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How to Motivate Secondary School Students

by Evie Sellers

Many factors --both external and internal-- contribute to student motivation. According to a 2003 National Research Council report, approximately 40 percent of high school students are chronically disengaged from school. Finding ways to keep students motivated and engaged in the learning process is essential for academic success. A student's home environment is important when it comes to motivation. At school, teachers can increase motivation by building relationships, emphasizing long-term benefits of coursework and relying on positive reinforcement.

Home Matters

Parental support is crucial to the educational process. Parents can first help students identify their greatest skills and attributes and then help students find opportunities to develop those strengths. For instance, if a student is a skilled writer, parents could seek out opportunities to help their child hone her writing skills. Libraries often offer teen writing camps or author meet-and-greets. Or, parents could simply support and encourage a student's strengths. When students work on tasks they enjoy and feel they will be successful completing, their intrinsic motivation increases.

Building Relationships

Research shows the importance of positive relationships between teachers and students. When students feel that teachers are invested in them and their long-term success, the pupils are more likely to become engaged in the course and motivated to succeed. In high school, students interact with multiple teachers, so it can be difficult to build these relationships when an individual teacher sees a student only one hour a day. Teachers can capitalize on the time they have with students by asking students questions about their interests, supporting their extracurricular activities and making connections between course material and students' lives.

Long-Term Benefits

Many high school teachers have heard students ask, "When on earth am I ever going to need to know this?" When students don't understand the long-term benefits of the work they are doing, it is easy for them to become unmotivated. Teachers should explain connections between course material and the "real world." Furthermore, teachers can develop projects and assessments that have real world connections to motivate students to see the long-term benefits of assigned work. Teachers can also explain that students are learning important skills like problem solving, reasoning, determination and organization when they remain engaged in their high school courses.

Positive Reinforcement

While building intrinsic motivation is ideal, sometimes external motivation in the form of positive reinforcement is effective for high school students. Verbal praise, smiles, and complimentary words go a long way to positively reinforce students, and these types of reinforcement -- when employed genuinely -- also help teachers develop relationships with their students. Other types of positive reinforcement that can motivate students include things like class pizza parties, extra computer time, homework passes or rewards like books or coupons for local businesses.

About the Author

Evie Sellers is an educator based in Georgia. She has taught in public high schools, colleges and universities. Sellers holds a Ph.D., with primary research interests including teacher training issues, social justice and health issues.

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