How to develop a greater sense of motivation in students

March 15, 2019 | Mind/Shift

Teachers can know their content backwards and forwards. They might have put hours into their lesson plans. But if their students aren’t motivated, learning won’t happen.

Often, childhood experiences may make motivation harder for students, according to a new working paper from the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, a multidisciplinary research collaborative housed at Harvard University. The paper takes a look at the machinery of motivation: what’s going on in children’s brains when they’re motivated, and what’s holding them back?

The researchers identify two types of motivation: approach motivation, which steers us toward a reward, and avoidance motivation, which prompts us to avoid damage. Ideally, they balance each other out. Approach is foundational to most forms of learning, while avoidance can inhibit higher-level learning by forcing us to fixate on our immediate response to a task, rather than a long-term goal. Ultimately, to survive, we need both, but when they’re out of balance, it can lead to impulse-control problems, anxiety, or depression, among other mental health struggles.

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