Motivating young learners


Motivation is something that causes a person to act in a certain way which, mostly deals with the behaviour of that person. What is the role of motivation in classroom life of the children? Why do children choose to work on one task and not another? Why do some children dropout even before they really start? Why do some children exhibit less energy on pursuit of the task? The answer is lack of motivation. Who is responsible for this? It is really frustrating and pity to know that some of the students who do not perform very well and being distracted in class for not doing what they are supposed to, are always known as 'trouble makers' of the group. Why do the educators fail to accept that these children experience a sort of low moments, psychological or emotional disorders due to family problems or financial issues which result poor performance and misbehaviour?

Student motivation and managing a classroom are difficult issues for a teacher in her career. The teacher plays different roles in the classroom; one of her important roles is a 'Manager' in her own room. Effective teachings will not take place if the children are managed poorly or no classroom rules constructed for them and if they are disrespectful. When I started my career as a teacher I felt like I was left alone in the middle of a jungle not knowing where to go, to be honest I did not perform as a good teacher as I was unable to control the children in my classroom due to lack of knowledge I had about managing them. I was struggling to teach, both students and I suffered and the students learning were likely to be very less. I wanted to perform well but, did not know how, later I understood a well managed classroom should be vital for a teacher if she really needs to prove herself though it will not appear out of nowhere rather create it. I wanted to create a perfect well managed classroom as the way I wanted as I realized a child's learning is affected by teachers only. Effective teachers as Marzano explains always know how to construct interesting lessons in order to fully engage the students on task.

"Effective teachers appear to be effective with students of all achievement levels regardless of the levels of heterogeneity in their classes." (Marzano, 2003, p. 1)

According to Marzano if the teacher is ineffective the students under her will be academically perform very low therefore, I must say if our aim is to plan effective teaching then it should come through student motivation which can be given by only the teachers. Motivating students is the key to make them engaged on learning. Motivation is directing the learners' positive behaviour towards a goal. I as an educator who dealt with those children, who suffer from lack of motivation factor, often complained that it was becoming increasingly tough for me to understand the problems of my children as they do not express their emotions to me. In fact we need to find ways in order to motivate them and create positive learning atmosphere for which classroom management is a strategy that controls student motivation, behaviour, time, involvement in learning and communication. Therefore, the lesson should be child centred, fun oriented, within the time, and exciting if the teacher aims to have a well managed classroom.

Motivating Young Learners

As educators we must investigate how the young learners consider the praise from teachers and what they mean to them. Why did my teacher praise me? Was it because she thought I was a capable child or I would be happy if being praised by her? Motivation through rewards and praise are extremely important and should be rich and appropriate to determine success in education. Nowadays students attend classes because they are being pressurized by parents, society and teachers; they can give up for several reasons such as learning disabilities, lack of motivation, physical problems like poor vision and hearing, shortage of study materials and other external forces like distracting media entertainment. In my opinion if a child is motivated through proper path s/he will have positive attitude towards school, persist on difficult task and process accurate information and excel in classroom learning.

Children learn through what they do. They are curious to learn; they enjoy learning by exploring, researching and observing. For an example they choose one out of many toys, books or pencils for which they are intrinsically motivated by the colour, looks or even the features which satisfy them to achieve. When a teacher gives a sticker and asks them to complete a task on time then they become extrinsically motivated. When a child is extrinsically motivated the teacher or an outsider will have to present the reward and continue with it to keep the child motivated which is difficult for the child to sustain extrinsically motivated on the activity, this is because it depends on an external force. Today many students drop out of school without a single achievement and fail to achieve their potential for which they are not responsible but, due to lack of motivation in schools and home.

I strongly believe that the children should be intrinsically motivated to achieve the best results which mean they should develop a will to learn not because the teachers want them to work. Educators should motivate them through challenges, recognitions, cooperation, trust and control if their aim is to manage them well. I as an educator always wanted to see the learners are intrinsically motivated and prove their abilities but, it is not an easy task to apply in class because nowadays children are highly motivated extrinsically for attractive rewards like stickers, pizzas, coupons, money etc. Alderman explains,

"A primary concern for educators is how to balance the use of extrinsic incentives as needed to promote student task engagement while establishing a climate that also fosters intrinsic motivation" (Alderman, 1999, p. 213)

In most of the schools the teachers are heavily relying on extrinsic motivation but, as I agree with Alderman and in my opinion too, they need to know how to balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and use rewards appropriately to reinforce intrinsic motivation through extrinsic factors. For me it is really difficult to say extrinsic motivation is a solution or a problem as at times I have opted for giving rewards like stickers, free play, badges etc as I really wanted to settle down the learners to avoid wasting time on managing them even though I agree with writers like Erwin who says "rewards change the way people feel about what they do" (Erwin, 2004, p. 8), Alderman and Dr. Maria Montessori. Dr. Maria in one of her books says that she is completely against of giving the children external rewards as it is like bribing them. She says a motivated child should be like a horse left run freely without any barriers on a wide spread valley.

As an educator I would like to have my own ways of distinguished styles in cooperated to intrinsic motivation which helps me to manage the classroom, such as motivating timely attendance, quality learning, quality assignment, class participation and adhering to classroom policies. Encouraging the students to attend the class on time through stressing the importance of timely attendance and the value of classroom learning will help the teacher to conduct her lessons as she plans. The late comers may disrupt the other students in class which will be a dilemma for the teacher as she will have to complete the portion missed by them and face problems maintaining silence which is interrupted time to time. To motivate attending class on time, the educators can ask the learners to construct their own attendance policy because students are more likely to adhere to policies they develop themselves, conducting assessment revisions early morning and having an interesting subject like ICT, Field Trips or Physical Education early in the day. To encourage timely attendance, the educators can clearly articulate among students how timely attendance will be calculated into final grades.

Another particular teaching style which affects classroom management is timely assignments or homework for which the students can be motivated intrinsically, they can be asked to suggest a due week rather than due date. By doing this they learn how to manage their time constructively outside their classroom in order to complete assignments and feel proud and motivated.

Furthermore, to motivate quality learning the educators must concentrate on 'child centred learning' to achieve quality work and they should be taught as individuals and according to their age, genre, culture and learning style. I always believed that 'poor teaching causes poor management'. In fact we will always be impressed to see a classroom with beautiful displays around, children are little bit noisy because they are working and completely engaged on task producing quality work, more than thirty students, who are occupied on verities of tasks for an example, some are busy on completing their language activity on their own, some others are busy finishing their work with the help of an adult, the another group of the class is learning the language using the computer with the help of their teacher while the others are quietly reading or discussing things in groups. All do the same work but according to their learning abilities. As Gardener says,

"More specifically, some children seem to be good at many things; others, very few. In most cases, however, strengths are distributed in a skewed fashion" (Gardner, 1999, p. 31)

According to him if there is no fuss and the overall atmosphere is perfect as the learners are intrinsically motivated to work in ability groups learning will automatically take place. I think teaching them according to their age, genre and culture is not a big task but, to teach them as per their learning style is challenging for all educators. There are critics against Gardener's theories for an example,

"George Miller, the esteemed psychologist credited with discovering the mechanisms by which short-term memory operates, wrote in The New York Times Book Review that Gardner's argument boiled down to "hunch and opinion" (see p. 20). And Gardner's subsequent work has done very little to shift the balance of opinion" (

I agree with George Miller to a certain extent because I know a child who is suffering with brain damage. This child is unable to read and write though his vision and hearing are perfect, his thinking skills are weak, he has a weak memory, his muscles are weak so he has a poor pencil grip and mobility problems, dropped out of the school for special needs at the age of 8 as he was unable to learn and these days he is at home doing nothing. My question is where does this child go? What intelligence does he have? According to what I know about MI theory there is no place defined for these types of children who are suffering with brain damage, meningitis etc. Barbara Shafer cites,

"Some parents view HEG's MIT as being a further "dumping down" of academic achievement. MIT fails to allow parents to know how their child is doing in school"

Yes, she is right because MI theory does not allow parents to know their children's performance but in general as I have teaching experience with children from different background I must say MIT are a great source of guidelines for educators to identify the learners' needs and cater accordingly. A group of visual learners are taught in a same way but, each of them does not develop the same level of intelligence, that means some are really clever and few others are weak but, still use of MI theories are crucial for a teacher whose focus is on quality learning and managing children well as they allow students to explore and learn in many different ways, and in their own way. No matter who criticises these theories, they help solve main issues like behaviour, resistance etc in the classroom, motivate the learners based on their intelligences and help identify their strengths. We can see the real effect of this theory when we put it in to practice in the classroom.

Gardener believes that each child has a unique learning style and if s/he is taught according to preferred learning style, success will be increased in the field of education. There are children who are really good at speaking skills, are poor in sports activities. Most of the children learn by seeing information, they are visual learners, they learn from text books, charts, maps, graphs and other useful guides. These children may disrupt the lesson they can be motivated to sit near the white board or close to the teacher or away from windows and doors which will help the teacher to maintain peace in classroom. Some children are kinaesthetic and learn best by doing, they love to move around and I have seen them mostly involved in behavioural issues like distracting, fighting and not obeying the teachers. In my class these children were involved in classroom jobs such as distributing books, monitoring others, rubbing whiteboard etc. in order to avoid distracting others. It is very important to develop their inter personal and intra personal skills through reading, writing and organising socialising activities like field trips, fun day and regular assemblies in school in order to develop the capability to understand oneself and one's relationship to others and the world.

My Own Learning

When the teacher teaches the right things the right way, motivation takes place by itself. If students are not enjoying learning, something is wrong with the curriculum and teacher's instruction. At times I felt my school life was boring and frustrating because I hated all subjects except Maths and Science. I had to sit and listen to long time instructions and copy the notes from the chalk board. The morning assemblies were so long, I had to sit on the old chair every day in the same place, played same old boring games etc. My classroom strength was 35-40 children, our tables and chairs were laid in rows, teachers table and the chalk board was at the front of the class. The classroom layout was so congested, though we learnt how to move around without any incidents, our teachers never approached each table in order to assist the individual needs. Teacher instruction was mostly lecture based and activities contained more board work. We were never treated according to our learning styles instead the whole class was given the same type of activities only the able children understood them and completed on time and the rest were neglected. At times I felt hungry and sleepy during lessons. Did my teacher try to find out about my life style? Why wasn't I interested on the lesson? How did I survive boring lessons?

It is very important to know a child's life style, his/her interests and his personal feelings if we think that motivation is important to have a well managed classroom. According to Maslow's point of views the educators must make sure that a child's Biological needs like air, food, drink, warmth and sleep, Safety needs like security, law, limits and stability, Belongingness and Love needs, Esteemed needs like self esteem, independence, status and achievement, and Self Actualization needs like realising personal potential and self fulfilment are met during his stay in classroom to motivate him towards learning.

"Maslow considers the physiological and safety needs truly lower order needs. The good society provides for the basic needs of its members, and few healthy, normal people are dominated by hunger, thirst, or other animal needs"

I believe Maslow's five levels of hierarchy of need models are entirely necessary for child motivation in schools and satisfied in the given order. For an example, we can't ask a child to take part in group work when he is hungry or thirsty. We can't ask him to take part in Scrabble when his self esteem is not recognised. When I was a child my teachers never tried to find out if our basic needs like food, air and warmth which will help keep our brain and body functioning well, and help us concentrate in lessons, are met and did not try to understand the reason why some children show low performance in class work. We did not have the courage to tell the teacher that something was disturbing us because there were no friendly comfortable discussions between the teachers and the learners. At times my friends bullied and distracted me; I did not feel like going to school and always felt unsecured. I suffered a lot since there were no strong policies constructed to deal with behavioural issues in my school. Since my own learning suffered a lot, I made sure that my students in class were looked after very well according to their needs as I wanted them to be motivated towards learning. During my school days there were many children, who dropped out, did not find proper jobs after graduation and chose to be minor employees like cleaners, carpenters etc. I must say lack of motivation is the reason for their failures and motivation was highly affected by teachers' skills, society, culture and poverty at the time of my learning. The teachers did not know how to teach according to their learning styles as they never underwent professional development programs, the society had a common opinion that a child's learning is limited until he reaches a certain age then he/she must opt for any job to survive and poverty which fostered the individuals to hunt for jobs to fulfil the responsibilities.

Another main issue is the layout of the classroom which promotes learning through motivation. How can a classroom of 30 children with tables and chairs are squeezed in a small area can play an important role in child motivation? It is really hard to believe in certain schools the children are compacted in small match box like rooms and working with one adult throughout the day. If a classroom environment is constructed in order to foster learning then motivation will be increased automatically. The arrangements of the tables and chairs in a classroom create a particular relation of student to student and this provides a different structure of meaningful interactions between them for which the equality in the set up of the classroom helps the students to receive the knowledge from the teacher. The classroom layout helps the students to move around leisurely across the tables and the freedom given to the students helps them to comport their bodies individually from which they develop the relation of each student to the teacher's table or desk is also clear and constant. Moyles is right because he says,

"The teacher arranges the classroom environment in ways that enable children to learn more quickly and effectively than they would do alone and [s]he creates a positive classroom atmosphere which promotes enjoyable learning". (Moyles, 1992, p. 3)

It is true; the classroom layout can be seen as the teacher's desire for expressing his or her social relationship with the students. A good teacher always moves around in the classroom while the lesson is going on. He /she move slowly, deliberately, occasionally he comes to rest. From the movement of the teacher it can be noticed that pedagogy is realized. Furthermore, the visual displays can be seen as a sign of teacher's sense of the part of the language and displays such as hand written posters, students' photographs, timetable, word wall etc. have a pedagogic force which expresses the social relationship between the students and the teachers. Another factor which Moyles speaks about in his book,

"Effective teachers (identified from a number of sources in both Britain and the USA) appear to have many laudable characteristics and those which relate in particular to the dialogue on class room organization and management" (Moyles, 1992, p. 32)

The teacher's voice command is soft, low, friendly and firm which has a power to express that an expected level of achievement expected from the pupils. Further the speech of the teacher shows her authority and the source of knowledge also shows that the directness is not the normal mode of operating but, it is a cultivated, cultured sense that makes such understanding and knowledge which is highly essential for student motivation. Giving importance to relationship between pupils and teachers, moving towards set goals, well organised classroom layout and teacher control over the learners always promote them working independently.

"Perceptions involving personal relationships, goal orientation, classroom organization, and the degree to which the teacher is willing to share control in the classroom affect help-seeking." ( Schunk & Meece, 1992, p. 139)

According to Schunk & Meece the layout of a classroom too motivates dramatic teacher student interactions, helping students socialize between each other students moving around in the class without any incidents and academic requirement of each student.


There are several factors educators must consider in managing the classroom and motivating the young learners. The role of the teacher, the needs of the learner and developing a child-centred teaching are crucial for planning, preparation, development and motivation. Facilitating young learners requires an understanding and acknowledging of needs of the learner, learning styles, and factors that motivate them.

Educators can find ways to minimize resistance and maximize performance through involvement in the classroom through knowledge and application of various techniques like motivation and classroom management and practices that encourage and promote positive learning experience. Motivating young learners help teachers to encourage children to be self sufficient, have well established classroom routines, establish high standard of presentation and evaluate teaching and learning environment. Thus the teachers meeting the challenges of motivating and managing young learners enriched and rewarded through the learners' knowledge, skills and attitudes.


  • Alderman, M. K. (1999). Motivation for Achievement: Possibilities for Teaching and Learning. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Chaplin, J. P., & Krawiec, T. S. (1962). Systems and Theories of Psychology (3rd ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
  • Gardner, H. (1999). Intelligence Reframed Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century. New York: Basic Books.
  • George, M (p-20) . Some Critiques of Howard Earl Gardner's Multiple Intelligences Theory. Available online: ( 20/02/2010)
  • Marzano, R. J. (2003). What Works in Schools: Translating Research into Action. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  • Moyles, J. R. (1992). Organizing for Learning in the Primary Classroom: A Balanced Approach to Classroom Management. Philadelphia: Open University Press.
  • Moyles, J. R. (1992). Organizing for Learning in the Primary Classroom: A Balanced Approach to Classroom Management. Philadelphia: Open University Press.
  • Schunk, D. H. & Meece, J. L. (Eds.). (1992). Student Perceptions in the Classroom. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Shafer, B. Some Critiques of Howard Earl Gardner's Multiple Intelligences Theory. Available online: (20/20/2010)

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