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Motivating Students

As I always knew, the problem of motivation starts well before college:

“My general level students bombed a test (did poorly). The very next day I allowed them to correct the ones that they missed using their textbooks - they had the whole period to make the corrections which were mostly term definitions right out of the book. Here are some results: 1. 2 of 29 did nothing. no additional writing on the test. 2. 10 of 29 simply guessed again…

I’ll spare you the rest of this Georgia teacher’s sad anecdote, but I will quote from his summation:

Isn’t, at some point, the STUDENT responsible for their learning? It seems that we have gotten away from this part of learning - the STUDENT’s responsibility.?

I worried about this with my classes last semester, and I find myself worrying again this semester. Some of my math students seem deeply uninterested in their success. I know that they may be deeply uninterested in the course content, but that’s not the same thing.


  • I gave them the opportunity to tweak their individual grading scale for the class. Many failed to submit a request.
  • I told them that they could only retrieve their graded exams if they scheduled an appointment with me. All except three or four passed on the opportunity. Granted, the grades were exceptionally high, but wouldn’t you want your test back to study for future tests?
  • Part of their homework this week was to complete an online survey by Sunday so that I could gather some statistical data they’d need to finish their homework. The response rate was abysmal.

I understand this teacher’s frustration. I believe I can make Math interesting, but there must be a seed of interest on the part of the students (as Kenn Kington says, “You can lead a horse to drink but that doesn’t make it right!“).

Bob Leamnson’s assertion is certainly true thinking and learning are indeed two different things. Bridging the gap is the challenge, and it’s made more difficult by low motivation on the part of the student.

2 Responses to “Motivating Students”

  1. Robert Says:

    I couldn’t figure out from skimming the article whether the writer was a high school teacher or a college teacher. The problem is the same in both settings, but it seems to me that the way you solve the problem differs. In high school, you’re supposed to be training students to take responsibility — so an unstated part of the curriculum is to take a failure of responsibility and teach the students something with that. In college, that responsibility is assumed to be part of the culture, so if a student wants to blow off an assignment and screw himself over, then let him. You make the requirements clear and extend plenty of help, but if they don’t take advantage then this is not my problem as a professor. (This is a little oversimplified, because motivating students is an important part of college teaching. But so is the idea of treating students like adults, which means letting them make their own mistakes.)

    I really like the one commenter’s idea of bringing a camera to class and taking pictures of students who are sleeping or loafing, and then presenting them with those photos if they ever come in to complain about their grades.

  2. Joe Talerico Says:

    I consider you a very motivating professor DRL I also think that students these days are becoming more and more lazier. I have found myself becomeing lazy but catching myself in the act. :-)

    As far as motivating your students I find that when i get my mid semester grade or any sort of overview of my grade, and it is not what i want, i tend to buckle down and study harder and spend more time doing HW. But like what Robert basically said, if you give them a break and they don’t take it then let them “screw themselves over”

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