary Potter, High School Principal, Nebraska:
How can we help students be motivated to rise above family circumstances? (Parents never graduated high school, parents do not currently work, yet we expect the student to somehow feel motivated to work hard for us at school.)

Susan Graham:
I have a friend who recently returned from visiting South Africa where she was so impressed by students who were diligently working in schools with almost no resources. Why can’t we do that here was her question. I told her those children had great motivation to learn because education was the escape route from poverty and hopeless ness. If you think about it in those terms, our most disadvantaged students may be the most motivated. Surprisingly, the children who come appear to from upper middle class suburban neighborhoods may just as likely to be feeling pressures of failing marriages, parents with too much or not enough work, subtle child abuse, quiet alcoholism or drug use. To paraphrase Mr. Rogers: Some families are messy on the outside, and some are messy on the inside. We can’t fix home. We can provide a nurturing environment where every children can feel safe and accepted and where they are valued.

Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):
Thank you for joining us for this fascinating discussion. We hope it helps you identify better ways for motivating your students. And a special thanks to our guests for taking time out of their busy schedules to participate in this chat.

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