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Center for Faculty Development

Strategies to Increase Students’ Self-Motivation

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Assist students with becoming more motivated and self-directed to complete the work in your course that can reduce students’ anxiety and frustration and provide more opportunities for students to share their challenges with you. See the suggested strategies below that may assist with your efforts to motive students.

Focus on Growth Mindset

Growth mindset is the idea that one’s intelligence or skills can be changed through repeated practice, effort, and persistence (Dweck, 2016). In contrast, fixed mindset is the belief that one’s intelligence cannot be changed. Research has shown that growth mindset interventions lead to greater educational achievement (Blackwell et al., 2007), though some suggest this is due to increased encouragement (Li & Bates, 2019) to practice and preserve, as well as normalizing mistakes (Macnamara & Burgoyne, 2022). As such, it is recommended that instructors can explain growth mindset and provide praise on one’s efforts, targeted feedback, and normalize failures to assist with increasing student’s motivation. 

Explain Growth Mindset to Students

  • At the beginning of the course, with a reminder prior to approaching difficult content, instructors can share with students the notion of growth mindset. Here’s a great brief video that can be shared.
  • Considering sharing the major points from Carol Dweck’s (2016) book, Mindset: The new psychology of success.
    • Focus on learning over achievement. In adopting a growth mindset, the journey or process of learning is the goal rather than an outcome. “In the fixed mindset, everything is about the outcome.  If you fail — or if you’re not the best — it’s all been wasted.  The growth mindset allows people to value what they’re doing regardless of the outcome.” (Dweck, 2016)
    • Highlight that skills can be learned and many skills you aren’t ‘born with’, yet they are developed over time with practice.
    • Those with fixed mindsets tend to see feedback connected to their worth (Dweck, 2016). Therefore, helping students to realize that feedback can be useful in the learning process, rather than a judgement of one’s intellect and talent, can help student persist through challenges.

Provide Feedback that Helps Students to Develop a Growth Mindset

  • Praising your students’ efforts to engage in your class can help with developing a growth mindset and increase their motivation to continue to engage in your course. There are several methods you can use to notice their efforts.
  • In face-to-face courses, this may be as simple as commenting that you can see they are engaged and putting in effort during class activities or leaving this feedback on assignments (e.g., “Mikayla, I can tell you really dug into the readings this week given your thoughtful questions in our discussion. Keep up the good work.”)
  • For online courses, metrics are available in Canvas, such as time spent in the course (see example below), or noticing students submitted the first assignments on-time. Praise can be an email or feedback on an assignment in canvas (“ Alex I saw you’ve been spending a lot of time reviewing the resources in the modules this week. I think your efforts paid off on this first quiz. Let me know if you have questions on this material.”).

Canvas-Faculty Leadership Institute

Provide Feedback to Help Overcome Challenges and Encourage Effort

Providing students with targeted feedback on assignments and their engagement in your course can be beneficial, beyond fostering a growth mindset. This feedback should focus on their progress in the course as well as provide specific feedback on further areas of needed improvement.

  • Provide assignment feedback that is encouraging but direct. Be specific about things they did well and areas that still do not meet expectations. Explain why their work does or does not meet expectations clearly so they have actionable things to address for the next draft or assignment.
  • Feedback doesn’t always need to be from the instructor. Self-reflection also allows students to generate their own feedback by reflecting on their efforts and experiences in completing course assessments and activities. Educational leader, José Antonio Bowen, provides examples of using a cognitive wrapper to help students with this self-reflection.
    • Cognitive Wrapper- A cognitive wrapper is a brief survey that helps students make the connection between engaging in specific learning activities and success on specific assignments. This reflection can occur after an exam, big assignment, or other course assignments. As Bowen notes, cognitive wrappers should include the following:
      • Rationale- Make it clear this exercise is meant to help student improve.
      • Reflection- Get students to reflect on their preparation.
      • Comparison- Have them identify the mistakes they made in this process.
      • Adjustment- Identify ways they will prepare differently for the next assignment or exam
    • Examples

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