Each day students are faced with tasks and activities that range from being highly motivating to not motivating at all. When students find that tasks are inherently motivating, they may pay attention more easily, without requiring that the tasks be exciting. By comparison, students may find it more difficult to focus on activities that are less motivating, because they must create their own sense of satisfaction in order to engage in these tasks.
Students who are able to attend to tasks that are not necessarily personally exciting are more likely to succeed in a wide range of classroom situations. They become active participants in their own learning, recognizing both the immediate and potential value of a wide range of information, some of which has inherent interest, and some which has none.
Here are some strategies for enhancing a student’s control of satisfaction.
- Help students identify tasks that are not particularly interesting or gratifying to them. Suggest ways students can become more actively involved. Give them alternatives for how they can complete activities in class, i.e. allow them to write it, say it, show it, or do it.
- Ask students to brainstorm positive reinforcers, rewards that will motivate them to work during periods of low interest and excitement. Generally, we think of reinforcers as tangible items, such as decorated pencils or small toys; however, keep in mind the potential for non-tangible reinforcers (e.g., time with an adult, free reading time, etc.). The most effective and appropriate reinforcers may not be tangible items.
- Promote collaboration between students with different interests, pairing a student who may not find tasks particularly satisfying and one or more students who are highly interested. Ask students to share their feelings about their degree of interest.
- Model strategies for students that help you work through uninteresting tasks, for example using positive internal statements or visual imagery about the rewards for delaying gratification, such as the feeling of a job well done, ending up with a good product, etc.
- Help students think about their abilities to delay gratification when necessary. For example, role-play situations in which students act out choosing to work for something, provide sample statements, e.g. “If I work for this and earn it, I will feel...”. Discuss how an inability to delay gratification or do a less interesting task may have negative outcomes, such as not building good work habits, missing out on important content, etc.
- Help students to develop high standards for themselves, so that they strive to create quality work even on tasks that are less interesting to them.
- Provide for opportunities for students to pursue high interest areas as positive reinforcement for engaging in low interest activities.