Motivation: The Gas That Fuels a Child's Educational Engine: Short-Term Rewards Are Not a Viable Strategy for Long-Term Reading Growth

By Hill, Lindsey | District Administration, February 2014 | Go to article overview

Motivation: The Gas That Fuels a Child's Educational Engine: Short-Term Rewards Are Not a Viable Strategy for Long-Term Reading Growth


Hill, Lindsey, District Administration


Do we know why third graders in America are not reading at grade level? More than 50 percent of children in affluent homes and 80 percent of children growing up in less affluent homes are not reading proficiently. Reading drops off significantly after age nine. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent focusing on the act of reading, but little progress is being made when it comes to identifying the root of the problem. What if the real issue is in the underlying motivation for children to be more engaged in their learning?

Motivation drives how all students approach school, including how they relate to teachers, the time and effort they devote to their studies, the amount of support they seek when struggling, and their performance on tests. Increased motivation is directly linked to a greater conceptual understanding. This, in turn, can improve academic performance and satisfaction with school, as well as positively affect self-esteem, social adjustments and school completion rates. In short? Motivation is the gas that fuels a child's educational engine.

How do we continue to engage our students as they grow? The older the students, the more likely they will be discouraged and disillusioned by their educational experiences. According to a 2004 analysis by the National Research Council, nearly 40 percent of high school students disengaged in school; they exerted little effort, were inattentive, and reported boredom. These were all directly tied to a decline in motivation.

We think we know what motivation is, but how does that manifest itself in the lives of our kids? What really drives our students to want to learn?

Internal vs. external factors

Great minds have battled back and forth over the years as to whether motivation is strictly driven by external factors or internal ones, but current thinking suggests we should approach learning more intrinsically and less extrinsically. Internal factors, with minimal external factors, encourage our children to be lifelong learners.

Intrinsic motivation comes from a child's internal desire to complete a task because it's satisfying or pleasurable. Extrinsic motivation, however, drives a child to complete a task with the promise of outside rewards such as money or grades. …

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