Thursday, March 8, 2012


Many of my conversations with individual students during the year includes the issue of motivation. In many cases, the students either lack motivation to do their work or do it in a timely way ... or they are struggling to keep motivated.

While some of the students are juniors and seniors, it's usually first year students and sophomores who speak about this issue the most.

Motivation is a complicated issue - one that I will address in several entries. Generally speaking, I find that a key factor is that students are thinking of motivation as an external force or entity. And it was external, for the most part, during their high school years. That is, their motivation in high school was driven or fueled by their parents, peer group, high school teachers and guidance/college counselors, and "society" to do well so they could attend  college, perhaps a selective college or university. And much of that external motivation was immediate: living at home or at a private secondary school.

This is not to say that students didn't have their own internal motivation. Most of them did. They had their own drive to do well and be involved in athletics and/or school and community activities.

The breakdown, if I can put it that way, is when they come to a residential college, one of the biggest changes in their lives is that they are living away from home and having to depend on themselves to go to class, keep up with their academics, do their laundry, and so on.

Some students make that transition quickly; for others, it takes a few weeks, a term/semester, or even a year or so.

This is why so many students don't do well their first term in college when they are certainly capable of doing well.

Again, it's a complicated issue because other factors are involved, as well: homesickness, making new friends, knowing where things are on campus, changing values or personal values being queestioned or challenged, general adjustment, experimenting with new things and activities, getting over-involved in co-curriculars, and so on.

In my conversations with students, I first have them understand what the issue or motivation is - in all its complexity. I then have them see how college is a time and an opportunity for them to move from a "dependency" on external motivators to internal motivators. That is, what should be determining their personal goals and behaviors is what they want their college educational experience to be. To ask and answer two key questions: why are you here and what do you want to accomplish.

In individual conversations and in large group presentations, particularly to first year students, I ask: "what were your goals during your junior and senior years in high school?" Without hesitiation, they respond: "to get into this college." Then I ask: "what did you need to do to get into this college?" And they just as quickly answer with: good grades, school/community involvement, teacher recommendations, good SAT/ACT scores,  and so on.

My next question is: "Now that you are here, what are your goals?" That question is almost always responded to with silence.

More on this topic later.

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