When the fire’s gone out: problems with motivation

Posted by on Oct 17, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

School is not the most important thing in a student’s life. It might be difficult to accept but more and more students can find something they would rather do! When I first started assessing students well over a decade ago it was unusual to find an externally motivated student – maybe 1 or a maximum of 2 in a cohort of 80. Now,  it seems, every student i work with is externally motivated so what’s happening?

What are their priorities?

Sport is something which can easily take precedence over study.Boys may be dedicated to football or rugby or any other sport and find that it gives them everything they need. It’s social, they are part of a team, they have tangible targets to work toward and they can see the results of their input. Add to that the fact that it is exciting and their needs are satisfied. Who needs Further Maths when you can be on the games field. Girls get the same buzz from hockey, lacrosse, swimming, riding… you name it. One frustrated parent asked why her daughter could pass all her exams relating to horses but not Geography. Answer she loved horses but Cuba… where was it and why did it matter.

Then there is the social aspect of school. meeting up with friends, having a coffee/hot chocolate, having fun then there’s lessons. AS exams roll along and suddenly there is a need for application and when the results arrive there is consternation. How did that happen? So school slips a little further down the popularity poll and sport and friends assume even greater importance. “But they did so well at GCSE”, parents exclaim. So what went wrong. Possibly, part of the problem is that at GCSE everyone is striving toward a common goal. Although there is some variation in the subjects being studied the cohort are studying quite a large common core and so are swept along together. Then there is the fact that learning for AS requires a different skill set and students aren’t prepared for the difference. Finally, by Yr 13 they have been over tested and are perhaps battle weary.

The age of distraction.

The final part of the equation is the fact that they are trying to learn in an age of distraction. There are so many other things to do, phones, tablets, iPods, x box, Skype, You Tube, TV, dvd – a plethora of distractions. Think back to the black and white world of the sixties – TV with 2 channels in black and white, transistor radio, static phone in the hall where parents could hear every word you said. very few distractions there. Parents aid and abet teenagers in the alternative occupations by providing TV in the bedroom (sacrilege), probably a computer, X Box, mobile phone and tablet too and then wonder why, when they send their child to do homework little is achieved. it is all too easy to do something else.

Overcoming obstacles.

If you have a teenager who didn’t do well at AS they need help….NOW. It is pointless waiting until they have taken mock exams again because unless a minor miracle has occurred they will repeat the performance of the summer and become even more disenchanted. Every child learns differently and has different learning personalities. By tapping into these it is possible to turn the situation around. During the past 2 years I have had pupils addicted to Skype, You Tube and X box, pupils who haven’t gone to school, pupils who have gone through the motions of going to school but not done any work and all have little by little, climbed back on board and together we’ve worked out a strategy tailored to their needs. The out of control Skype addict took charge of their life and got the necessary grades, the You Tube addict eventually prioritised Chemistry and earlier bedtimes and the school refuser also got back on track and got excellent grades. It can be done but needs hard work from everyone, student, mentor and parents but its worth it because once things start to improve the level of tension and accompanying confrontation decrease. small steps are the way forward.

Is school exciting enough?

It does beg the question though, is school exciting enough and does it cater for the modern child? If teenagers are increasingly externally motivated it does indicate that they want something more. Obviously there are thousands of excellent teachers providing stimulating learning experiences BUT there are also those who are not. Do teenagers, for instance get enough breaks. in some schools a double lesson can be 70 mins and given the short attention span some students have, you would have to provide a pretty dynamic lesson to keep them on board.

Is homework meaningful? None of my students last week either read around the topics they were studying or read through the notes they had made during the day. There was no preparation and no consolidation and no motivation to do either. In short the lacked any vestige of passion for their subjects. They had not been ignited by the content. Some had chosen the wrong subjects and this is another pet subject, the random choice of subjects for AS without any consideration of level of interest, learning strengths and future occupation.


There’s a lot that can be done to help your teenager get back on track and start to make progress again. Don’t leave it too late before you encourage them to take the first steps to learning recovery. If you would like me to help your son or daughter please contact me today. I only take on a limited number of clients so that they can be sure of individual attention.

Contact me on frances@francesgreen.com or phone 0160750519