How can we help students succeed? By building on four blocks of success: level of challenge, prior experiences, encouragement, and beliefs about success.
Do you teach students who are intrinsically motivated? Intrinsic motivation comes from within. It’s the sense of working toward something simply because we want to or because we feel a sense of accomplishment, and it is relatively easy to know when a student is intrinsically motivated. Students are motivated internally when they pursue an activity independently, enjoy the activity, don’t want to stop working until they are finished, move beyond the minimum expectations, and don’t care if there are rewards attached.
Intrinsic motivation has two foundational elements:
- people are more motivated when they value what they are doing.
- when they believe they have a chance for success.
In this article, we’ll focus on the building blocks to support success.
Building Blocks for Achieving Success
Students are motivated when they believe they have a chance to be successful. And that belief is built on four additional building blocks:
- level of challenge
- prior experiences
- beliefs about success.
First, the difficulty level of an activity and match of that with a student’s skill level is a major factor in self-motivation. Imagine that you enjoy playing riding a bicycle, and that you have competed in a local race. You have the opportunity to race against Lance Armstrong. How do you feel?
In that situation, there’s plenty of opportunity for challenge—probably too much challenge! For optimal motivation, the activity should be challenging, but in balance with your ability to perform.
That’s a struggle for most teachers; but that is the foundation of our jobs—starting where a student is, and moving him or her up to increasing levels of difficulty and providing appropriate scaffolding for learning at increasing levels.
Second, a student’s prior experiences are an important factor. I’m more likely to believe I can be successful in science if I’ve been successful in other science activities. On the other hand, if I’ve had multiple negative experiences reading poetry, I’m less likely to want to read poetry, since I don’t think I can.
A third building block to feelings of success is the encouragement a student receives from others. Encouragement can be in the form of words or actions, but it can also be in providing role models for students to see.
It’s also important for students to read and learn about people who failed before they succeeded, because the final building block is a student’s beliefs about success and failure. Many students view failure as the end rather than as an opportunity to learn before trying again. How you define success and failure drives many of your beliefs about your own ability to succeed.
A Final Note
There are ways teachers can help students succeed, even if they have not in the past. Using these blocks will help your students succeed at higher levels.