How to Motivate Teenagers to Learn

How to Motivate Teenagers to Learn


In recent findings, Cognitive Neuroscience supports “yes” to rewards to enhance learning outcomes.  Agreeing, Murayama & Kitafami (2014) reveal that a modulation function by the reward network in the brain sponges on a lift to influence cognitive progress, and a number of motivational studies proves that reward systems in schools elicit practical implications for education. Although students may learn extrinsically or intrinsically, the truth remains to be refuted either way that one approach is better than the other.

Research stands strong on each side of the see-saw contest. Intrinsic motivation is better than extrinsic motivation because intrinsic motivation emanates from within whereas extrinsic motivation emanates from outside, producing results only by extending rewards.

Other researchers posit rewards may indeed be helpful to learners yet only when the assigned task does not maintain already an intrinsic value for the learner. Meaning, if interest in a particular task does not automatically reside within the learner the reward may help to increase the interest for the task to be completed.

Consider a group of teenagers, ages—13-17–in a classroom setting—what is the norm of behavior the students present? Seminal research states, per public schools in United States, 33 percent of students show apathetic behaviors toward learning, and many classroom teachers would vouch that fewer than a normal class size of students show little interests in school or in learning overall.

Thus, would it be fair to infer that many students are not intrinsically motivated to learn? Students do not uphold personal interest in the task at hand, and some students would extrinsically complete assignments only due to being inspired or feared of the consequences.

Regardless, schools must uphold accountability to meet instructional standards for their students and school. A sensible strategy would be to include in lesson plans motivational programs to increase student interest in learning.

Motivation, which can be augmented with a little artfulness—could aid all types of learners. Thus, extrinsic or intrinsic value of learning becomes futile to argue given the knowledge that most students are not intrinsically motivated and need outside stimulation (extrinsic motivation) to spark their interests in learning—

Hence, a program of recognition and immediate feedback and assurance of miniature prizes— leading up to elevated prizes—is the most effective way to build momentum in student desired learning.

Teenagers adore prizes—snacks, free time, trophies, and money. Expressively, students appreciate recognition and are better motivated when their recognition accompanies a tangible prize. Thus, savvy educators might consider adopting a student motivational program by creating a viable plan that would be agreeable with all teachers; top educators should leave motivational incentives, however, up to individual teachers, expecting, of course, that all teachers will comply with implementing a motivational program.

Another consideration for motivating teachers to motivate students is to ask teachers to imagine evaluating dismal middle school students’ test scores; in this light, educators may be forced to reinvent the way they execute motivational instruction for students to increase their test scores. In any case, students may need to be extrinsically motivated first before they can become intrinsically motivated to enhance their learning and test scores.

Intrinsically or extrinsically— what does it matter to young students learning? Rare occasions exist where teenagers rebuff prizes. The implication is that educators should put more emphasis on student learning and apply tangible rewards that will help elicit academic success rather than rely totally on motivating students one-way-or-the-other—intrinsically or extrinsically.

In essence, if a means is feasible to recognize student academic improvement by motivational design, why bother with the question “which is better—intrinsic or extrinsic motivation?” Research supports both concepts as useful when applied to the equivalent student at hand.


Below are suggestions for starting a motivational classroom and school program:

(1) Begin with a motivational program in the classroom to evolve into a school program end of school year.

(2) Allow teachers autonomy in creating classroom programs yet to collaborate with other teachers in creating the end-of-year-program.

(3) Throughout the year, provide mini awards—compliments, sticker notes, acknowledgement, candy, and then end of every nine weeks, present a top student 9-week award.

(4) Display pictures of the 9-week winners inside classrooms and/or around the school building.

(5) End of school year, students for every class—math, English, science, history, etc.—that made top student each nine weeks— receive a prize (trophy and money).

(6) Use teacher money for classroom prizes (optional), yet check with curriculum department for monetary support granted to schools through federal funds. Or, ask the principal of school to sponsor the end-of-year-program via funds in his principal account.

(7) Announce end-of-year-winners through school intercom, social media, and local news. (2020)

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Published by cynthiamathews

I'm an innovative spirit, one who seeks new and practical ways to learn about life. I enjoy exploring innovative styles to motivate people to persevere in a challenging world. Having a doctorate in Educational Leadership and Curriculum & Instruction, I am inspired to maintain a life long learning experience that will allow me to share my knowledge with others. My expertise includes detecting apathy in individuals and prescribing ways to motivate them to be their best. To initiate this endeavor, I create and conduct personal and professional development programs. I write briefs and pamphlets and instructional guides to inspire, and I speak--upon request--to those who need a reminder of their inner excellence. My blog's main focus is to document my research on motivation and curriculum instruction and to share with subscribers the understanding, the ideas, and the strategies that result from my research. I am a native of Alabama, a teacher, and an author. I look forward to learning with you.