What should be done when a student is demotivated towards his studies?
Our meta-analysis on the consequences of academic motivation paints a general portrait of the positive and negative aspects that students can experience when they are strongly or weakly motivated. The resulting results, obtained by listing nearly 350 studies from different countries, are unequivocal: a pupil who attends school for pleasure, for interest or even because he values what he does there will have better grades, greater perseverance, better well-being, and fewer intentions to quit. However, the people involved with students know very well that motivating them to learn can sometimes be quite a challenge.
Researcher in education, I am trained in social psychology and I am interested in the elements of the school context that promote the development of students in their educational path.
Student motivation, a shared responsibility
The most desirable academic motivations are those referred to as self-determined. When Alice has fun doing an exercise in class with her friend, or when Xavier engages in an activity on the environment, which is close to his heart, they do not feel like simple pawns, but rather like active learners. They are then self-determined. However, being self-determined does not mean that they are solely responsible for their motivation.
We know that school and family environments play an important role in motivating young people. Both the teacher and the parent can create a more conducive environment for student growth. In order to achieve this, they must support the self-determination of young people. By seeing young people as people in their own right, with their own interests and values, it is possible to support their self-determined motivations.
Concretely, this means that the teacher and the parent, when interacting with a young person, must do so with empathy, that is to say, recognize that their thoughts and emotions are valid and important. The student will thus have a space to express his preferences so that they can be used to motivate him to continue his studies.
Next, the teacher and parent should explain the reasons behind their requests, such as justifying the importance of homework or exam preparation. This aspect is important, because if those who require young people to carry out work and lessons are not able to find good reasons for carrying them out, how can the young person be expected to be engaged in these activities ?
Finally, the teacher and the parent must support the active participation of young people. When they are active in their learning and, above all, when they can make choices that influence their school project, students feel that they are in control of their academic destiny.
The parent or the teacher, who has the most decisive role?
Our other meta-analysis, the one on the predictors of academic motivation, lists nearly 150 studies surveying more than 79,000 pupils and students from all over the world. It targets studies that assess teacher and parent behaviors and their potential effects on student motivation. It shows that the teacher predicts more strongly, and in a systematic way, the self-determined motivations of the students.
Concretely, this means that the teacher plays a key role in the development of these motivations, and that a parent, however well intentioned, could not completely compensate for a teacher who, by his practices, would harm the motivation. of the pupil. Why is that ? There are two main answers: formation and context.
The teacher has the power to further mobilize the motivation of young people, because it is he, as a professional, who best manages to detect the difficulties of these pupils, to help them to recognize and identify these difficulties and to propose strategies to remediate. While parents know their children more than anyone, they aren't always up to speed on math reading or problem-solving strategies.
To develop self-determined motivations, students need to know that they are capable of overcoming their difficulties by putting learning strategies into practice and observing their beneficial effects. Although parental support is important, professional monitoring by the teacher is crucial for the student to adopt the right learning strategies that will help him feel more competent.
In addition, the teacher is the figure most present with the student when he carries out school activities. Not only is the parent not present in the classroom, where the majority of learning takes place, but once their child arrives home after school, a multitude of challenges and daily activities present themselves to them. Helping him with school activities is only part of the parent's responsibility towards his child.
The teacher, on the contrary, has a privileged learning context, that is, a place and a time which are reserved for that. This asymmetry is therefore reflected in each person's ability to motivate the student.
Three Nutrients of a Motivating School Environment
Our results indicate that students can, in their school environment, have three types of experiences that will help them feel self-determined. It is about satisfying their three basic psychological needs of competence, autonomy and social affiliation.
Students who feel competent feel that their actions have an impact on the environment. Those who feel empowered feel like they fully endorse the tasks in which they participate. Those who feel a social affiliation with those close to them (friends, teachers, parents) feel that they can count on the people who are important to them.
When doing school activities, students who have their basic psychological needs met are much more likely to develop and maintain self-determined motivations. Although our results demonstrate that teachers play a key role in stimulating students' self-determined motivations, some people can contribute by increasing the student's overall experience of competence, autonomy and social affiliation, whether friend, relative, management or stakeholders.
In addition: (re)read our file Academic motivation: why do we persevere?, with the participation of Frédéric Guay from Université Laval.