Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Reverse answers

Reading Time: 4 minutes

We must ask the right questions in order to understand students’ motivation and interest in learning

student motivation.Indian Link
Two phone calls in two days. The first: “What do I do with an unmotivated 14-year-old? His laziness is driving me to frustration.” The second: “Why won’t students in my Year 8 class show initiative? Why are they are so passive and disinterested?”
The callers sought advice around discipline, finding the keys to unlock motivation and how to engender a sense of interest and commitment from the students they teach. Alas, I let the callers down. I provided the ‘reverse answer’.
“Young teenagers are so unmotivated,” I was told. “They just need constant stimulus. I cannot compete with the instant rewards of Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.”
In essence, the callers sought affirmation. For me, however, the question was poorly framed. Referencing, or framing, is essential to problem solving. Consider the following.
It is illegal for a child to stay at home without reason during the school term.
Do students have choice over what is taught or how? Generally not.
Should a person be intrinsically interested in learning? Possibly, but…who is doing the teaching and how?
As I thought the callers’ questions were poorly framed, I offered the reverse answer, “Why should a student in your class be motivated?”
My response was met with silence. Had I betrayed my status as an ‘adviser’?
Students are compelled to attend school. They have no real choice – no discretion over how they will be taught or treated, no capacity to change the mood of a teacher, the order of the school day or who is in the room. They cannot influence how they will be assessed or even when. They cannot change the colour of a uniform or move from their chair or demonstrate restlessness.
student motivation.Indian Link
I often wonder whether an adult placed in a similar situation, day after day, for years, would expect themselves to be motivated. Would they themselves demonstrate initiative? Or would they themselves not rebel, daydream, and become subversive or even catatonic?
This is crucial. Any assessment of the behaviour or performance of a student should look at two aspects very closely. The first question for parents and teachers to answer in regards to a perceived lack of motivation or interest, is why a person should be interested, motivated or engaged with anything they say. Of course, the obvious answer is because education matters. A second aspect to this is that a child cannot be expected to prioritise the things that are of most value to them, as the child does not have the maturity to know.
The second question for parents and educators is what mix of structure and free time, consideration and spontaneity, activity and stillness, humour and seriousness, channelled thinking and free thinking, paired or group work and individual work should characterise an environment where a child is motivated to learn. Even asking a question framed around these aspects will lead to much improved understanding of students.
student motivation.Indian Link
It may be true that a child is lazy, easily distracted or unmotivated. However, prior to making such an assessment, there should be a serious evaluation of the factors shaping a child and whether they are likely to be motivating or frustrating. High expectations that focus on outcomes can cripple children and adults alike. Why should a child find that motivating? Comparison with older siblings or a parent’s own experience can be soul-destroying if a child feels like they are not good enough. Should comparison spark a sense of motivation or a sense of frustration? A sense of unworthiness?
The real question, the ‘reverse answer’, should be broadly inclusive of the outer and inner context facing the child. The context in this regard includes to what extent the child can adapt in order to learn to like and accept the things they cannot change.
This is the counter balance. In each situation there is a need to accommodate and adapt to the things that must be done. This means that students should be encouraged to be flexible in their thinking and to change themselves in order to learn to learn. This is an aspect to maturing. Against this, teachers and parents should encourage appropriate adaptations to their own approach, taking some ownership of issues rather than imposing them onto the child.
This is important. If we begin with the premise that very few, if any, children are intrinsically lazy, then we start from a point of collaboration. From here, teachers and parents can seek the best ways to help children to notice the things that matter and value the things likely to most benefit them in their lives. This requires managing a locus of motivation that is extrinsic to one that becomes intrinsic. All educators should strive to effect this change.

- Advertisement -
Previous articleA punishing patriarchy
Next articleDiwali masti
Mohan Dhall
Academic leader, M2K Education and Advisory and CEO of Australian Tutoring Association and Global Tutoring Association.

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


Ep8: Indian links in Indigenous Australian poet Ali Cobby Eckermann’s life

To celebrate NAIDOC week 2020 (between 8-15 November) I spoke to Yakunytjatjara poet Ali Cobby Eckermann about her time in India where she taught...

Ep 7: In the case of Sushant Singh Rajput

  The torrid and high-octane Sushant Singh Rajput case has been fodder for Indian people and press for the last few months. The actor’s tragic...

Ep 6: The Indian LGBTQ+ community in 2020

  It’s been two years since the world’s largest democracy repealed the draconian Section 377 which used to allow discrimination against homosexual people. Only this...

Latest News

Dr anand naidoo OAM and family

Australia Day Awards 2021: Dr Anand Naidoo OAM

  "I am pleased and honoured," Dr Anand Naidoo of Coffs Harbour NSW told Indian Link, about his Australia Day felicitation this year. He added laughingly,...

Australia Day Awards 2021: The late Dr Amarjit Singh More, OAM

  As a proud Sikh and a proud Australian, Dr Amarjit Singh More was deeply passionate about both identities, serving both communities with unwavering commitment. "Our...

President hails farmers, scientists and soldiers in Republic Day speech

  On the eve of Republic Day, President Ram Nath Kovind said justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity, outlined in the Preamble of the Constitution, are...
aboriginal flag

Indigenous Australians, living without conciliation

  I am a citizen of Australia and yet I am not a citizen of the nation I reside in within Australia. This anomaly affects...

The night we fled our home in Kashmir

  “26 January is coming up, memsaab,” the milkman I had known for years said to me. “Maybe you should put up a black flag...