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Are you finding students’ minds straying from the learning at hand? Some of the motivators below might help to keep everyone focused:

Success – This is the perception of progress toward a goal. If students don’t believe that they can do something or can’t see their progress, they are unlikely to work with much enthusiasm. How can you ensure student success?

  • The task must be neither too easy nor too hard. We are bored by things that come too easily, and unwilling to try things that appear to be too difficult. Making the learning steps the appropriate height for each student may well mean that you will have different strategies for different learners in your classroom.
  • Students must see their progress. Some ways to do this are to use pre- and post-tests, saving papers from throughout the school year that show improvement, and having students go back and correct their work. Using Active Participation Techniques to check progress on new learning also facilitates this. (See “Monitoring Student Learning” for more on this.)
Anxiety/Concern – is the degree of expectation felt within the student. It needs to be within an acceptable range, which varies a bit from person to person. Too much anxiety causes people to shut down and makes them unable to focus on the task at hand. Too little makes it unlikely they will expend energy on the task.

There are ways that you can adjust the level of anxiety among students in your classroom to bring it into the most motivating range:

  • Time – Lengthening the time available for a task tends to lower anxiety, while shortening it will raise anxiety.
  • Visibility – How many people will see you? Generally, increasing visibility increases anxiety, and decreasing it lowers anxiety.
  • Proximity – How close a student is to the teacher can raise or lower anxiety, depending on the student and the situation. Moving closer to a distracted student may increase his/her attention to the task; it may make another student too nervous to learn. There are students who need to be near the teacher to feel confident.
  • Expectations – Having clear expectations for students can raise anxiety to a motivating level for students who are inclined to make little effort. It also lowers anxiety for students who take their work very seriously and feel more comfortable when they know what the criteria are.

Knowledge of Results – Getting specific, immediate feedback can be a great motivator. It helps us to know that what we are doing is working well and that we should keep doing it, or to know that we need to make adjustments to what we are doing. Here are a few ways to give immediate, specific feedback to students:

  • Critique page with checklist
  • Self-checking stations
  • Working together on a few problems before working alone
  • Comparing answers with a neighbor

Interest – This is the feeling of curiosity or involvement within students. Two things can promote interest:

  • Novelty – doing something unexpected or in a different way. Rearranging the room or the schedule, devising a game for review or for a new math procedure, using art and music in unusual ways (a singing book report?) are examples of novelty. Predictability is good to a certain degree, but sometimes students need to be surprised.
  • Self – When you’re at a party and hear your name from a corner of the room, it gets your attention. Using student’s names and interests (sports, hobbies, music) is a small thing that can keep them tuned in.


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