Motivation Drives the Educational Process for Children

As we continue to discuss the literacy crisis facing the United States, we recently brought up the importance that reading to young children plays in their development. Not only does it give them key skills that form the foundation of life-long literacy, but just as importantly, it teaches them that reading is fun.

Kids like fun.

We’ve already seen how kids who are de-motivated to read struggle when they get to secondary school, and today we’ll examine the indispensable element that motivation plays in the learning process.

Simply put, motivation is the gas that fuels a child’s educational engine. Kids who value learning and see the benefits are more engaged and successful than kids who aren’t motivated.

Skinner and Belmont from the University of Rochester (1991) noted that students who are motivated to engage in school “select tasks at the border of their competencies, initiate action when given the opportunity, and exert intense effort and concentration in the implementation of learning tasks; they show generally positive emotions during ongoing action, including enthusiasm, optimism, curiosity, and interest.”

In other words, motivated kids push themselves to learn and grow, and they enjoy the process.

Motivation is the key to developing successful readers. It affects how students approach school in general, including how they relate to teachers, how much time and effort they devote to their studies, how much support they seek when they are struggling, how they perform on tests, and many other aspects of education.

Higher motivation to learn is linked not only to better academic performance but also to greater conceptual understanding, satisfaction with school, self-esteem, social adjustment, and school completion rates.

The amount of motivation that a student has for reading determines whether the learning derived will be meaningful, deep, and internalized, or if it will be trivial (Gambrell, Morrow & Pressley, 2007).

If students are not motivated, it is difficult, if not impossible, to improve their academic achievement, no matter how good the teacher, curriculum or school is.

Means, Jonassen, and Dwyer In Education Technology Research and Development (1997) cite studies that showing motivation accounts for 16 percent to 38 percent of the variations in overall student achievement.

The problem is how to keep kids motivated as they age. The more years a child is in school, the more likely he or she is to be discouraged by the experience.

Motivation often declines as students progress from elementary through high school. Upwards of 40 percent of high school students are disengaged from learning, are inattentive, exert little effort on school work, and report being bored in school, according to a 2004 analysis by the National Research Council.

The quest to keep interested in school and motivated to learn can feel quixotic, but next week we’ll explore the central internal and external factors that we can optimize to best encourage our children to embrace the educational process on their path to becoming life-long readers and learners.

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