RESEARCH NOTES: Motivating students by connecting to what is alive in them
For students with attention issues, along with being on the autisitic spectrum, I have found that they often struggle to self-motivate for tasks that their is not an immediate interest in. I find that they respond to objective and tangible goals. When you ask a student with difficulty motivating to “get good grades” there is often a lack of follow-through. The idea of “good grades” is hard for him to motivate towards, because it’s complex and subjective (requiring many components, and depends on the person asked).
WHAT IS ALIVE?
What is alive in the student? Motivate him by focusing on his interests and [parents] link this to your goals. The amazing thing about most young learners is their passion for things like trains, video games, comics, music, etc.. One 8th-grader I recently worked with (with ADHD, and a hard time self-motivating towards improving his grades) became excited when we began talking about his ideal HS. He introduced me to a specific HS he had already done research on (on his own!) and described how he would flourish in an environment that offered real world opportunities and more singular project-based work (rather than busy work). Parents can PIVOT this towards their goals of good grades by reviewing with the student what it will take to get into the school. Have him visit HS and even colleges so that he can tangibly experience the excitement of his next journey. This will make the idea of “good grades” more objective for him, giving him tangible experiences why they’re important.
Emotionally, many of these students have a negative outlook on themselves. For example, the above 8th grader says he’s lazy and unmotivated. I found that when I focused on the negative, this student pushed back and I get little done. When I point out positives, link into his interests, and offer objective solutions (such as emailing teachers), he engages.
This will be a process for a student with academic motivation issues:
- If he has ADHD: this means that developmentally, certain cognitive skills such as goal-directed persistence will be years behind his peers.
- He needs to build rapport with whomever he works with; get to know him and use the student’s deep set of interests to pivot towards greater goals [such as the one’s you as parents or educators aim towards]
- Take your time. There’s both a developmental layer to this (his brain is still maturing) and an emotional layer, where his self-esteem is wrapped in his academic work and he lashes out when people (especially parents) ask him to be responsible.
- Broaden your HS search. Try more project based HS. In NYC, some of these high-school’s might be: Museum School, School of the Physical City, Urban Academy, to name a few. Visit them, review their admission requirements and get the student excited, making him feel how much this is in his hands.
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