Motivating the Unmotivated

1024 768 Ellen Ensher
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By Josh Hee

Every time I volunteer at the after-school club, I see the kids running around with excitement. They have wide smiles on their faces as they play tag or dodgeball. However, these smiles fade away immediately when the homework time bell is rung. All the kids begrudgingly sit down and pull out their homework.

I sat down next to Jacob and asked him if he needed any help. He told me confidently that he knew how to do it all, yet he still sat there, staring at the page blankly. I asked him why he was not writing, and he groaned, “I just don’t want to do it.” Jacob did not necessarily need help with tutoring; he needed help with motivation.

Kids constantly ask me why they need to do their “stupid homework”, but I can never come up with a convincing enough response. The kids do not like to hear things about how “it will help you get into college” or “it will make you smarter.” These trite expressions do not resonate with the children. They cannot see why doing their homework should be more important than playing games.

Sadly, I sometimes share the same feelings. After having a great time talking with friends, I dread doing my homework. I always “need” to do my homework instead of “wanting” to do my homework because most of my college assignments do not inspire me. I see no purpose in most of the assignments due. However, although the assignments are sometimes tedious, I still do them anyway. This cycle of tedium and boredom constantly leaves me unmotivated when doing my homework assignments.

Both the children and I suffer from low levels of psychological empowerment. Psychological empowerment has four main components that affect motivation levels: meaning, self-determination, competence, and impact. Meaning is the idea that these children feel called to do their homework; sadly, the children feel no such calling. As for self-determination, the children have no choice in choosing a subject matter that interests them because their teachers hold all of the control. In regard to competence, the children I volunteer with believe they are good enough at math or reading to complete their homework. However, the children still do not necessarily seethe impact their homework assignments will have in the big picture.One way for these children to see that completing their homework matters in the long run could be the goal of college, but for some kids, going to college is either unappealing or unfeasible.
Both elementary school teachers and college professors are tasked with the challenge of raising psychological empowerment levels for their students. By raising these levels, teachers will see an increase in students’ performance across the board. The students will be more motivated to do their homework and listen in class. This increased interest will then translate to other areas of their life. To improve our education system, we need to show students the work they choose to do is actually meaningful.