Teaching Tuesday: Motivating Students to Demonstrate Their Learning

By Allison Y. Casias, Ed.D., Adjunct Faculty

A young student utilizing a quiet space by reading

After teaching a lesson, it’s typical to have students engaged in group or individual work demonstrating what they have learned through reading, writing, listening or speaking. Sometimes students eagerly get to work, but other times they are unsure of what to do or lack motivation. What can we do to motivate students to demonstrate what they have learned?

Uncovering Perceptions and Building Relationships

There are several strategies we can implement if a student does not want to demonstrate their learning, but the most important is to build a relationship with the student; try to get to know them and talk to them, asking them questions to discover how you can support them, such as: 

  • Why is the student not engaged in completing their work? 
  • Did they have a challenging morning? 
  • Did they have a disagreement with a peer? 
  • Are they having a hard time understanding the assignment expectations?

It’s best to talk to the student to understand their perspective before taking other action. This can help you determine how to best support them as they engage with the demonstration of learning.

Using Quiet Spaces and Thinking Time

After speaking to the student, if they still are having difficulties, you can try a few additional strategies. One approach is to allow them to sit on their feelings for a while. This could be a quiet space in the classroom where they may have a change of seating position and/or scenery. Give them 10 minutes or more to identify their feelings.

It may help if you already have set up some predetermined strategies for students to use during these quiet times. For example, you can prepare questions for students to think about or use resources such as journals, books, sentence starters or even fidget tools. This not only helps students develop self-regulation, but it also allows teachers to build trust with the students.

Follow Up

Remember to follow up with your student regularly, later in the day or the next day, to find out how they are feeling. Talk to them about the assignment they missed the day before and allow them to make up the assignment and move on. If they are not feeling better, then it may be time to talk to the parent and the school counselor.

Ensure you document what happened with the dates, times and outcomes. If this is a recurring situation, you will have information to give to parents and counselors if and when you may need to have a parent conference. Remember to keep this information in a secure place with the rest of the students’ records.

Finally, let’s remember as part of educating the whole child, we are helping students develop self-awareness and coping skills that they will use throughout their lives. After they adjust to using these skills, they will appreciate your interventions. Providing students with whatever resources they need to reach their fullest potential is a part of our role as educators to facilitate equitable learning experiences for all students.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.