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Student Motivation:
The Teacher's Perspective

Learning is fun and exciting, at least when the curriculum is well matched to students' interests and abilities and the teacher emphasizes hands-on activities. When you teach the right things the right way, motivation takes care of itself. If students aren't enjoying learning, something is wrong with your curriculum and instruction—you have somehow turned an inherently enjoyable activity into drudgery.

School is inherently boring and frustrating. We require students to come, then try to teach them stuff that they don't see a need for and don't find meaningful. There is little support for academic achievement in the peer culture, and frequently in the home as well. A few students may be enthusiastic about learning, but most of them require the grading system and the carrots and sticks that we connect to it to pressure them to do at least enough to get by.

These italicized paragraphs express the core ideas behind much of the advice traditionally offered to teachers about motivating students. The two views are contradictory, even though both are frequently expressed. Neither is valid, but each contains elements of truth.

The first view incorporates overly romantic views of human nature and unrealistic expectations about students' learning of school subjects in classroom settings. We can and should expect students to experience academic activities as meaningful and worthwhile. However, we cannot expect them to view these activities as “fun” in the same sense that they experience recreational games and pastimes as fun. Even when they find the content interesting and the activity enjoyable, learning requires sustained concentration and effort.

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