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How to Motivate Your Child: 5 Tips for Successfully Learning Online

Motivation can feel like a finite resource, and for many students adjusting to learning online with their brick-and-mortar schools, the well has run dry. If getting your child to complete their schoolwork seems like a constant battle, the culprit is not necessarily laziness; it may be a lack of motivation. These tips can help your students stay motivated, even when it feels like you’ve tried everything.

1. Openly discuss the challenges and opportunities posed by remote learning.

Zoom fatigue is a real phenomenon, and many students who have shifted to remote learning are having difficulty staying focused during their classes held online. Andrew Franklin, an assistant professor of cyber psychology at Virginia’s Norfolk State University, explains that during Zoom calls, “We’re engaged in numerous activities, but never fully devoting ourselves to focus on anything in particular.” As a result, during Zoom sessions, many students are working on other projects or are distracted by other devices. The actual class acts as something that’s going on in the background rather than something the student is actively engaged in.

The shift to remote learning can seem challenging to some students. It’s essential to open up a space for students to have honest conversations about these challenges. During these conversations, try to focus on the specific rather than general complaints. For example, if your child says, “I hate school,” try to get to the root of the issues to determine if any of them can be addressed.

Additionally, rather than focusing exclusively on the negatives of the changes, encourage your student to begin journaling about their successful responses to those challenges as well. A gratitude journal is a great way to change your student’s attitude, not only about their new learning environment, but also about their lives more broadly.

2. Introduce new incentives.

Extrinsic motivators like grades and rewards do not work as well as intrinsic motivators. Daniel Pink, the author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” explains the concept of intrinsic motivation: “Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.”

While shifting from being extrinsically motivated to being intrinsically motivated is difficult for anyone, there are ways that you can utilize certain extrinsic motivators at home. Visual reminders of students’ successes (like a sticker chart for elementary school learners) can encourage students on their journey to becoming more intrinsically motivated.

3. Give students educational agency.

Students will feel more motivated if they feel like they have some control over their education. When students feel powerless, instead of being invested in their learning, they often feel like they are simply completing the tasks assigned to them for the sake of completing them rather than building on their learning.

An effective way to make students feel like they have educational agency is to involve them in any discussions about the course of their education. Consider whether there are any aspects of their education they can have a say in. For example, can they choose the electives they take? Can they choose to participate in any extracurricular activities? Can they be assigned a particular classroom task?

You can also use this as an opportunity to help students build their self-advocacy skills. Rather than always speaking on your child’s behalf, encourage students to advocate for themselves. This is an opportunity for students to learn how to respectfully communicate with their teachers, for example.

4. Have the student become the teacher.

One of the best ways to learn something is to teach it. This phenomenon, which is known as the “protégé effect,” is why students who tutor other students put in more effort to learn the material. Students will feel more motivated if they feel accountable to others, whether that takes the form of tutoring, joining a study group, or even sharing their learning at home.

In addition to helping them stay motivated, this also helps students to build empathy for their teachers, many of whom are also facing struggles with remote learning. Instead of just asking your child, “How was school today,” try to express a genuine interest in their experience in the classroom by asking, “Can you tell me about one thing you learned today?” Your child may push back against this question by asserting that they didn’t learn anything. If that is the case, ask to see their actual class materials.

5. Help your child see the purpose of their schooling and lead by example.

Children often do as their parents do. Try to model behaviors like valuing intrinsic motivation and practicing gratitude in front of your children to keep them motivated to succeed in school. Your attitude toward work may also affect your child’s attitude toward school.

If students don’t see the point in what they’re learning, then they’re not likely to be motivated. This is especially true for middle school and high school students.

One way to address this lack of motivation is through a teaching strategy called “backward design,” which is when teachers begin with a learning outcome and then design the class materials so that those outcomes can be achieved. Sit down with your child to discuss their future goals and then plan backwards. In the process of them backward designing their lives, they will likely find that their success now will impact them later in life, even if it does not feel like their current learning matters.

 

If your child seems less motivated due to changes at his or her local school, it may be time to consider a different school such as a K12-powered online school. Since 2000, K12 has been a leader in K–12 online education, offering quality hands-on and online curriculum to families nationwide. This tuition-free option provides state-certified teachers, the support and structure of a school community, and proven curriculum that’s effective in the online environment. Visit K12.com to learn more.

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AnnElise Hatjakes

AnnElise Hatjakes is a contributing writer for Learning Liftoff. Her career in education began in 2010 when she worked as a teaching assistant while earning her master’s degree in writing. She has taught in a wide range of educational settings, including a public school, a school for gifted students, a university, and a county jail. She’s interested in issues of equity in education, which she strives to address through her own teaching practices and writing. AnnElise is the recipient of the University of Chicago’s Outstanding Educator Award, and her fiction has appeared in literary journals. As a third generation Nevadan, she loves all things Western, from wide open spaces to wild horses.

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