“Students who are bored or inattentive or who put little effort to schoolwork are unlikely to benefit from better standards, curriculum, and instruction unless schools, teachers, and parents take steps to address their lack of motivation . . .”

“Motivation Matters: 40% Of High School Students Chronically Disengaged from School” by James Marshall Crotty, Forbes, March 13, 2013

A chemistry teacher named Ms. Conroy is having a hard time getting a student named James to show any interest in her class. At times James seems to have nearly fallen asleep, or he sits staring out the window. And when he is paired up with another student to do an experiment, James lets his partner do all the work and barely lifts a finger to help.

“I just don’t think James thinks chemistry is an interesting subject,” Ms. Conroy says. “I’m wondering what I can do to light a spark under him and get him going.”

She is right, because James doesn’t think that chemistry is interesting or exciting. But what Ms. Conroy does not know is that James doesn’t think that any subject he is taking is interesting. He isn’t only bored in her class, he is bored in every class he attends. He is burned out, unmotivated, surly and even a little bit scary. She assumes that he is only that way in her class only because he hasn’t seen that he behaves the same way wherever he goes.

Can Good Teachers Reach All the Bored Students and Spark their Interest?

The Forbes article offers insights on motivating students that are still valid today.

  • More than 40% of students are not motivated to be in school at all.
  • Citing research that was conducted over the last several decades, Crotty concludes that many of the approaches that have been tried to increase student engagement, such as giving standardized exams and increasing academic demands, have done little to motivate students. “Even the most dedicated teachers and parents may be sending messages that leave children believing they don’t have what it takes to succeed,” he observes.
  • Students who are unmotivated fail to take advantage of all the positive things that educators have taken pains to offer them. The result is that a school gets no benefit from the dollars it is spending or the programs it is offering – and of course, fewer students benefit either.

Possible Solutions

One solution is to focus not on subject matter or curricula, but to recognize boredom as a separate and distinct issue and to attack it directly. Here are some strategies that can be effective:

  • Starting in early grades, give students assignments that let them feel that they are capable enough to complete the task at hand.
  • Structure tasks so that students see a meaningful personal reward for completing them.
  • Build social rewards into projects that allow students to feel they are part of a group or a team.

In Summary . . .

“. . . the more of these conditions that are met,” Crotty observes, “the greater the motivation.”

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