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Homework Motivation For Elementary Students

I made sure to incorporate the buzz word “differentiated instruction” into all of my interviews as I schlepped from town to town looking for my first teaching gig. Leather teacher’s bag slung over my shoulder, armed with a plethora of textbook knowledge and little firsthand experience, I believed reiterating that I am onboard with teaching to each student’s strength would land me that job.

It didn’t.

It wasn’t that the schools didn’t believe in differentiated instruction—I wasn’t hired because I didn’t know how to put my money where my mouth was. I had no plans, no notion of how to put my ideas into action.

Therein lies the truest motivator: action.

We’ve all had those students who can learn but simply don’t want to. We’ve witnessed wasted beautiful minds, nonchalance of talent and the refusal of effort. It is absolutely maddening because those students have the potential, the ability, but for whatever reason, their fire hasn’t been ignited. As educators, we long to be that incendiary match, but it’s much easier said than done, especially as the students get older.

Fortunately for me (and my parents—I finally moved out!), I was eventually hired as a high school English teacher. Using my experiences in the traditional and virtual school settings, combined with suggestions from my fabulous colleagues, we have compiled a list of our top 10 ways to motivate middle and high school students. While we would love to turn all learners from BLAH into BAZINGA!, sometimes a passing grade means success.

1. Get involved:

Coach a sport, help with the school musical, throw together a game of pickup in the gym. Spending time outside of the classroom gives teachers additional opportunities to act as role models and mentors. Students see them in a different light and earn a new kind of admiration and respect; this translates into more effort in class.

2. The VIP is an ally:

All kiddos have one, their Very Important Person. Think: girlfriend, grandma, coach. My husband had a student who was insistent he didn’t need a high school diploma because he planned to work in his cousin’s auto-body shop. My husband reached out to the cousin and asked for an ally, and they worked together to motivate the student into staying in school. Don’t underestimate the worth of the VIP!

3. Positive reinforcement:

When a teacher rags on a kid or, worse, doesn’t say anything at all, the student feels you’ve given up on him. Don’t give up! Praise him when you can, take note of his effort, and help him understand how his actions are going to help him not only in the classroom but in life.

4. Be seen, not heard:

Walking into the building hunched over, barely containing disdain for the job, grumbling out to the parking lot the second the last bell of the day sounds. Kids aren’t stupid, or deaf. If what teachers want is enthusiastic, hardworking students, we need to emulate that.

5. Build a rapport:

Ask about the student’s hobbies, weekend plans, acknowledge birthdays. There are ways to show kindness and interest, and in doing so, teachers are building a solid foundation that usually extends far beyond the classroom.

6. Get in on the action:

When our students see us as people and not just teachers, they connect with us on a more personal level. Show up at your students’ baseball games, or support the Math Team by buying one of their T-shirts! Students notice when their teacher is invested in the school. And though they may not like the subject, if the students like their biology teacher, they’re more apt to work harder to make Mr. Bio Teacher proud.

7. Ownership:

Give students options in the classroom. They can choose a project to complete, or in upper-level courses, students can  create their own curriculum idea to study for an entire semester. If students have a hand in making decisions about their education, they are more likely to commit to them.

8. Goal setting:

Personal growth is just as important as formal education, and a great way to track that growth is to set realistic goals. The success in goal setting is not simply establishing them but holding students accountable for them. Take time to revisit those goals, discuss their progress, and redirect students’ efforts when necessary.

9. Incentivize:

I don’t know if you know this, but kids really like to eat. For fifth graders or seniors in high school, pizza goes a long way. A homework pass or a school-wide acknowledgment of their successes are great ways to give students a pat on the back and continue supporting and motivating them.

10. Use their strengths:

I used to be a math tutor (if you know me today, you’re laughing hysterically because I’ve not correctly balanced my checkbook since 2002). Tutoring other students made me feel important, and because I’m a typical first-born overachieving people pleaser, I loved helping my teacher. Shockingly, not all students are this nerdy. But I bet you have a student in your class that can change the oil in your car, or who may be the greatest babysitter. Use their strengths, and not just in class. This is another way to build a solid rapport that you can hopefully use to motivate them into studying for their final exams.

Even if we can’t turn every apathetic student into an enthusiastic one, motivating them enough to enjoy some aspects of school and work for that diploma is a great starting point. And who knows? Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky teachers who reaches a student on a level that inspires him for greatness in other lifetime endeavors.

English teacher Stephanie Jankowski loves words, hates math and has a penchant for finding the funny in everyday life. Find more of Stephanie on her blog WhenCrazyMeetsExhaustion.com, Facebook or on Twitter  @CrazyExhaustion

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Can you imagine a world where students can’t wait to get home from school to do their homework? As you laugh at that notion, just know that it can happen. With increased technology in education, coupled with student interest and study buddies, there is a way to learn how to motivate students to enjoy doing their homework. Here’s how.

How to Motivate Students: Appeal to Their Interests

The key to homework success is simple; make it fun, interesting, and relevant. If you want them to enjoy their homework, incorporate what they know. Find out how to motivate students by taking a poll. If you find that the majority of your class is into sports, then create a way to integrate sports into their homework. Studies have shown that when teachers merge student interest into their homework assignments, students are more likely complete the assignment. Appealing to student interest is a great motivator that keeps them engaged, as well as enjoying their work.  

Keep It Short and Sweet

The purpose of homework is to practice a concept learned, or extend what they have just learned. The duration and the frequency is dependent upon the purpose for the homework assignment. The National PTA recommends 10-20 minutes of homework starting in 1st grade, then add 10 minutes for every grade thereafter, capping at 120 minutes for a student in 12th grade. It’s going to be very tough to get a senior in high school to enjoy 120 minutes of homework. Consistent studies have suggested that shorter more frequent homework assignments tend to be more effective. Students are more likely to complete these assignments, which in turn make them more enjoyable.

Study Buddy Club

The concept of a study buddy isn’t something new, it’s actually been around for a very long time. There is an abundance of research that proves group assignments can be highly effective. Have you ever seen a group of kids gathered around the lunch table or in the hallway all huddled together? Students love being with their peers, and they thrive when they get the opportunity to be together. If you really want your students to love doing homework, create group homework assignments, or connect them with a study buddy to complete the task together.

Utilize Technology

Embrace the use of new technologies by giving students the opportunity to do their homework online. Studies show that students thrive when given computer-based homework assignments. Websites such as Kidblog.org, Smartkiddies.com, and Brainly.com are fun, interactive ways to keep students engaged, as well as motivate them to do their homework. Brainly is a network where students can find peer support and ask and answer questions, while the other two sites offer student rewards and certificates for homework completion.

Mix it Up

Students get bored if they have to do the same old homework assignment day in and day out. It’s hard to assign homework that meets the interests of all students, so to increase the chances that your students will actually enjoy doing their homework, try mixing it up by varying assignments. To peak student interest and keep assignments fresh try changing your usual style of homework. For example, if students are used to writing out the definitions for new words, mix it up by having students create a symbolic representation of the word instead.

Make it Personal

Give homework assignments that make learning personal. Students are more likely to enjoy and get into their homework if it means something to them. If students are learning about their community, or other cultures, create a way for them to relate their own lives with that of what they are learning. These types of assignments helps students learn to appreciate what they are learning about.

Homework can improve student learning, and help students develop habits that will bring them far beyond the classroom. By appealing to their interests and utilizing technology, we can motivate our students to not only do their homework, but actually like it.

How do you motivate students to love homework? Do you have any tricks or tips that you would like to share? Feel free to leave a comment in the section below. We would love to hear your thoughts.

Enrich your Back to School curriculum with TeachHUB.com’s Ultimate 5-Week Prep Guide! Each week, you’ll get tips, tricks, and ideas designed to help you be a more effective educator! 

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators