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5 Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Unmotivated Students

As a teacher, you often come across students who are a little ‘difficult’, to say the least. They seem uninterested in learning and would concentrate on everything other than what you are trying to teach them. Even though some of them have brilliant minds, they would not be focusing their energies on the tasks you are setting for them. As a result, they would get bad grades and consistently fail to avail good learning opportunities.

For teachers, the situation gets difficult to control since they have a whole class full of students they need to teach. Especially in case of public schools, where the class size is relatively bigger, teachers find it increasingly difficult to deal with such cases.

However, there are certain steps that can be taken to increase motivation among such students. All you need to do is ask yourself 5 questions about your unmotivated students. The answers and the subsequent measures you need to take will make you see all the room for improvement. Have a look at these questions:

How is your relationship with your students?

As a general principle, students tend to be more motivated in classes where they are on good terms with the teacher. They would naturally want to do their work to keep their favorite instructors happy. A good student-teacher relationship would provide greater degree of safety and stability along with a much healthier learning environment for the student. This is the first question you need to ask yourself as a teacher. What kind of a relationship do you have with your least motivated students? Do you know them well or are they the ones you are least informed about? Do you engage them in conversations about the things they find interesting? Do you have a tendency to give up on them when they become too difficult to handle? Answer these questions in all honesty.

  • The Fix: Even though there is no one solution that you can apply across the board to all your students, the general idea is to connect with them and try to maintain a healthy relationship. One thing you have got to stop doing is comparing your students to other students or past students – that won’t help anyone. Another thing you can do is tell stories and give examples from your personal life. This is going to help students feel more comfortable around you. Always be patient and persistent, and never run away from troubled students – that is one of the most ideal times to create a connection.

How much choice do your students have?

Choice plays a big role in motivation. But a lot of teachers knowingly ignore this important factor, since leaving it up to the students can get pretty messy. It means a lot more hassle for the teacher: collecting assignments at different times, giving several options for a particular project etc. Ask yourself this question and try to determine how much freedom do you really give the kids with the work they are supposed to do?

  • The Fix: A good idea would be to engage students in meaningful and creative projects rather than using the standard worksheet approach. Consider a change in the seating plan, or ditch seats altogether if that makes the environment more engaging and easy to move in for students. Make groups if you think students will thrive more that way. Try using more interactive ways of teaching such as audios, videos, presentations with images and so on.

Are you relying on rewards and punishments too much?

As a teacher, this might be one of the most common mistakes you are making with creative tasks: tying rewards or punishments with the accomplishment of creative tasks. While it is alright to give a reward sometime, this technique actually serves as a de-motivation factor when used for tasks that require complex thought. The idea is not to make students do what you want them to do, rather to create a genuine motivation in them to find their work interesting – give them a reason to do it because they want to do it.

  • The Fix: Try and generate genuine interest among students about the problem. Instead of just telling them what ‘prize’ they’ll get for solving a problem, make it into a challenge. For instance, if it is a math problem, don’t give them bonus points for extra questions, tell them it’s a challenge, and let’s see how many of them can do it. This curiosity would generate interest and rather than working for the reward, they would be genuinely concerned about rising up to the challenge.

Are you cultivating a growth mindset or a fixed mindset?

This is also one of those common points that many teachers tend to ignore. What could be wrong with telling a student that he is so smart or intelligent? While this is good for their morale every now and then, it cannot be all the feedback given to any particular student. In such a case, the student would start believing that what he is doing is just fine and that he does not need to do more or try and achieve more. Trying a developing a growth mindset in students can be a lot of work but it is certainly worth the while.

  • The Fix: Instead of praising something fixed and innate about a student, focus on the particular things he did right. Tell him what was great about his work, the amount of detail, the formatting, the formula usage, the presentation etc. Notice how well they did in all the different categories. It is very easy to say ‘awesome work!’ but giving well thought-out feedback is what will actually encourage the growth mindset. Same is the case with instances where you have to give constructive feedback. Rather than telling them they need to work harder, tell them what they need to spend more time on.

Are you doing anything to make your content more relevant to their lives?

Relating the content you cover in class to the lives of the students and the experiences they might have already had is a very good way of getting them to take interest. Ask yourself if you are doing anything of the sort to motivate your students more. When students genuinely believe that they are working on something that will impact their life and likely improve it, they are likely to take more interest. Are you providing enough opportunities for your students to relate what they learn in the classroom to their real life?

  • The Fix: Always tell the students how what they are doing is relevant to their life, even if you have to stop in the middle of an activity to explain it to them. For instance, if the students are studying bacteria, you might want to relate it to places where they hang out on a daily basis to make the topic more relevant and interesting to them. Another thing you could do is ask the students themselves how they think a particular subject matter relates to their daily life. This reflection will force them to think creatively and might help them understand the concept better.

Once you have learned how to master the correct responses to these 5 questions about unmotivated students, you might be in a position to get through to the uninterested students. While on occasions you might be tempted to just give up on students who don’t seem to want to learn, instilling a genuine feeling of motivation in them will make you realize that they have some of the most brilliant minds.


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