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Motivating the Unmotivated?

In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (1990), M.F. Csikszentmihalyi documented the connection between a task's challenge and motivation. When the level of the challenge is too low, one's motivation vanishes as well.

Author Allen Mendler elaborates on Csikszentmihalyi's conclusion: "Climbing a mountain of dirt cannot motivate the same way that climbing a mountain can...our challenge, then, is to create mountains that students believe they can climb."

In his book, Mendler suggests and elaborates on five principles for motivating students who do not care. Below are those that seem appropriate to teaching/learning mathematics:

  1. Emphasizing Effort
    • Build on mistakes or partially correct answers
    • Encourage each student to improve one little thing every day
    • Give a reason for effort
    • Celebrate markers and endings
  2. Creating Hope
    • Ensure adequacy of basic skills
    • Create challenges that can be achieved
    • Show proof that mastery matters
    • Focus on learning process
    • Demand more than you really expect
  3. Respecting Power
    • Challenge the refusals respectfully
    • Give responsibility
  4. Building Relationships
    • Emphasize and affirm the student
    • Be open to student feedback
    • Offer genuine compliments
    • Share stories of yourself
  5. Expressing Enthusiasm
    • Share your love of the subject
    • Be a life-long learner
    • Be lighthearted
    • Arouse interest early
As we pass into the holiday season, reflect on these ideas...focusing specifically on those students you have not able to reach thus far. Perhaps on your next encounter with such a student, you will provide the appropriate mountain...and he or she may decide to try to climb it!

Source: Allen Mendler's Motivating Students who Don't Care, 2000