Motivation…it’s not the how, it’s the why.

Posted by on Jan 29, 2014 in Blog | 0 comments

I used to think it was HOW a student learned which was important and then it dawned upon me it was WHY they learned which made the difference. For years I analysed the learning styles of girls in Year 12 in an independent school and they were usually pretty much to a girl, self motivated. Then I noticed a shift and more and more were self motivated and thereby hung a tale.

In the past self motivated students had stood out like sore thumbs: there was Claire who was notorious for her absences from lessons but still gained A grades in her exams and Tom who missed loads of lessons but waited for his cousin and friend to bring notes and report back on the lessons. Another A grade student. These were bright kids who just needed to know what had to be done and then got on and did it under their own terms.

The externally motivated student doesn’t find school to be the most important thing in their lives. They might be good at sport or drama, for instance and find this much more enthralling but if  they are organised they can still play the game and win. Increasingly, though the self motivated student is not in the top percentile of high achievers and is not necessarily going to make the grade. Jamie Oliver is probably one of the better known celebrities who did not do well at school but made a resounding success of his career.  His struggle with dyslexia is well documented but so is the fact that he enjoyed working in his father’s pub. He had interests outside the classroom, was obviously a lad who needed to be hands on when it came to working and consequently probably had a short attention span for subjects which did not strike a chord, There’s a fine line between genius and disaster!

On the plus side if your teenager is externally motivated they need to see clearly what the point is and what the reward will be for doing a certain piece of work. They might have become dependent on a  family member offering payment as a certain inducement for achieving certain grades in exams. If sporty they might well be used to the instant gratification of knowing what the score is in a match, the timing in a race, the final result in a test of skill and of knowing precisely what they have to do to improve their game.

School doesn’t work in quite the same way. There isn’t a coach trying to coax the best written essay, or the ultimate piece of coursework. It’s all about independent learning, which is fine if you have the skills, but not so good if the skills haven’t been acquired. Teachers teach and students learn but not often are they taught how to learn effectively and what might work best on an individual basis. We all approach things we like doing with enthusiasm: for some people mowing a lawn gives a feeling of satisfaction and for others it is a chore that has to be done but is not at all pleasurable. Some students like a practical approach to work and others prefer a more abstract challenge.

How teenagers take instruction and supervision is also important. many students like the reassurance of a well structured task so that they know precisely what they need to do and then like a teacher or parent on hand so that they can check, if need be that they are on the right track. They like to be supported and guided.

The self directed learner, on the other hand, doesn’t want a teacher or parent hanging over them while they work. At best this student likes to know what the assignment is, what the expected end product is and then be left to get on with it. If you want to wind this student up, check on them regularly, watch their every move and then wait for the explosion! As a parent it is natural to want to offer support and to check up that your offspring IS working but it can be counterproductive. Again there is a fine line between the student who is capable of working efficiently and effectively on their own and achieving the desired result and the student who wants to work under their own steam but doesn’t quite have enough knowledge/learning to be able to do this. They will need help but tread carefully lest you crush their dreams or at least their intention to work.

To have a strong desire to plough your own furrow is laudable and many who do this are very successful. Jamie Oliver obviously has a passion for food and he has pursued his chosen career with enthusiasm and success. The Richard Branson’s of this world, the Dyson’s, probably even Mr. Easy Jet have the courage to go out on a limb, to do things differently and to be successful. The world would be a poorer place without renegades. they are risk takers, they know what they want to do and they set out to achieve it. Every school will have these sort of students but it is how they are nurtured which will make the difference between success and failure.

If your teenager does poorly at school but has a passion outside of the curriculum praise their success and see if there are any strands which can be transferred to the field of academia. Jess was a dancer and a very good one, her mother despaired because she wasn’t doing as well as she should at school. Dancing took up much of her time but it wasn’t that she was short of time, she just wasn’t learning effectively. In common with many active students she didn’t really like reading. Her subjects demanded a certain amount of reading and she wasn’t taking it in. She can remember dance steps, why cant she remember facts, her mother complained. I introduced some visual revision guides where much of the information is converted into charts and diagrams, plus each topic is contained on one page. This was much less daunting. I encouraged her to read aloud when she had paragraphs which needed to be digested – you can’t switch off while reading aloud. The next step then, is to introduce action into revision. She learns dance steps by pacing them out or tracing the steps with a finger on a card. We’ll use flash cards, and hands on Mind Maps. it’s about making things interesting. Through interest comes motivation and the more work the student does, the better the grades.

Improving grades=increased motivation. So whether your teenager is self motivated or externally motivated, there is always a way forward. It’s just a matter of finding the right path and then cajoling them to stay on it. Think about the things you love to do and the things that you keep putting off, we all have them. I love cooking but hate washing lem solved!up. Fortunately, my other half can’t cook so he’s relegated to washing up and prob