While reading the article “The Science Behind What Motivates Us to Get Up for Work Every Day”, I couldn’t stop thinking about how students are motivated in the classroom. How do faculty members contribute to that motivation? Post author, Walter Chen, admits quickly that we are not robots and work does not occur mechanically. As humans our ability to work is heavily influenced by how we feel—our emotions. This is equally true for students in the classroom. Just because we expect students to attend class regularly, does not mean they will regularly attend class in an emotional state that is ready to learn. Sometimes we leave the classroom and feel “off our game”. This happens to students as well, but we have our curriculum. We have our syllabus stating what’s to be covered and what’s next in line, deviation is not an option because our students might be having a “bad day”.  Science tells us though that these negative emotions affect our productivity—our ability to process, synthesize, and be creative.


Chen dispels the belief that money is a motivator. Through various studies, it has been seen that monetary incentive actually decreases a person’s motivation to complete tasks. In Daniel Pink’s research, he has found that when you move “above rudimentary cognitive skill, reward systems do not motivate”. Relating back to the classroom, grades could be considered an equivalent to money.  While grades often times are the driving force behind getting a student to do the work required in the class, does this motivate deep learning? Receiving a grade on a project shows that a student completed and submitted a project that is satisfactory, but is it a display of mastery and understanding? Depending on the student, I think it could be justified that it is, but this is not true for every student. Daniel Pink believes there are three factors that push us to work hard— autonomy, mastery, and purpose.


How can we create an environment of autonomy, mastery and purpose in the classroom to motivate students to learn on a deeper level?


Here are some ideas on how to promote these concepts in the classroom.



When creating opportunities for autonomy in the classroom, give students the option for creating or building their educational path with your guidance. Instead of depending on lectures, create a culture where you are the moderator and facilitator of discussion. Allow students the opportunity to share what they are learning and how they are learning. Some suggestions are:

-       Class discussions

-       Course blog

-       Have students find relevant resources to add to the body of knowledge in the classroom

-       Variety in course projects/assignments where students can choose their method of delivery/execution

-       Have students help define the execution/flow of assignments for the semester


-       Provide quick constructive feedback on projects, assignments, and writing

-       Allow students the opportunity to implement changes and learn from feedback

-       Allow students to practice giving feedback to their peers

-       Have students pose questions for tests/quizzes

-       Flip some of your lessons or entire course

-       Create projects where students can display their knowledge level and mastery through peer instruction/guidance


-       Point out how the course material is relevant to the students’ future goals

-       Discover the interests of your students in the course and incorporate those interests into activities/assignments

-       Incorporate service-learning into the course

-       Develop projects with other faculty that cross courses and/or disciplines to show students the interconnectedness of courses and disciplines


By no means are these lists exhaustive. What are some ways you are creating these types of opportunities for your students?


While we may not be able to control the emotions that students bring into the classroom, we can work to create opportunities and environments that support and promote motivation within the classroom.


“I never teach my students. I simply provide the situations in which they can learn.” Einstein
















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