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  • Writer's pictureJulien Morizio

Choice and Motivation

During the pandemic when students were attending classes virtually, a parent spoke to me about how his 9-year-old son didn't want to do any of the work his teachers were sending him.

"Every time we tell him to do something, he starts screaming. We keep telling him to do it, but he just won't have any of it. Kids these days don't listen to their parents."

I'm sure he, like many parents working at home with their children, was getting more and more frustrated with the current situation. Struggling with a child who refuses to do his homework, along with the teachers contacting home to figure out why they aren't receiving any work done, could raise the stress levels to a boil.

I sensed he was looking for some suggestions since he knew I was a teacher.

So I told him the following:

"When I work with kids who I know are resistant to doing schoolwork, I make sure to always give them a choice between which work to do. Kids like options, and the rebellious ones always recognize the options 'yes or no.' If I were to tell or ask a student to do a math problem, he could choose to say 'no' because 'no,' even if I didn't give it, is one of the options. If instead I were to tell him to either work on one math problem or another, then he would choose one, because 'no' is off the table. Choosing between 'yes or no' becomes choosing between 'doing this or that.' He might choose to do the easier work out of the two, but hey, at least he's doing something."

Motivation can be an elusive "buzzword" in education. You and I are motivated when we have a goal we truly desire and therefore easily find the inner drive to perform what is required to achieve that goal. It's the same for students. We all want children to be self-motivated. It can get tough though when we force goals upon them like the completion of tasks and classes that they are not interested in. No matter how enthusiastic the teacher or important a topic is, there are some students who will have difficulty manifesting that inner drive.

That's when adding choice to the equation can help. Research has shown that a sense of autonomy and control increases a student's motivation. That makes sense. After all, students want to achieve their goals. Oftentimes, the students who rebel are those who feel like they have no autonomy. Their only way to gain the feeling of being in control is by deciding if or not to do something. Saying "no" is their way of expressing their autonomy. A more productive practice of autonomy would involve choosing between which work to do. That way, everyone wins: the teacher/parent, because they got the child to do some work; the child, because he or she feels in control; and the child's future and surrounding society, because he or she increasingly becomes motivated to be a productive individual.

This might sound theoretical, but I have seen this method proven with many of my own students. Incorporating choice when working with children can go a long way.

If it's hard to even get a child to sit down, the Pomodoro Technique can be used to build upon their attention span over time.



  • Experience

  • Blaya, C., & Fortin, L. (2011). Les élèves français et québécois à risque de décrochage scolaire: Comparaison entre les facteurs de risque personnels, familiaux et scolaires. Orientation Scolaire Et Professionnelle, 40(1).

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