How to generate motivation and engagement in your child’s learning

Student engagement is the product of motivation and active learning. It is a product rather than a sum because it will not occur if either element is missing. – Elizabeth F Barkley

During the period of Lockdown one area of concern for some students has been motivation to continue with schoolwork and co-curricular activities. There have been varied responses from students to remote learning, with some appreciating the ability to work at home by themselves, to those students who value classroom discussion and the daily face-to- face connections with their teachers and friends. Loss of co-curricular activities for some students has had a further impact on their motivation.

The research I discuss in this article can be used by parents when providing support to their children and daughters at home.

Cycle of motivation and engagement

Professor Andrew Martin from the University of New South Wales has undertaken extensive research on the topic of motivation and developed the Motivation and Engagement Wheel. I have read a number of his research articles and also some presentations within Australia and have learned more about this topic.

Motivation refers to the internal drive, energy and inclination to do something. For students, this might refer to their internal energy and drive to study, complete their homework or attend their dance lesson. Engagement is the more observable behaviour and manifestation of motivation.

Professor Martin writes that students who are motivated tend to be engaged. When you have a strong internal positive drive, you then behave in ways consistent with that, for example, you will try harder or persist for a longer period of time.

Steps to creating positive motivation

The Motivation and Engagement Wheel is comprised of 11 parts and three of these refer to positive motivation. The first part refers to the self-belief of the student, the second is their valuing school and the third is their learning focus.

Professor Martin suggests that understanding the three specific components of motivation is the foundation block for parents supporting their children. The next step is to undertake an audit, and thinking themselves about their child’s strengths in the areas of self-belief, learning focus and the value of school.  This focus on strengths will then lead into the identification of where improvements can be made and how these can be specifically addressed.

  • Self-belief. Self-belief is the academic self-confidence of the student and the belief she has in her capacity to do what they set out to in their homework, study and assessments. Self-belief is about how much the student will back herself.

Professor Martin suggests that giving students access to genuine success will fuel self-belief and confidence. One strategy he offers to parents is to help their child through ‘chunking’ a task which is breaking it down into smaller pieces. When a task is broken down in to more doable pieces, the child realises her capability in completing each element and thus feels success.

  • Valuing school. Valuing school is the extent to which a student believes that school is useful, relevant and connected to their life now and in the future. A student who values school will see that their work is important or interesting and this will make them curious to learn more.

Parents can help their children to see connections and relevance by speaking with them about the interesting parts of a topic or how the subject will be useful in their pathway beyond school. Topics within a subject can lead to curiosity on the part of the child and this will help with engagement and valuing school.

  • Learning focus. Learning focus is where students are focused on their progress or journey through school. They are focused on their effort, their skill development, their knowledge building and understanding more than the marks they receive. Parents can support the learning focus by speaking with their child about their skill development, knowledge building and understanding.

Positive engagement

On the Positive Engagement section of the model we know that when a student is engaged, then they will also become more motivated.

Professor Martin notes that there are two ways to help boost the persistence of a student and the first is to draw on those time when she has persisted before. This will encourage the student to see that their previous demonstration of persistence can be used successfully once again. The second way to help boost persistence is through goal setting with the student.

Task management which refers to how students use their study or homework time can be improved through helping her to clarify in her mind what the task is asking of her and spending some time to think out how to do the task. This will lead to planning the answer and preparing a plan before writing a response to the task. Working through the steps involved in preparing for a task and planning a timetable for the completion of the task are also valid support mechanisms.

Professor Martin gives attention to the importance of helping children and young people to define success in terms of their personal bests. Parents can provide positive feedback to their daughters about their improved persistence, their completion of each task, the curiosity and interest observed when completing an activity and the improvements made from the previous task or homework activity.

Susan Just
Principal, Lauriston Girls’ School