Boost Motivation by Bringing in What Students Love

Katelynn GiordanoBlog, Engage Better, Innovate Better, Personalize Student Learning Better

In This Post:

  • Building intrinsic motivation in our students is incredibly valuable.
  • An introduction to self-determination theory.
  • How to build motivation through students’ loves.

Our students, like ourselves, are human beings. And, like us, they have interests, passions, and lives outside of the walls of our classrooms. When we find ways to infuse those outside interests into our content, it makes our teaching more meaningful and relevant.

When we find ways to infuse students’ outside interests into our content, it makes our teaching more meaningful and relevant. Click To Tweet

Beyond that, it boosts engagement and allows our students to see themselves in the content area we teach. It also helps increase the intrinsic motivation of our students.

Intrinsic motivation is important. When our students are intrinsically motivated, they want to learn because of the benefit it brings to them. They want to succeed, not because of an external factor like a reward or to earn points, but because it will make them better.

Motivation theory, specifically self-determination theory, tells us that intrinsic motivation is cultivated by three factors: competency, autonomy, and relatedness.

Self-Determination Theory of Motivation

Competency is the notion that you are capable of doing something. I think of it as confidence. The confidence we need to take something on, knowing that we have a chance at accomplishing the goal. 

Relatedness has everything to do with connection. It is all about the relationships built in the classroom and the culture that exists for learning. Self-determination theory proves a point that many teachers already know to be true. Students are more willing to learn from you when they like you. It is, quite literally, the foundation of our learning environment and a vital component in motivation to learn.

Autonomy refers to choice. Students learn when they feel they have ownership in it. When it is truly theirs, it becomes important to them. Personalized learning and the inclusion of choice in our classrooms builds motivation to learn. It helps our students find meaning and value. And, it builds motivation to strive for success.

What does this have to do with bringing what they love into our classrooms?

The simple answer? Everything.

Boost Intrinsic Motivation

When we bring what our students love into the classroom, we are meeting these three psychological needs. And by extension, we are increasing their motivation to learn. 

Including student choice within our content area directly meets the need for autonomy. Autonomy-supportive classrooms are those where students have choice in the pace they work at, the topic they study, the product they create, and more. All of this doesn’t have to happen at the same time, especially if this is a new concept.

Start small. Include a menu of options for students to choose from. Start working on methods of self-pacing (like the Grid). Allow students to demonstrate their mastery of a skill in a way they choose. 

Take your time with the concept of choice, and begin building autonomy in your students. Transfer the ownership to them, and you’ll be amazed at what they create.

Relatedness is supported when we bring our students’ loves into the classroom because it helps us get to know them. We learn about their lives outside of school, their interests and their passions. From this, we see them as people and we build authentic relationships.

Inviting our students’ loves also cultivates our classroom community and culture. Not only do we get to see them more humanly, but their peers do as well. They find commonalities and shared interests, as well as discover new perspectives. And they always learn to see each other as more than just the person who sat next to them in math.

We all love things we’re good at. Our students are no different. When we bring those interests into our classrooms, we give our students an opportunity to be successful and feel it. 

Opening up our assessment processes and allowing students to demonstrate mastery in a way of their choosing is a great example. No student will choose a way that they are bad at. They are going to play to their strengths and choose a method that highlights their abilities, and likely, something they love, too.

Increasing intrinsic motivation boosts engagement and a deeper ability to learn. And we can do it in one simple way. By bringing what students love into the classroom.

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About Katelynn Giordano

Katelynn Giordano is a 6th grade language arts teacher in the Chicago suburbs and the Digital Content Editor for the Teach Better Team. She loves writing, both on her blog, Curriculum Coffee, and for the Teachers on Fire magazine on Medium. She is a dynamic educator with a focus on student empowerment in the classroom. 

Katelynn is active on Twitter and Instagram, and loves to collaborate with educators everywhere! In her free time, she enjoys relaxing with her husband and her cat, Chickpea, drinking coffee, and reading YA books.

Katelynn is also a member of the Teach Better Speakers Network.