Teacher as Cheerleader: Strategies for Reigniting Student Motivation
Students usually start the semester feeling motivated. They want to succeed and have a plan for handling their responsibilities. Many of them do pretty well for the first part of the term, but at some point during the semester, often after school breaks or vacations, they lose steam.
Our journey isn’t over! Strategies to re-engage students
Students who’ve lost their motivation stop attending class as regularly or pay less attention in the classroom. Their assignments aren’t completed with the same amount of care; they turn them in late or not at all. When students briefly lose their desire to excel academically, teachers can use several strategies to re-engage them.
Perspective (and cheerleading)
In the middle of a semester, many students feel overwhelmed; there’s simply too much to do before they get another break. After returning from breaks or vacations, students can also begin thinking they’re on the downturn of the semester and have already done the bulk of their work. To prevent students from coasting through the rest of the term, help them look forward to the rest of the journey.
It’s also helpful to provide perspective on what students have accomplished so far. A bit of cheerleading from an instructor can go a long way. One option is to devote part of a class to reviewing:
- The number of classes left in the semester and they things they’ll accomplish in that time
- The assignments and projects they’ve already completed
- What percentage of their grade is still on the line
- How remaining coursework will impact their grade
Evaluate study habits, reorganize, and assess
Many students start the school year or semester organized, but mid-semester, the techniques they were using fall apart or stop working. Other students may realize their lack of a system is problematic.
Duquesne University’s Center for Teaching Excellence suggests having students reflect on their learning processes and environments in order to identify what is (and isn’t) working, including:
- Do you know where your class syllabus is?
- Are due dates and deadlines for coursework on a calendar on your wall, laptop or phone (or all three)?
- Are you prioritizing assignments in the order they’re due?
- Are your all notes from class in one place?
- Do you have a schedule for working on longer papers or projects to avoid last-minute panic?
- Are you studying alone or with others? How is that working?
- Are you giving yourself a quiet space to study without distractions? If not, try going somewhere new.
After answering these questions, students can brainstorm new ways to approach assignments or organization in general. This type of reflexive thinking helps develop better learners as students think critically and carefully about what situations and systems help them to learn best. This can help them get back on track if they’ve lost focus.
Teachers can also have students turn in their notebooks once they are re-organized, thus ensuring they take time to put notes or other assignments in appropriate places. Organizing their work and deadlines helps students feel able to complete the remainder of the work.
Mid-semester student assessments
Teachers can use student assessments to determine how their classes feel about course material. Questions should focus on what students feel comfortable with, what they want more help on, or other issues they are facing that could impede success in class. This enables teachers to determine what they can do to promote achievement — and where students might be getting lost along the way.
Shake things up in the classroom
The middle of a semester is also a great time to switch things up in the classroom. This could be a new seating chart, creating new study or work groups, or trying new teaching strategies. Any change of pattern forces students to pay attention and to re-engage.
Review old concepts
It’s also important to remind students where they were before the break. This might mean reviewing concepts taught before the break, which will help students to process previous knowledge and work to build new connections.
Re-engaging academically can be hard both for students and teachers. Taking the opportunity to assess, re-design, and create new and better patterns enables teachers to give everyone the best chance of success.
Caitrin Blake has a BA in English and Sociology from the University of Vermont and a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Colorado Denver. She teaches composition at Arapahoe Community College.