Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Motivation for Learning

I’ve been thinking this week about what motivates a student to do well in school and about how I, as the parent and teacher can encourage and support my child. I’ve listed these motivators in the order that I, personally, think result in the most effective education (and happiest home).

  1. An Intrinsic Desire to Learn I think this is by far the best motivator. In fact, one of my reasons for teaching my children at home was the hope that they would enjoy learning and would become lifelong learners. I think this motivation is likely to produce the best retention and the happiest students.
  2. A Sense of Responsibility I have to admit—school can’t always be fun. Sometimes it’s just work. Some subjects just won’t be favorites and some facts just need to be memorized or learned, interesting or not. I’ve heard that commitment and responsibility are traits that predict future success more than innate intelligence. Having the ability to stick to something and to do one’s best work is a very important life skill, one that will be needed long after school days are over.
  3. Grades and Competition I think this is probably the most common motivation for students in traditional school. I know personally that after each of my three older children went to public school, they did their work for the grades, but seemed much less interested in actually learning or retaining the material for the long term. It seems to me that school can be a “game”—study, test, forget, repeat. Yet this motivation can still be useful if it gets a child to apply herself. Hopefully it won’t be the only motivation.
  4. Parental Pressure, Threats  Not a great motivator. This can work short term to get children to complete projects and catch up on work, but it ends up putting all the responsibility on the parent. Yet, when the above motivators aren’t working, I find myself resorting to this one.

Now….confession time. I am having a terrible time with my 13 year old. She’s outright refusing to do most of her work. She will sit with a math page for a full day and work 2 problems. Actually, her main priority seems to be defying and aggravating me. So much for the idealistic homeschooling family!

She does like to learn much of the time. She’s happy to spend time looking up animals on the internet or reading about historical figures. She says that she doesn’t like school, but when I ask her about specific subjects or topics, she will admit, “Yes, I am interested in that.” Right now, I think her desire to be in control overrides her willingness to do even activities that she enjoys.

So, we’re down to Motivator #4. I’m taking away privileges, TV, phone, seeing friends, free time. Pretty much everything. I’m bargaining, helping, trying to reason with her. In other words, all the responsibility is on me, not her. And I’m the one who’s stressed, because I’m the one who cares about achievement and goals and pleasing people. Not good.

We’re taking some time off right now so I can regroup and figure out what to do next. I’m refusing to engage her in any conflict and am just leaving the room when she acts rude or defiant.

You’d think that by child #4, I’d have this figured out, but they are all so different in personality! Have you been here? I’m open to any suggestions!

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