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How to motivate students,

Based on an article from “The Hechinger Report”, by Jill Barshay. 

This is based on this study published September 2021. Pathways to Student Motivation: A Meta-Analysis of Antecedents of Autonomous and Controlled Motivations


Students’ self-determined motivation (acting out of interest, curiosity, and abiding values) is associated with higher academic well-being, persistence, and achievement. Self-determination theory posits that self-determined motivation is dependent on the satisfaction of three psychological needs (relatedness, competence, and autonomy), which are in turn facilitated through need-supportive behaviors from notable others. In this meta-analysis, conducted over 144 studies and more than 79,000 students, we sought to overview pathways to student motivation in order to verify (1) how do psychological needs rank in the strength of their prediction of self-determined motivation and (2) which autonomy-support providers (parents or teachers) are the most relevant for psychological need satisfaction in students and self-determined motivation. Results show that teacher autonomy support predicts students’ need satisfaction and self-determined motivation more strongly than parental autonomy support. In addition, competence is the most positive predictor of self-determined motivation, followed by autonomy and then by relatedness.

Some findings from the study;

First, teachers are far more influential than parents in motivating students to learn. “If you want your students to be motivated at school, parents are important but they’re not enough,” said Julien Bureau, associate professor at Université Laval in Quebec and lead author of the study. “The teacher has more tools to work with for student motivation.”

Second; how to foster the kind of internal or intrinsic motivation that really helps children and young adults succeed in school. The three needs are competency, belonging and autonomy.

Competence is the most important component. Students who have a strong sense of competence are likely to think that they’ll get better grades if they study or they’ll succeed if they do an exercise.

Internal motivation matters, two types are strongly associated with success in school, persistence and well-being.

Recommendations to teachers;

  1. Listen to the thoughts and feelings of students and respond to them with empathy.
  2. Explain rules and requirements so that students can understand why they’re being asked to do them
  3. Give students choices and allow them to personalize assignments.  For example, teachers might allow students to come up with their own writing topics or devise their own scientific experiments.


Is very difficult to measure and study. There are three needs that are important when measuring motivation. Competency, belonging and autonomy.

Julien Bureau points out that “If you start doing a task,” he said, “and it’s a new task, and you feel competent in it, and you feel connected with others, and you feel autonomous in doing the task, you’ve chosen to do it. You’ll have fun doing it. You’ll want to do it more. And you’ll be interested in learning.”

The question becomes this; does the teacher have time to do this? It is not easy to be efficient, get through the material so to say, and at the same time give the student voice and choice. That I guess is the dilemma for every educator.

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