Helping Students to Motivate Themselves

As Daniel Pink describes in his TED Talk, research shows that “dangling a carrot” for our students generally works for just the short-term. And unfortunately, motivation using incentives and rewards only seems to work in generating simple actions, not in inspiring the kind of creativity, and high-level thinking skills and abilities we want our students to develop. We, as instructors, can only motivate learners so much – true motivation needs to come from themselves.

So how can we help our learners to motivate themselves? Or, as Ferlazzo words it, how can we shift from “irritation” – challenging students to act on our goals – to “agitation” – challenging them to act on their goals?

What I like about these three ways to help develop motivation, is that the responsibility falls back on the learner. Particularly as we are teaching adults, I feel that this is really an area that they need to recognize the value in working on. And if their motivation is solely extrinsic, perhaps introducing some of these techniques may help them to develop some intrinsic motivation as well…

1. Praise effort instead of intelligence. This goes back to our discussion forum regarding Carol Dweck and reinforcing what she describes as the “growth mindset” (rather than the “fixed mindset”).

2. Helping students understand and develop self-control. Encourage students to reflect on the longer-term advantages of self-control, and teach them how to have greater self-control. Teaching self-affirmation will also help students increase their self-control.

3. Assign a 15-minute writing activity on values to build confidence. This helps students to recognize which values are important them, and helps to remind them that their entire self-worth is not dependent on a single test result. Students with a greater sense of self-worth usually work harder and are less discouraged by setbacks.

Adapted from:


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