How to Motivate Children

It can be challenging to motivate children, but we have collated seven tried-and-tested strategies for you to try in the classroom.

Have a Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck’s studies on the benefits of adopting a growth mindset are well documented. Dweck sees education as a constant learning curve, rather than a linear process. Students with a growth mindset continually develop and refine their thinking. They are not crushed by assessment scores; instead, they turn challenges into experiences, and use them as fuel for continual growth and development.

In contrast, students with a fixed mindset are fixated in the present. They can’t accept failure, they require instant recognition, and often crumble in the face of adversity.

In order to develop a growth mindset in children, praise them for the process, rather than their intelligence or talents, as this can make them vulnerable. Acknowledge their effort, focus, or hard work, as these are the qualities which will make students resilient. This is especially important given that there is evidence that implicitly finds short-term effort as an important determinant of student performance in high-stakes exams (Metcalfe et al, 2011).

Dweck states that the growth mindset is particularly important for struggling students. ‘When educators create a growth mindset environment, equality can happen.’ When students engage in challenging tasks, the processes and connections in the brain begin to change, which makes them more equipped to tackle future learning. Regardless of students’ backgrounds, surrounding them with acceptance, possibility, and wonder provides them with a gateway to success.

A child’s past experience in a subject is a contributing factor in how much they will invest in their lessons in the future. If they had a poor relationship with their KS3 maths teacher, and only ever received negative feedback, it’s unlikely that they’ll be motivated as they begin KS4 maths. Schools have a responsibility to be consistent in their approach, so students of all ages and abilities build trust in their environment.

Schools should overcommunicate their core beliefs. Everyone in the school community should understand and contribute to the school’s high expectations and shared values, and acknowledge that they all have a role to play in the school’s success. Adrian Bethune, author of the award-winning book, Wellbeing in the Primary Classroom, speaks of the importance of becoming a tribe, where each and every child feels a deep, innate sense of belonging. They feel rooted, welcomed, and valued.

By amplifying their shared beliefs, the effect is cumulative. Students become driven and motivated by their school community.

Improve Your Universal Provision

Effective universal provision is vital if we are to nurture student motivation. Universal provision includes a child’s learning environment, as well as the high-quality teaching available to them.

Every school should have a strong behaviour policy, which promotes motivation and wellbeing. This will ensure students are emotionally prepared to learn. The school should prioritise social skills, so that all students can become caring, loving, empathetic, and supportive of one another, as healthy peer-to-peer relationships can affect student motivation.

The routines across school should also be consistent, so that students know what is expected of them – when they enter classrooms or engage in classroom discussion, for example. These routines alleviate uncertainty, which is a key contributor to anxiety.

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