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Some Strategies for Increasing Student Motivation

Given the numerous personal, social, and institution barriers that many adult learners overcome to get themselves to class, it could be suggested that they don't need to be motivated. Evidence shows that students who are more internally motivated have greater success in school. There are, nevertheless, several things that good teachers can do to make the most of students' motivation for learning and achievement. We describe below five broad strategies that can help to increase adults' motivation for literacy learning. We also invite adult literacy educators to share examples of how they have employed one or more of these strategies when working with adult learners. To do so, describe the motivational activity in the appropriate dialogue boxes below. Interested readers are invited to join the conversation.

1. Model positive attitudes toward literacy learning for students. A positive attitude is contagious! Given their academic histories, many ABE students hold negative attitudes toward school and learning. They often need to be shown how a positive attitude about learning can actually improve their performance.

bullet Response Box 1: Describe a teaching situation with an adult learner where your presentation of a positive outlook resulted in the student changing their attitudes and feelings towards some learning task or activity.

2. Hold high expectations for students; challenge them to meet those expectations; and give clear, explicit, and constructive feedback when students meet or fail to meet those expectations. Many adults in ABE programs have suffered a history of others' low expectations of them-from their teachers to their employers. Many adult educators find that students will rise to the level of expectations their teachers hold for them. On those occasions when their performance falls below what they are capable of doing, show them exactly how or where they have failed, and then focus on what they know and can do.

bullet Response Box 2: Share an example of how your expectations for students' performance has helped to increase an individual student's learning. Describe what you did and how the student responded.

3. Help students to set goals, plan activities, and monitor their own progress in literacy learning. When students create their own plans for learning and keep track of how they are performing, they are more likely to follow through and to complete the activities and tasks they have selected. Whenever learners set their own goals, they discover they control their learning. Help students create a plan of action, demonstrate the importance of setting goals, and show them how to chart their progress toward achieving their learning goals.

bullet Response Box 3: How have you helped your students in their goal-setting and planning activities? What do you do to show them how to monitor their progress as learners? What changes have you found in your students as a result of these behaviors?

4. Increase students' intrinsic motivation by selecting learning activities that engage students' interests and curiosity. Create opportunities for learners to investigate subjects they want to know about. Talk with them about their interests and capitalize on these topics by providing books, recordings, and other materials and resources that enable them to "dig into" these areas of personal interest.

bullet Response Box 4: Describe one or more examples of teaching activities that you have used with learners that focus on their personal interests. How successful have you found these activities to be for promoting literacy learning?

5. Provide academic and emotional support to students. Given their poor reading and writing skills, most ABE students are likely to have inadequate study skills. Demonstrate some strategies for effective learning, give students opportunities to practice these study strategies, and provide corrective feedback until they can use the strategies competently. Students will undoubtedly encounter many setbacks as they attempt to increase their literacy skills, and will feel discouraged. Demonstrate your concern for your students. Encourage them to talk about their feelings; then listen and reflect their feelings back to them so they know you have heard and understand.

bullet Response Box 5: Why do you think it is important for you to demonstrate your concern for your students? How do your students respond when they are aware that you care about their success?

Santrock, J.W. (2001). Educational psychology. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Stipek, D.J. (1993). Motivation to learn: From theory to practice (2nd ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Wlodkowski, R.J. (1993). Enhancing adult motivation to learn. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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