The 4 R’s that Increase Student Motivation

Students engaged in classroom lesson

As students struggle in school, they feel inadequate, frustrated, and sometimes ashamed to attend school. These feelings of reluctance are prevalent in students that are apathetic and unmotivated to come to school or to participate and perform well in class. The consistent negative feedback from principals, teachers, and parents only widens the gap between the students and their willingness to achieve. By identifying the reasons students become disengaged from school/class, we can implement effective strategies to re-engage students and increase their willingness to learn and demonstrate self-efficacy.

As a campus administrator, you can promote and reinforce these strategies in all areas of your school: classrooms, hallways, office area, cafeteria, etc. Let’s take a look at these strategies we call the 4 R’s: Relevance, Reasonability, Rewards, and Relationships.

1. Relevance is a key component in learning because students need to know that what they are learning is important and relevant to their life. Understanding how the concept is meaningful to them establishes a connection with the student that will spark their interest to learn more about it or experience it positively more often. Whether the concept is academic, such as using measurements in math, or social/behavioral, such as why there is a need for rules/expectations in the cafeteria, students are more likely to be motivated to learn or participate if they find the concepts/content meaningful and relevant.

Taking that a step further, by giving students options, choices, and exposure whenever possible, you can help increase their interest in a variety of activities in class/school. For example:

  • Allow students to select a topic of choice for a class assignment/project that meets the academic objective or choose the method in which to show mastery.
  • Select specific students to participate in a school climate committee to learn more about civil organizations and building positive school climate.
  • Select a school activity, organization, or event that is motivating to the students where they can demonstrate their skills, strengths, and learning.
  • Expose students to former students, community members, etc. that are relevant to them. They can serve as motivators and mentors to the students so they can envision success and independence.

2. Reasonability refers to making sure that students are able to master learning or behavioral objectives at an attainable level, depending on their current functioning and skill level. Establish acceptable goals and milestones for individual students that are fair and reasonable.

  • If students are struggling academically, set benchmarks for them to meet so they can see they are attaining incremental success. Consider reasonable timelines/due dates, length of assignments, and completion expectations.
  • In social/behavioral cases, set reasonable expectations and communicate them to the students. As in academics, set specific individual benchmarks for behavior and commend them for meeting each milestone as they climb toward achieving the long term goal, such as high attendance percentage, low number of office referrals, good behavior in cafeteria, compliance on the bus, etc.
  • These students may feel overwhelmed and feel they have a big mountain to climb, rather than one hill at a time, so incremental progress in key.

3. Rewards are methods of recognizing and promoting success and achievement and can be implemented in a variety of ways. Rewards are most effective if they are specific and presented in a way that is relevant to the individual student. For the unmotivated student, rewards help acknowledge successful tasks or behaviors and help build future success. Students can be acknowledged or rewarded in a variety of ways:

  • For students who tend to seek attention, public recognition can be effective. Class or school announcements, public displays of achievement certificates, or parent calls can be effective techniques.
  • Some students seek attention, but not the limelight. For these students, privately presenting them with a certificate, acknowledgement from a particular faculty member, or lunch with the principal can be very rewarding.
  • Other students look for external rewards such as opportunities to do desired activities or getting tangible items. They are reinforced by shooting the basketball with a teacher, lunch from a local restaurant, selecting something from the school store or vending machine, etc.

Rewards help build intrinsic motivation to get the student to experience success.

4. Relationships, when well established, can help staff members relate to and establish a healthy rapport with students. Staff members can offer support and hope to unmotivated students and to also avoid pessimism and cynicism. Respect and trust are built in a good relationship, thus students feel they can communicate with the staff and that someone is in their corner.

Teachers, counselors, and administrators can all help instill hope in these challenging students by showing them that coming to school/class, completing assignments, and displaying appropriate behaviors can ultimately benefit them now and in the future. Being open to change and alternative means of motivation are keys for staff members to be effective with an apathetic student.

  • Aside from Academic Grade and Attendance Reviews, create a method of identifying students that are experiencing a lack of motivation through a referral process or universal screener for behavior so that you can intervene as soon as possible.
  • Promote effective teacher/student interactions in the classroom in order to build good teacher/student relationships.
  • Consider assigning a mentor or advisor to an identified student. This can be a faculty member, another student, or volunteer community member.
  • Involve the parents in this process and offer parent resource sessions to assist them with motivational strategies they can try at home. These resources may assist with task completion and motivators in the home.

Motivating students is a complicated and arduous task; but as a facilitator in your school, you are able to address these students in a variety of ways in the classroom and on the campus. (See article: Stop the “I Don’t Care” Mantra Before it Even Starts article on classroom motivation in this newsletter for more tips for teachers.)

Multiple strategies are essential in addressing unmotivated students as one size does not fit all. The 4 R’s can help you reach a variety of students that have diverse needs.

“Motivation is the fuel, necessary to keep the human engine running. Go as far as you can see and you will see further.”
― Zig Ziglar

About the Author
Roland Espericueta

Roland Espericueta

Roland Espericueta has over 20 years of experience in Special Education and Educational Administration. He taught in Special Education in the San Antonio Independent School District as well as the Northside Independent School District, where he also served as a Campus Administrator and Coordinator of Behavior Programs. In 2009, Roland joined the Review360 team as an Implementation Specialist. In this role, he trains teachers and administrators on using Review360 and provides continuous behavioral support to partner districts. Roland also brings his extensive expertise to The Behavior Matters Newsletter as a regular contributor.