Back To School: How To Motivate High School Students To Learn

By Petrina Darrah 10 months ago

Getting high school students back into gear after summer holidays is no easy task, especially when nearly half of them have a chronic lack of motivation.

According to the National Research Council, 40 per cent of high school kids are consistently disengaged and inattentive in the classroom. The growing disconnect is keenly felt by teachers, who are struggling to find ways to make an impact on a new generation that is difficult to understand.

A lack of engagement is more problematic than just a bad case of boredom — motivation is a key factor in success, having been linked to higher academic achievement, a deeper understanding of concepts, and overall better satisfaction with school.

So, how can teachers tackle this problem? When you head back to school, try taking some of these suggestions along with you.

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1) Be Relevant

A high school service learning group contributes to our community development project in Quepos, Costa Rica.

A group of high school students contribute to our community development project in Quepos, Costa Rica.

Students quickly become disengaged when they feel that their work has no relevance to their lives. To help them engage with course material have them make connections between their personal lives and the subject matter.

Don’t do this for them, though – give them the necessary means and then let them do it themselves. Service learning projects, where students go into the community and carry out a community service project, are great way to help students put learning into context. When applying what they have learned in the classroom in the real world, they’ll be able to see how their studies are relevant in a tangible way.

Further Reading: What Is International Service Learning?

2 ) Be Authentic

Show your students that you aren't afraid to show your flaws and get your hands dirty.

Show your students that you aren’t afraid to show your flaws and get your hands dirty.

Authenticity can help your students relate to you as a person. Be vulnerable and share some information about yourself, such as your hobbies, struggles you’ve faced, or some of the accomplishments you’re proud of. Being your authentic self in the classroom will encourage students to develop meaningful relationships with you and each other.

Of course, you still have to make routines and expectations clear, but building a sense of community is more important than enforcing discipline. To help students engage with you and see you as more than just the person who lays down the rules, give a little of yourself.

Further Reading: All About Service Learning For High School Students

3) Set Goals And Rewards

Adopt a growth mindset.

Adopt a growth mindset.

Veer away from the mindset that natural abilities determine success and encourage students to develop a growth mindset  — the belief that hard work and dedication ultimately leads to mastery and a sense of accomplishment. Help students set short-term and long-term goals with clear rewards. Setting achievable targets can help students see their own progress, and get excited about hitting the next benchmark. Developing incentive programs or fun contests can be a good way to give students something to work toward and you can inspire them to constantly strive for better results by challenging them to beat their personal best.

Affirmations for meeting a deadline, reaching a goal, or even finishing a project on time can be meaningful and encouraging. Plus, prizes can be interactive and add more to the learning process, such as games with the whole class.

Further Reading: How To Facilitate Transformational Learning

4) Be Great At Giving Feedback

Honest, balanced feedback has been proven to be an excellent motivator, especially for the new generation of students.

Honest, balanced feedback has been proven to be an excellent motivator, especially for the new generation of students.

Feedback is one of the most important aspects of education, as it prompts students’ awareness of their own learning and teaches critical thinking skills. However, it only works when done well. Praising effort, for example, encourages the idea that we learn from hard work, whereas praising intelligence can make students feel like they are competing uncomfortably against their peers.

Striking a balance between positive and negative feedback is the key to making your comments constructive. Making your feedback as specific as possible is also more useful in helping students advance toward a goal than a generic ‘well done’.

Further Reading: Exploring The Role of The Facilitator

5) Engage Them In Future Plans

Get students thinking about where they might go to college and what their future career path might look like.

Get students thinking about where they might go to college and what their future career path might look like.

Help students connect their learning to the real world by showing them how it fits into their future plans. To do that, open up discussions about college and provide them with resources and set tasks for thinking about their future.

You can also involve the class in selecting class projects and school trips for the year. Tailoring these activities to their interests and goals will help them feel more involved in the learning process, which in turn means they will feel more invested in achieving a positive outcome. Getting students to come up with their own ideas and make decisions is empowering, granting them more autonomy over their own education.

Further Reading: Understanding David Kolb’s Experiential Theory Of Learning

6) Think Like A Gen Z

Technology has changed the way students learn and teachers should adapt their teaching methods to new expectations.

Technology has changed the way students learn and teachers should adapt their teaching methods to new expectations.

Generation Z have been raised in a digital era where attention spans have shortened to match the instant responses and two-minute videos made popular by social platforms. Breaking lessons up into more easily digestible sections and using digital applications whenever appropriate may be a better way to reach high school students than more traditional teaching methods.

If you’re not sure how to adapt to this mindset, simply ask your students. Get their input on ways to make the class more engaging and find out which apps they use to make their studies easier.

Further Reading: Service Learning And The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

7) Track Your Progress

Try out and test new classroom setups, lesson structures and class activities.

Try out and test new classroom setups, lesson structures and class activities.

Changing the way you teach and interact with your students is a process. Take an experimental approach not everything you do will work for every student or group, so try different methods and evaluate your successes or failures. As you evolve your methods, it’s okay to suffer the occasional defeat. This is a chance for you to learn, too!

To track your progress, set a time for yourself to check in with how things are going, assess anything that is working and that you can expand upon, or anything that you can just write off.  

Further Reading: 4 Critical Components Of Contemporary Education Abroad

8) Never Forget the Importance of Fun

Enthusiasm is still the best motivation for learning.

Enthusiasm is still the best motivation for learning.

Fun is the antithesis of boredom. Varied activities can encourage everyone to participate, hold attention, and break up the monotony of routine. Games can also be great educative tools, so having fun and learning can be mutually inclusive!

Another thing to remember is that you are representative of your subject matter and students take their cues from your attitude. If you show enthusiasm for the topic at hand then they will follow suit. Think about what interests you about the subject matter and create your lessons around that passion – your enthusiasm will be catching.   

To sum up, you can combat the apathy students feel toward schooling by being genuine, vulnerable and authentic, and helping them develop their own authority. With a little creative thinking and perseverance, you’ll be able to encourage teens to be engaged, independent thinkers. Check out GVI’s programs for inspiration on ways to use international service learning to complement students’ learning outside of the classroom.

Further Reading: Examining Group Dynamics In Service Learning