Many people, including parents and teachers, believe that motivation is something that some students are born with and others aren't. Not so, says author and educator Richard Lavoie. "All kids want to learn," he says. "When they feel they can't, they find it hard to stay interested, which looks like a lack of motivation." In his book, The Motivation Breakthrough: Six Secrets to Turning on the Tuned-Out Child, Lavoie urges us to consider a new approach to help kids look up from the desk and get excited about learning: "Motivation is the same thing as inspiration, and what inspires each kid is different." Parent & Child talked with Lavoie about how his "six secrets" can inspire kids to be more engaged. See if you recognize your learner.
What are some of the misconceptions about kids who might appear to lack motivation?
Richard Lavoie: That it comes and goes, or is something some kids have and some don't. In truth, all human behavior is motivated. It just may be that a child who seems unmotivated is simply not motivated to do what the teacher wants him to do. That child with his head on the desk not doing his work is motivated — to avoid failure. The most pervasive and damaging myth, however, is that all children are motivated by competition. All the high-stakes testing in schools is based on the premise that if a child competes with other children, he'll do better. But there is no evidence to show that's true. Really, the only child motivated by competition is the child who has a chance of winning, of getting the top grade.
Do you think teachers need to motivate each student individually according to his or her learning style?
Lavoie: Yes. If there are 30 kids in class, a teacher may end up having to use 20 different approaches to teach them to read and to spell and to do math; it's well understood today that kids learn in individual ways — one size does not fit all.
A main focus of your book is "the six" approaches to motivate children. Please outline them for us.
Lavoie: To make it simple, there are six "Ps." There are project kids: children who love long-term, multi-faceted tasks. I worked with one kid who seemed impossible to motivate. Finally, I figured out that he was a huge fan of the New York Giants football team. I planned projects for him in different subject areas that used the Giants as a theme. He couldn't wait to get started. Next there are people kids: children who work best when the teacher creates an individual relationship with them. They are eager to please, and the teacher can use that connection to get them motivated. Then there's praise. Some children are motivated by being recognized for their hard work. They do well when the adults in their lives show interest in what they're doing.
What are the other three "Ps"?
Lavoie: Some kids, though I believe this is the smallest group, are motivated by prizes. They want to win the bee and get the trophy. Prestige kids like to see their name in lights. They want to be the class president, the head of the team working on a project. The power child needs some control in what he does; he's the kid who is more motivated when he can make choices about what he does and how he does it.
How can parents identify what category their child falls into?
Lavoie: Think about what gets your child going. Ask yourself, "Does he like to collaborate with others or to work alone?" "Does he respond well to encouragement?" "Is she outgoing and social?" Think about both strengths and weaknesses, the positive and negative sides of the same traits — for example, a child you might label as bossy might also be an effective leader — and you'll begin to see how you, and your child's teacher, can work with your child's nature, not against it.