Center for Faculty Excellence

Tips for Teaching

Motivating Students

Some points from a Brown Bag Discussion:

Motivation can be affected by the instructor (positively AND negatively), but it cannot be "created" by the instructor, since, in the learning process, motivation is a quality of the learner. While we agreed that the instructor can positively and negatively influence cadet motivation, one participant offered these positive means by which USMA instructors can foster/develop cadet motivation:

  1. Don't be afraid to express cordiality to cadets in and out of the classroom.
  2. Foster a sense of belonging, especially for plebes.
  3. Provide public and private recognition for cadet accomplishments. (e.g., It is good to compliment a team player inside the classroom for his/her score in the recent game.)
  4. Look for genuine ways to elevate self-esteem, particularly for a cadet who is struggling to earn passing grades.
  5. Finally, seek any opportunity to affirm (actually, a combination of all above) each learner's humanity, dignity, and potential. •While there are general principles and instructor behaviors that are known to increase student motivation (see attachments below), it is important to note that the student does not exist in a vacuum.
  6. There can be systemic interference with motivation--e.g., previous experience that indicates that not completing assignments is not essential to "success" (as defined by the student) in academic courses or indicators that academic work is not valued. § The learner's personal goal is an important factor in motivation. Hence, if the learner does not value the course, he or she will be less motivated.
  7. Too much work by the instructor in "packaging" learning for the student (i.e., study guides, prepared notes, etc.) can result in less motivation--i.e., it will reinforce the student perception that learning is the work of the instructor.
  8. Too much assigned homework will diminish motivation to prepare for class. Assignments should be manageable within the time constraints of the cadets.
  9. Provide public and private recognition for cadet accomplishments. (e.g., It is good to compliment a team player inside the classroom for his/her score in the recent game.)
  10. Look for genuine ways to elevate self-esteem, particularly for a cadet who is struggling to earn passing grades.
  11. Finally, seek any opportunity to affirm (actually, a combination of all above) each learner's humanity, dignity, and potential.
  12. While there are general principles and instructor behaviors that are known to increase student motivation (see attachments below), it is important to note that the student does not exist in a vacuum.
  13. There can be systemic interference with motivation--e.g., previous experience that indicates that not completing assignments is not essential to "success" (as defined by the student) in academic courses or indicators that academic work is not valued. § The learner's personal goal is an important factor in motivation. Hence, if the learner does not value the course, he or she will be less motivated.
  14. Too much work by the instructor in "packaging" learning for the student (i.e., study guides, prepared notes, etc.) can result in less motivation--i.e., it will reinforce the student perception that learning is the work of the instructor.
  15. Too much assigned homework will diminish motivation to prepare for class. Assignments should be manageable within the time constraints of the cadets.

The following handouts were distributed to brown bag participants:

  1. Encouraging Student Motivation to Learn
  2. Lessons from Experience (based on advice from William E. Cashion, Kansas State University)
  3. Begin Where the Students Are
  • Capitalize on existing interests
  • Find out weaknesses or difficulties early on
 
Establish Relevance of Course Material
  • Connect to students' interests and Army careers
  • Discuss ways in which you find the course interesting
  • Use questions, problems, case studies to demonstrate relevance
Involve the Student in the Choice of What Will be Studied, Where Possible
  • If possible include some optional or alternative units
  • Allow alternative learning methods-e.g., discussion, independent study, etc.
Arrange Learning Tasks at Levels Appropriate to the Abilities of Your Students
  • Do not make tasks too easy nor too hard. At first it may be better to err on the side of too easy; success breeds success.
  • Tests and grades during the course motivate more when they discover what the students have learned, not just what they don't know.
  • Too intense motivation creates anxiety and interferes with learning. While you have to set realistic standards, do it in a supportive rather than threatening way.
Reward the Students
  • Give students feedback as soon as possible; e.g., return tests and papers quickly.
  • Both positive and negative comments can stimulate learning, but positive comments seem to be more effective. At least, do not give only negative comments.
  • Recognize sincere efforts even if the product is not the greatest. Praise (not grades) should be given for effort as well as accomplishment.
  • Since success motivates, encourage self-competition. Help students to focus on their continued improvement, not just on the final criteria for the course.
  • Help student set realistic goals.
Consider the Advantages of the "Discovery" Method
  • Use students' curiosity. Pose questions. Encourage them to suggest approaches to a problem, to guess the results of an experiment, to propose a theory to explain empirical findings.
  • Stress understanding more than facts.
  • Encourage students' initiative by leaving gaps for them to fill in, but draw their attention to the gaps and explain why you are leaving them.
  • Don't use excessive direction or you may simply get blind conformance or defiance. Provide some direction and structure, however, or you may simply frustrate the students.
  • Help the students evaluate their own progress. Encourage them to critique their own work, to analyze their strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately, we want the students to learn how to learn as well as master content and skills for the final exam.
Use Teacher-Student Interactions
  • Try to maintain positive relations. Although college students need to learn how to learn from professors they dislike, fostering the students' dislike is not the strategy of choice. Learning provides enough difficulties without teachers going out of their way to create more.
  • Take a variety of roles from active direction to reflective support.
  • Active participation on the part of the students enhances their interest and learning, so be sure instruction is not a "one-way street."
  • Provide a good model for the students to imitate-be human!
What Instructors Do That Stimulates Student Motivation to Learn *
  • Demonstrate enthusiasm for both role and subject matter
  • Explain course material clearly and to the point
  • Make it clear that he/she wants to help students learn
  • Summarize material in a manner that aids retention
  • Demonstrate the importance and significance of subject matter
  • Make it clear how each topic fits into the course
  • Clearly state the objectives of the course
  • Use humor in a way students appreciate
  • Find ways to help students answer their own questions
  • Introduce stimulating ideas about the subject
  • Are available to help students individually
  • Explain the reasons for criticisms of students' academic performance

* from Clegg, V.L. Teaching behaviors which stimulate student motivation to learn. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Kansas State University, 1979.