Cultivating Curious Minds Blog

This blog on the Cultivating Curious Minds website provides information, strategies technology tools, and resources for educators on increasing innovation in the classroom, international education, and effective professional development

Helping Students Who Struggle With Motivation

I teach a Grade 11 Communications Technology class in an international school in Hong Kong . I am lucky to have curriculum outcomes that are fairly subjective in nature and allows for the incorporation of a substantial amount of hands on learning. The course follows the engineering design process and focuses on fostering 21st century skill buzzwords such as problem-solving and creativity. Students work through a variety of software units such as Flash Animation and Audio Video Editing and are encouraged to and are provided with opportunities to incorporate their passions into their given products.

But what do you do when students claim they have no passions?

Usually students enjoy the project based nature of the class however, some struggle with the open-ended nature of the course resulting in a lack of motivation. I recently had this conversation with a student who was struggling to keep up with his course work. Though we work together to create individualized schedules and deadlines he struggled with motivation and was unable to meet his classroom goals he created for himself.

Helping Students find Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation can be defined as a drive to engage in an activity out of pure interest. The primary driver in my experience for building intrinsic motivation is fostering relationships with your students. By taking the time to learn  your students individual interests and passions, you can incorporate incorporate these into your classroom. One of the ways I build relationships in my classroom is by starting the year by having students fill out a simple Google Form telling me about themselves, what their strengths and weaknesses are, what they are interested in learning and three things they think I should know about them. Though it takes a bit of time, I write a short personal note to each student after reading their questionnaire responses which lets them know I am interested and invested in them and their learning. This questionnaire also gives me valuable information to aid in facilitating intrinsic motivation in my students.

Teaching Students about the concepts of Grit and Growth Mindset:

Growth Mindset is a theory developed by Carol S. Deweck, and it essential outlines that the brain can be changed over time. It rejects the idea that talent and success are innate abilities, but rather we can develop skills and aptitudes over time. Over students struggling with motivation have a fixed mindset. This can be a result of many things, a negative comment from a parent or teacher regarding their ability, a longstanding frustration about numbers or writing,etc. 

By educating students on the concept of Growth Mindset, we can help them understand that they are not limited by their perceived abilities or aptitudes, but rather can develop these over time.

Incorporating Deliberate Practice exercises in the classroom

Touching on the above, we as teachers can help students develop Growth mindset by incorporating deliberate practice exercises into the classroom. Deliberate practice, According to Angela Duckworth in her book Grit:The Power of Passion and Perserverance (one of my favorite reads of the year! Stay tuned for a review) deliberate practice can be incorporated in the following stages:

1) Identify your goals (According to Mel Robbins you should write them down! It has been proven that you are more likely to stick to goals you have written down)

2) Identify your weaknesses

3)Purposely and consistently work on this skill

4) Ask for feedback!! 

And continue this cycle!

I have started incorporating deliberate practice exercises in my classroom and this helps not only students who are struggling with motivation but is a general lifeskill for all. This is also a great exercise for us as educators to refocus on what is important for us ( I usually complete mine along with my students to aid in their motivation)

Useful resources to help students struggling with motivation: 

This info graph taken from contains several great ideas for helping students struggling with motivation: