Have you ever been labeled as “unmotivated?”

Most of us don’t think about motivation on a day-to-day basis. 

It’s when we want to change habits or accomplish something new and bold that we once again become conscious of what it means to be motivated.

“I want to start exercising more.” You set that goal, join a gym, find a supportive trainer, start working out regularly, and begin to feel more energized.It goes well — “I want to run a marathon!” Maybe you do, or maybe you decide to scale back and start with a 5k.

Regardless of the outcome, you experienced what it means to be motivated, and how this mindset can shift. You have set an expectation for yourself and could see the value. 

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Though we know — from personal experiences as well as research — that motivation positively affects student learning, it is difficult for many of us to see student motivation as changeable and context-specific as our own personal motivation. 

Many schools and educators act as though motivation is a given trait: “Javier is such a motivated student!” “Sarah is just not motivated.” We tend to label students who don’t connect with the material, don’t feel challenged, or don’t feel supported as “unmotivated.”

As the research finds, our labels are often influenced by our own biases. Middle- and upper-class, White, and especially Asian students are seen as naturally motivated, while our own language and that of the popular press suggests low-income, Black, Latinx, and adolescent students present unique challenges in their motivation to learn. These biases — and the identity threats they present — can themselves negatively affect student motivation.

How we define, understand, and promote motivation matters, and it matters now more than ever as we seek to help students master an increasingly rigorous set of academic and cross-sector employability skills needed for career and life success in the 21st century. 

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In Finding the Formula: Understanding How Schools Can Improve Student Motivation, America Achieves Educator Networks shares the Expectancy-Value-Cost framework for understanding motivation and the factors that affect it. We look at four high schools across the U.S. that have made significant strides in motivating their students — not only to achieve academically but also to imagine and prepare for ambitious futures.

We believe schools and educators can play active and important roles in getting students ready to run their own races to career and life success. 

 

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