I was all set to write a completely different post tonight, and then I came across an article titled, Six Ways to Motivate Students to Learn.

On its surface, it’s a decent article with advice that will sound good to a lot of people.  I, however, am not one of them. This article makes a big assumption about education that I simply do not share: a good education is something that someone in a position of authority does to or doles out to someone else who has less power. It is a no-brainer to me that if you accept that assumption and then go forth in your educating from there, you will likely need advice like this.  More often than not, you will be embroiled in a battle of wills against a child who does not want to learn what you want him or her to learn.

Your options once you’ve arrived nose-to-nose and toe-to-toe with a stubborn, defiant, and/or unmotivated child aren’t all that great in my mind.  You can use force and leverage your position of authority to make that child do the task you’ve laid out for him to learn.  You can use coercion and hold something that child wants over his head to make him do the task you’ve laid out for him to learn.  You can use manipulation and leverage that child’s interests to get him to do the task you’ve laid out for him to learn.  You can use bribery and artifically reward that child for doing the task you’ve laid out for him to learn.

I don’t know about you, but none of those options sound very appealing to me.  The problem is that if there’s another way to “motivate” a stubborn, defiant child to learn what you want her to learn, I’m drawing a blank. Feel free to comment below if you’ve found a solution that works that doesn’t also fall into one of those categories.

My solution for motivating students to learn is to reject the notion that a good education is something that someone in a position of authority does to or doles out to someone else who has less power.  You’ll never arrive, squared off, nose-to-nose or toe-to-toe over schoolwork again.  You’ll get to be partners with your child, a guide, a mentor, and a facilitator as life prepares your child every step of the way for what he needs to know to be who he is right now and who he wants to be next.  When you allow life to pave the way for the set of knowledge or skills that your child needs, you won’t have to accept some contrived tips for motivating him: he’ll be motivated all on his own!

I’m going to wave my magic wand and rethink that article’s list:

Fine tune the challenge When life is what is paving the way for the set of knowledge or skills that your child needs in order to be who she is right now and who she wants to be next, she’ll always (and naturally) be challenged at just the right level.  And….motivated to rise to that challenge.  You don’t need to find some way to create some artificial challenge.

Start with the question, not the answer When life is what is paving the way for the set of knowledge or skills that your child needs in order to be who he is right now and who he wants to be next, that will always (and naturally) begin with a question or an obstacle that he will be motivated to answer or overcome.  You don’t need to keep the answer sheet tucked away while you figure out what questions might be the most interesting to ask and have him answer.

Encourage students to beat their personal best When life is what is paving the way for the set of knowledge or skills that your child needs in order to be who she is right now and who she wants to be next, she’ll always (and naturally) be striving for excellence…because that knowledge and those skills are a means to an end that is important to her personally.  You don’t need to manufacture ways to make the knowledge or skills meaningful or engaging.  They already are.

Connect abstract learning to concrete solutions When life is what is paving the way for the set of knowledge or skills that your child needs in order to be who he is right now and who he wants to be next, he’ll always (and naturally) be starting with something concrete, some real-world scenario.  You don’t have to create some contrived real-world scenario.  Your child is already operating from there.

Make it social When life is what is paving the way for the set of knowledge or skills that your child needs in order to be who she is right now and who she wants to be next, it will be social if it needs to be or she wants it to be.  My oldest daughter could paint or sketch with friends.  She chooses not to, though.  Art, for her, is a solitary thing.  Making it social will not motivate her to keep learning more skills or honing her technique. Doing so would impede her progress.  You don’t have to throw any friends into the mix to motivate her.

Go deep When life is what is paving the way for the set of knowledge or skills that your child needs in order to be who he is right now and who he wants to be next, he’ll easily (and naturally) go deep if going deep is something he’s motivated to do.  A child with a passion will go deep.  A child who is learning something, particularly something he finds unpleasant but necessary, in order to do something else he wants to do will only go as deep as he needs to go in order to put that piece of knowledge or set of skills to work on his goal. You don’t need to assign him the task of going deep on a subject.  Let life point him in the right direction and present tasks for him.

So, the next time you find yourself wondering how you can motivate your child to learn, stop for a moment and think about why you are in a situation where you’re trying to figure out how to motivate her.  Look at the task you’re wanting your child to do, look at your child, and figure out what about this mismatch between the two is creating the problem.  It will probably be as simple as the fact that whatever this task is, is your agenda for your child’s education, not hers.  A motivation that lasts, a motivation that’s fruitful – it always comes from within.

 

Pin It on Pinterest