Motivating students (A10)

While it is impossible to accurately measure how motivated an individual feels towards something at any given moment, what can be better observed and measured from a teaching perspective is engagement. Thus, for this task I will talk about ways of increasing engagement, assuming it is the output of motivation.

Hillier and Gregson (2015) write on the term orchestration and its significance to engagement during teaching. They link the concept of a conductor controlling an orchestra to maintaining engagement from all the students in a class. A conductor needs to be sensitive to the properties of each instrument when thinking of how they come together as a whole. Likewise, the teacher must be sensitive to each student to maintain proper engagement to the tasks, for instance, a student with a different skill set to another might find the main tasks easy and become bored. To combat this, the teacher must be able to adapt the lesson to keep the class engaged in learning.

Not only does the teacher have to be able to reflect in action, but the teacher must also know the students well enough as individuals to know how best to act. Hillier and Gregson (2015) write ‘working with a class of individuals may involve being able to respond to many, if not all, of their responses at the same time’. Knowing our learners as unique entities can allow us to construct a harmonious interplay of social interaction, resulting in a successful learning environment maintained by the inputs of a mindful teacher. Thus, by knowing our students well we will know how best to hold their engagement, which signals that the students are motivated to learn.

Hillier and Gregson recommend reading Scrutson and Ferguson’s Teaching and supporting adult learners (2014) for more information on how to engage individual learners. In the Hillier and Gregson’s book, they begin with the overarching concept of what we mean by adult learners, breaking it down into five categories as based on the writings of the academic Knowles. These are self-concept, experience, readiness to learn, orientation to learn and motivation to learn. Each adult learner brings a unique melding of these categories into the classroom with them. Accepting and adapting to this fact is a key component of andragogy. Additionally, the student’s self-perception of how and where they fit in society affects how the students approach a classroom dynamic and the task of learning. Scrutson and Ferguson reinforce the importance of understanding the individual, and that this understanding should lead the teacher’s approach when trying to engage and motivate learners. 

While it may take time to learn how each learner views themselves, their relation to education and their demeanour, some techniques are aimed at holding the attention of a room in general. Scrutson and Ferguson (2014) write ‘A useful technique is to ask the question of the whole class, give them all a moment to formulate a response and then ask a particular learner for an answer’. By leaving which learner I intended to respond unknown to the students, the whole class are forced to engage with the question in case they have to respond. Though specific, there will be other ways of manipulating this technique to produce further variety. For a lesson I carried out recently on Islamic art, I got each student to write their name and three things they had learnt on post-it notes. This was their ‘ticket’ to leave the classroom. Rather than asking questions for feedback, every member of the class knew they needed something to write, motivating the whole class to engage in active learning. Learners seemed to focus during the class more because of this.

Scruton, J, and Belinda F. (2014) Teaching and Supporting Adult Learners / Jackie Scruton and Belinda Ferguson. Northwich : Critical Publishing.

Gregson, M. (2015) Reflective Teaching in Further, Adult and Vocational Education / Margaret Gregson and Yvonne Hillier ; with Gert Biesta. London : Bloomsbury Academic.

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Published by Coffee & Alex

Alexander Clarke is a sole trader who writes and teaches. He’s published articles, blog posts, short stories and poems. He’s taught philosophy, theology, ESOL and PSHE.

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