Motivation is a vital component of school success. In Part 2, we looked at intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and found that intrinsic motivation in our students is stronger and longer lasting, in that there is a true interest in mastery of academic content.

Various factors that can affect motivation are:

  • How a person values the importance of a task
  • A person’s emotional reaction to tasks given
  • Goal setting
  • Intrinsic and extrinsic motivators
  • Self-efficacy (how one views oneself) and a person’s belief in his or her ability to perform a task
  • Self-regulation

This week, let’s look at an interesting find in the literature that will help us better motivate our students. Various studies have looked at differences in student task persistence when teachers take two different approaches. The two approaches are:

1. Praise the student’s intellect (e.g. “You are really smart in math.”)

2. Praise the student’s effort (e.g. “I like the way you worked on that math problem and the effort you used to solve the problem.”)

What were the results of the two approaches?

Students task persistence increased when effort was praised, and decreased when intellect was praised.

On a personal level, I can understand one reason for the results. When I was occasionally told I was “smart” in school, I had a secret fear the teacher might find out that I was not that smart after all. Therefore, if I didn’t make a mistake, I would keep my teacher’s belief in my “smartness.” Also, if something does not come naturally, but you have to work at it, you might feel this means you are not smart. Thus, a person might avoid more challenging tasks.

Teaching tip: Praise effort and student growth over intellect–it’s a better motivator!