Three Essential Steps To Boost Student Motivation

Three Essential Steps To Boost Student Motivation

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Do the pupils you work with lack motivation? Do they seem disengaged with their learning or lose interest in tasks quickly?

Discover three crucial teaching elements in this episode of School Behaviour Secrets that can transform your lessons into motivational learning experiences for all your students. Boost your teaching toolkit and empower your students for success today!

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Show notes / transcription

Emma Shackleton  0:00  

Are you teaching students who lack motivation with their work, just lack interest or who are consistently disengaged, then keep listening because in this episode of school behaviour secrets, we're going to share the three essential elements that make tasks motivating, according to research.

Simon Currigan  0:20  

Welcome to the school behaviour secrets podcast. I'm your host, Simon Currigan. My co host is Emma Shackleton and we're obsessed with helping teachers, school leaders, parents, and of course students when classroom behaviour gets in the way of success. We're going to share the tried and tested secrets to classroom management, behavioural Special Needs, whole school strategy and more all with the aim of helping your students reach their true potential. Plus, we'll be letting you eavesdrop on an app conversations with thought leaders from around the world. So you'll get to hear the latest evidence based strategies before anyone else. This is the school behaviour secrets podcast. 

Hi there. Welcome to this week's episode of school behaviour secrets. My name is Simon Currigan And my favourite sodas are Tango, Pepsi Max, washing, caustic and bicarbonate. All great sodas, the very best. I went all Donald Trump then, they're the best sodas, the very best. Anyway, my co host is Emma Shackleton. She's here with me today. Hi, Emma.

Emma Shackleton  1:22  

Hi, Simon. I think we're getting used to it by now.

Simon Currigan  1:26  

Theyre the very best. So just before we get into this week's episode, I've got a quick question for you, 

Emma Shackleton  1:31  

Of course.

Simon Currigan  1:32  

Right. This is a good one, according to a June 2023 poll by YouGov. Which would you say is the strongest motivator for most people? Is it to try and look impressive, or at the opposite end of the scale, Just to avoid embarrassment?

Emma Shackleton  1:50  

Oh, avoid embarrassment. I think. Embarrassment is a really powerful emotion that stings and can stay with people for a long time. So I think that would be a motivator. Am I right? Go on. Enlighten me.

Simon Currigan  2:05  

Okay, so there was a clear winner on this. 63% of people said that they're simply trying to avoid embarrassment. And what's interesting, we broke down the numbers. Women were so lightly more motivated by avoiding embarrassment, as were people in Scotland compared to other areas of the UK. And the highest figure was for Lib Dem voters, interestingly, but I personally couldn't figure out the link between voting Lib Dems and seeking to avoid embarrassment.

Emma Shackleton  2:35  

No, Let's not go there. So how is this related to what we're going to talk about on the podcast today?

Simon Currigan  2:43  

So today, we are going to share the three things that make tasks in class and more motivating to your pupils According to research, which means if you're working with pupils who lack motivation, or they're disengaged, you're in the right place, this episode will be absolutely perfect.

Emma Shackleton  3:01  

But just before we get into those strategies, I've got a quick request and some useful information. If you've been listening to the podcast, and you're finding it helpful, open your podcast app now. And make sure to like and subscribe to us so that you never miss another episode. Obviously only do that if it's safe for you to do that right now.

Simon Currigan  3:21  

So if you're currently say using a blowtorch, operating a bacon slicer, or rocking a baby penguin to sleep in your arms,

Emma Shackleton  3:29  

Absolutely, keep your device in your pockets. And secondly, if you're working with a difficult class, there might be some simple tweaks that you could make to the way that you've organised the environment, or the format of your lessons, for example, that could really improve whole class behaviour. If that sounds interesting to you, we've got a completely free download that goes alongside this episode, and it's called the classroom management score sheet. Inside the score sheet, you'll find a list of 37 factors that have a huge impact on classroom behaviour. 

Simon Currigan  4:05  

The score sheet has a list of things that you're doing or not doing. Think of it as a clear roadmap to improve your presence and whole class behaviour in the classroom. It's based on 1000s of observations Emma and I have conducted between us, so you know, it's based on sound classroom practice. And if you're supporting a colleague with their classroom management, if you're a senior leader, and you need to help develop a member of staff in how they manage behaviour in the classroom, it can help make your feedback and your action points even more clear, and objective. 

Emma Shackleton  4:37  

Great, We'll put a direct link to where you can get your free download in the episode description. All you've got to do is open this episode in your podcast app, look at the text that goes with it and tap through to the link. It'll take you straight to the page on our website where you can get your free copy. So go and grab yours today. 

Simon Currigan  4:56  

That said it means it's time to envelop ourselves in the Soft, reassuring arms have the slightly damp swimming noodle we call behaviour.

Emma Shackleton  5:05  

So, I think before we get into what you need to build into a task to increase motivation and engagement, we need to look at three questions that the psychologist Albert Bandura raised around motivation. And that will feed into the elements that we're going to look at. So the first of those three elements is, Can I do it? For most kids, this is not an issue. But for pupils with low resilience or low self esteem, this is a really big issue. And I bet you've all come across children in your class, who, before they even start a task, they find a way to reject it. So maybe as you're giving the introduction, or explaining what to do, immediately, the pupil is feeling like they're not going to be able to do it. Sometimes they don't even let you get to the end of the explanation of the task. And they've already decided this is going to be too hard for me, I'm going to fail. So I'm automatically going to find a way to avoid this task, because that feeling of failure is very overwhelming, and it's uncomfortable. And we all do things to avoid uncomfortable feelings. So you'll have kids in your class who immediately are bucking against the idea of even starting this task, just in case they fail,

Simon Currigan  6:28  

Then you got to think about elements like toxic shame. So this is especially important if you've got working with children who have a history of adverse childhood experiences or ACE's or trauma in their background. Because toxic shame is where you take on the identity, you've heard and learned the damaging wounding early message that you are a bad person that you're unlovable Now, you might not be able to articulate that in words. But that kind of pervades your sort of attitude to life, the way you see the world and the way you see things that happen to you. So if a child's doing a piece of work that's handed out, and they're looking down at the sheet, the worksheet or the book that they've been given for most children, if they look at that piece of work and think, Well, this is a bit of a challenge, I might get that wrong, it's not really much of an issue, because it's about the work. But if you have the identity of someone who is bad, who is unlovable who's unworthy, then you might look, you might frame that piece of work in a completely different way, you might look at that challenge. And think, if I can't do that, this is yet more evidence that I am a bad person that I am unworthy in some sense. And that is going to completely change the behaviours you get, your instinct is going to be to damage your work, rip it up or to walk away from it. Because that work can have a high emotional charge linked to your identity. So that's one thing to bear in mind, if you're working with kids with a history of trauma, or ACEs.

Emma Shackleton  7:55  

And the other elements of this is losing face in front of others. So feeling like other children in the class will notice that I can't do this work. Or they'll notice that I'm not very good at it, or that I need extra help or extra scaffolding or extra support from an adult. And that makes me feel bad, it makes me feel ashamed. And I don't want my peer group to know that I can't do this. So instead of attempting the task, I'm going to find a way to avoid starting the task in the first place. Because that feels safer for me to do.

Simon Currigan  8:31  

So the first question was, can I do it? The second question is, is it worth it? Is the amount of effort involved commensurate with the rewards. And to another extent is the work that I'm doing connected to my personal interests and ambitions. So if someone gives you a piece of work, and it's challenging, it's hard, and you're gonna have to work on it for an hour, and it's gonna require huge amounts of concentration and focus, when you actually measure the calorie burn of someone working at a desk on a task that's challenging, you are literally burning calories more quickly than someone who's just sitting there there is genuine effort involved there. Naturally, the human response whether you're an adult or a child has to think, is it worth it? Are the benefits of doing this task commensurate? Are they proportional to the amount of effort I'm going to put in and some children will say yes, and some children will say no. And what's interesting is, if the results if the benefits if the payback from doing the work involves some delayed gratification that you're going to have to wait to see the benefit, you're gonna have to wait to sort of get that hit of dopamine or to complete the work or when a reward or get the recognition or whatever it is, if this is work, that's going to take a long time for you to see the benefit from well, how are we teaching and explaining kids the benefits of delayed gratification? Because we know two thirds of people are very, very now focused. They find it very hard to look down the line and think my reward will come for having done this work and I say rewards here, that might just be the sense of pride in completing a long piece of work, you know, a project or something like that. Most people have a very short time horizon in terms of when they want their gratification, they want to be gratified immediately. So we really need to think about when we're describing to the kids the task, we need to build a component here that explains why the effort is worth it. And actually, you might not see the benefit and get the enjoyment from the completion of that work until way down the line. 

Emma Shackleton  10:31  

OK, so the first question was, can I do it? The second question was, is it worth it? And the third question is, will my work achieve the stated aim? So what we mean there, kids have got to have faith in the task that the teacher is setting that what they are actually doing, and what they have to perform is going to result in the right outcome for them. So you know, what is the point of this work? What is it going to bring for me? How will it help me reach the aim or the goal? So there's quite an element of trust here in the teachers competence to lead the student to success? If they put the work in? If the teacher doesn't project that that's going to affect pupil motivation. Kids are going to think, what's the point of this? What's in it for me? it's not going to get the outcome that I need. So why should I bother? 

Simon Currigan  11:27  

So that said, Those are three important questions, what do we actually need to build into our tasks. And we're going to look at the three step model proposed by Dan Pink, who wrote a really interesting book on motivation called Drive. And the first element we need to build into our tasks is autonomy. So autonomy is having a measure of control or ownership about how the task is done. So you feel like you've got some investment in it in some way, it's not just been handed over to you, you're not just been told to do it in a really specific way that you have no choice. So think about as a teacher, if you were forced to put up a behaviour display, say in your classroom, and you were given no say into how that display worked, you were essentially given a picture of what it should look like and loads of printouts for you just amount, you've got no personal investment, no, say you can't put your own style on it. Think about how committed would you be to doing that well,?Or if that behaviour display was implementing a system in which you couldn't put your own spin on? Well, how committed would you be to implementing that system? Well, probably not as high as if you'd had some ownership of it or some control. And what's interesting is, you may seek to avoid punishment, right? You may put up the display in a very kind of minimal way. But as school leaders, what we have to recognise is punishment only gets you as far as compliance. And as teachers, we have to recognise that punishment only gets you as far as compliance. If you want people to be committed and motivated to go beyond compliance. We need to think beyond these factors. Because we want people to do things to the best of their ability. A good parallel here is I think, speeding on roads, if you go through the road camera, a traffic camera, and you're going too quickly, you will get a ticket, which is a punishment, that punishment does not persuade people get people excited about or believe, to drive in a safer, slower, more considerate way, all people are doing is complying down the stretch of road, that is the speed camera, and then speeding up afterwards. So compliance versus commitment. 

Emma Shackleton  11:27  

Yeah, So what you're saying here, then Simon is for the pupils to feel motivated, they need to have some choice and some control about how they complete the task. And it doesn't have to be massive, like having 30 kids in the class all doing different models or following completely separate lines of inquiry, because of course, that's impossible to manage. But what we can do is build in simple choices that are appropriate for the age of the pupils where they feel like they've got some input in how they're going to carry out the task. Let's face it, most people don't like being told what to do, and at school kids are being told what to do all day long. But where we can relinquish a little bit of control and provide some elements of choosing within what the children have to do, that's going to motivate them to want to do it their way. We don't really mind how they do it as long as they do it. So when they feel like they've got some simple choices to make, it might be things like giving the option to work with a partner or choose to work on their own, for example, or having a choice of questions to research and explore. It might be a simple as choosing the order that the tasks need to be done in. So if you've got two things that you want the children to complete in a lesson, you might be able to say, Look, guys, it's up to you, you can do task one first, or you can do task two, first, I don't mind you choose, it's up to you. And when you're using that language of choice, you're giving children a little bit of control over their learning. So they're more likely to be invested and interested in the task that you're setting. So it could be simple things like giving them the option to sometimes work on paper, sometimes work on post-its, sometimes work on a computer, just giving those simple choices where they get to pick which one do I like best, which one suits me best. And it's not going to be too onerous for the teacher to facilitate. 

So the more choice we have, the more ownership we feel of the task, or the more committed we are to the outcome, and the more motivated we are. So just listening to you there. And he was talking about giving the kids choices, I can think about my personal experience where I've given the kids a range of tasks and a range of difficulty. And I've said to them, Look, you choose the one that works best for you. And interestingly, in my experience, they always pick the harder work, whereas they probably would have complained if I had directed them to their hard work because had the choice, they wanted to challenge themselves. So that's autonomy. 

Simon Currigan  16:24  

The next element Dan Pink recommended you include is mastery. Right. This means linking the task carefully the level of challenge in the task to the child's abilities. So let's take another example from the adult world. Let's imagine you want to get better at the game of squash. So you're kind of you're not new to squash, you can play a little bit and you want to be able to improve your game. Who would you choose to play against? Okay? Would you choose to play against someone who is way worse than you and every time you play them, you absolutely destroy them, you beat them. 10 nil, 12 nil 30 nil every single time, you can obviously tell I've got no idea of the scoring in squash but there you go, you know, you get the idea. You just demolish them every time you play. What would you learn from that? You know, after a while, actually, that would be quite boring. You can't feel yourself improving. You can't feel yourself developing mastery. Would you like to play someone who is way, way better than you. And every time you play them, they demolish you, they completely destroy you, every time you turn up their skills are at such a level that you cannot compete with them. You're just stuck your level of development in terms of squash. Well, that's not satisfying, that's not motivating, you know, you're just gonna get turned up and get walloped. You don't feel yourself developing mastery. Or would you like to play against someone who is marginally better than you, someone who has developed slightly better skills? And as you found you're playing against that person because you were a better match, but they were slightly more capable. You could feel your mastery improving. Think about those three examples. You want to play against the person who is slightly better because you can feel your mastery of squash sort of improving and deepening. There's an example of this on online matchmaking lobbies. In video games, actually, video games like Fortnight and Call of Duty, what they do is when you're playing an online game, you're going into what's called a lobby with hundreds of other people. And what those games will try and do is matchmaking, that means they try and match you with 20 or 30 other players who are kind of your level and skill, because that increases your motivation to play. It increases the stickiness of the game and they make more money. Video games companies know that mastery is so important. It's so engaging and motivating, that you don't want to play against experts who are going to destroy you. You don't want to play people who are new to the game. Because you're going to find that boring you want to be matched with people have a similar level and skill and ideally, people who are ever so slightly better than you

Emma Shackleton  18:55  

Also a big element of mastery then is can I actually see and feel myself getting better at something? Do I notice those incremental steps that I'm actually gaining skills in something? So am I getting regular feedback? What ways are there that I can check in with my own progress? And do I actually understand what good progress looks like? Do I know exactly what I'm aiming for? And can I feel myself inching closer to that goal? And feedback done well makes people feel good. And there's no doubt about it. When we feel good about something and we believe that we are improving and we're getting better at it. We want to do it more. That's human nature. So we've got to think here is there a yardstick that I can measure myself against so I can see those steps of improvement however tiny they are. If you think about it, lots of systems that people choose to engage in in hobbies for example, have got built in rewards to work towards their little milestones where we can see that as we practice, as we invest, as we learn more, we are gaining little rewards. So think about things like Scouts and Guides where they work towards badges, you know, you see people and they've got their sleeves, absolutely full of adornments of all of those badges that they've gained as they building up their skill set. And that's motivating people want to get those badges and stitch them on their shirts or on their towels, I remember when I used to swim as a child, we used to stitch our achievement badges onto our towels. And that would be like a little badge of honour walking around with your towel with all your badges stuck on there. And we like that same with music, too. You know, people progress, their music skills, they practice, they reach the next grade, and then they aim for the next grade up. And they get that feeling of accomplishment as they achieve each step.

Simon Currigan  21:01  

And when you're sort of designing these yardsticks into the task, do remember to focus on where your pupils started from, not just where they are now, or where you want to get them to, as teachers are often very focused on targets and getting pupils to certain places. So we think about where are they at the current moment? And where do we want to get them to, and we focus very much on that gap. But actually, sometimes what we need to do to help them feel that sense of improvement and mastery is the think of where did you start from the very start of the year or six months ago. So we're looking at the true starting point. And then we're looking at where we want to get them to and where they are now. And then he can see the progress immediately from six months ago or a year ago. Now this is something we're terrible at in the teaching profession as adults for ourselves, actually, we're very GAP focused. And unless we do step back and thinking about what the true starting point was for ourselves and our kids, we're only ever kind of in an inverted commas "in the lack". We're always thinking about what's missing, what's not there. And we lose the sense of actually, where do we start from on what have we gained over time. 

Emma Shackleton  22:10  

I think that really resonates with those actually, as well, Simon, as we developed what we're doing at Beacon, we are very forward focused and looking at what to do next, then. And it's really useful sometimes just to pause and look back and think Where have we come from and what have we achieved so far. And that gives us that sense of not mastery just yet. But we can see our progress, and we can see how we want to move forward.

Simon Currigan  22:34  

Anyone who listened to the intro to this podcast can see the gap. Focus on the gain,  like we're 170 episodes in, there must be some progress. 

So we've got autonomy, we've got mastery. And the third element is Purpose does what I am doing make any kind of a difference to me? Is it connected in some sense to my personal ambitions or dreams? Or where I see myself in the future? Is it aligned with my goals, or the people I care about? A classic example of this is as kids move through secondary school, let's imagine at the moment, as we record this, there's a lot of talk about forcing kids to reset their maths GCSE as if they failed them the first time. And you think about that you think about a child in the situation where they're having to go back and go and do additional math classes. And they're probably thinking to themselves, you know, I failed my GCSEs. And then I failed my resets. And I'm being forced to do stuff that in all honesty, I'm never going to use in the real world. So what's the point, I'm never going to use the cosine rule. When I go out, and I want to be an artist, I was working with a group of kids in a secondary school, and they weren't interested in art whatsoever. But because of the way the school was structured, they had to do art as one of their GCSEs. And they say, Well, you know, they're not motivated. And really, is that a surprise? They're being forced to do something, which they don't see as personally relevant? 

Emma Shackleton  23:54  

Oh, absolutely. And I see this I bet you do to Simon, through our work in schools, lots of the children that schools ask us to come in to observe and give advice about are the ones who are unmotivated, and children are really honest, you know, I've had a lot of children say to me, like, what is the point? What is the point of history? What is the point of maths? And really, this is where you've got to find out what makes them tick, what are their aspirations, what do they want, after this, and if they want to be a professional footballer, if they want to be a professional gamer, whatever they want, you then have to make the conversation around their education fit that narrative. You know, if you want to be a professional footballer, then you're going to need to be good at maths because you're going to need to look after your millions that you've made, you're going to have to be able to budget you're going to have to pay your team, you're going to have to make sure your accountants not ripping you off. So you're going to need to know a bit of maths around that. So it's almost like linking the education that they have to do, and making it have a purpose individually for them. Some kids are not going to turn up to school and just do it. Because that's what everyone else is doing. They have to see what's in it for me, how is this directly going to benefit me? Because if I can't see the point, I'm just not going to engage with it. 

Simon Currigan  25:21  

Yeah. When we asked the question, and this is going back to what we said earlier, this is about purpose. And is it worth it? Actually, that question is incomplete? Is it worth it to who? Is the school sort of promoting the kids to a certain subjects to improve their places in the league tables? Well, the school has one agenda. Is it worth it to the government who cares about our country's place in the PISA tables? That's another agenda? Or is it worth it to the student, all of these people have differently aligned motivations, I found one great way of encouraging motivation, though, is to help the child see how this piece of work they're doing fits into the bigger picture. So let's imagine a primary school classroom. And across the week, we're going to be doing a range of English activities. And one of them is a handwriting lesson. And one of them is a spelling lesson. Both of which pretty much however you deliver them are deathly boring, right? I've never found anyone yet who has made an inspiring and motivating handwriting lesson. But what we can do is help the children see where that spelling lesson. And where that handwriting lesson fits into the bigger picture, we can do a mind map or a topic map of the English work across the week or across the two or three weeks. And we can say to them things like well, at the end of the week, we are going to be doing a piece of display work that requires really neat joined up handwriting. And we're going to be practising certain joins uncertain words. And that's going to be the purpose of doing this. This is one important element of a series of steps towards an end target, which is to do a beautiful piece of display work. So you'll be doing some creative story work, we're going to be looking at how you present that. And all of the spelling's we're looking at are going to be related to that final piece of work. And then seeing that bigger picture and how the different pieces of the jigsaw kind of fit together can create that sense of purpose. There's a classic story about this, I'm probably going to mangle it a little bit. But imagine an architect two or three hundred years ago, and he's walking across a building site and he sees three builders up on a scaffold on a rainy day, The first two look really dejected, they're ready to give up, they're bored. And there's one of them one of the three is still highly motivated, pushing on through the rain, dedicating himself to his job. So he asked the first one, one of the two who is ready to down tools, he asked them, What are you doing? And the man replies back? I'm laying bricks, and I'm ready to go home. I don't like the rain, you asked the second dejected worker who's wet through, the same question, what are you doing? And the man replies, I'm building this retaining wall. And then he moved to the third worker, the one who was still inspired and highly motivated, and looked as if he was enjoying his work, even though it was cold and rainy. And he said to that, man, what are you doing? And the man replied, I'm building a cathedral to the Almighty, where people will celebrate His goodness for hundreds of years to come. And that story demonstrates that although all three men were doing the same work, they had very different guiding purposes. And one could see where his cog his piece of the jigsaw fitted into a bigger overall purpose.

Emma Shackleton  28:29  

So I guess what we're saying here, then is make sure your students understand the purpose, even of the boring or mundane tasks, and the message doesn't have even to be or inspiring. Sometimes it's just clarity around for example, this work isn't directly relevant to you, I get it. But to get on the course that you want to post 16 You're going to need five GCSE passes. And this is one of them. That just puts things into context, it might not be the most or inspiring message. It's kind of artificial. But the task does now have a purpose. You can answer the question, what's the point of this?

Simon Currigan  29:10  

And those are the three elements that increase motivation on tasks for pupils and for adults. They were more autonomy do I feel like I have some ownership some choices some control over the task that I've been given.

Emma Shackleton  29:22  

Mastery. Can I feel myself getting better at the task?

Simon Currigan  29:26  

And Purpose, is this task related to my own personal goals or desires.? 

Emma Shackleton  29:31  

So that's all we've got time for today. And if you found this episode useful or valuable, then I'd like to motivate you to leave us a rating and review. When you leave a review. You tell the algorithm to let other podcast listeners know about school behaviour secrets, and you've done your best to share this information with other teachers, school leaders and parents. So thanks for that.

Simon Currigan  29:54  

And to celebrate reviewing the podcast why not get rubbing, brass rubbing, taking rubbing from coins from the past taking a rubbing of the pattern of some decorative stonework beside a door in a country house. Rubbing down action transfers. Rub two sticks together to make a fire. Rub out a mistake you've written a letter to a friend, rub over the carved a latticework on a tombstone, rub a  balloon or a woollen jumper to make it stick to someone's hair to celebrate leaving a review. Whatever you love to rub, just rub it 

Emma Shackleton  30:23  

Moving quickly on it's my job to say that that's all we've got time for today. We hope you have a great week. Lots of rubbing, and can't wait to see you next time on school behaviour secrets bye for now.

Simon Currigan  30:36  


(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)