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One of the most frequent challenges for a teacher is to find the formula to motivate students to learn. With motivation, everything is easier in the classroom. Could you involve students more in class projects, generate more discussion, stimulate questions, or simply induce effort? There are good news. Scientific research repeatedly confirms that it does and has found the keys.

Motivation is an internal motor that ignites us in a mysterious way and predisposes us to learn easily, overcome difficulties and achieve the impossible. I say, in a mysterious way, because deciphering the reasons, which make us motivated or want to learn, vary from person to person and can sometimes be not very obvious.

Traditionally, extrinsic factors such as rewards and punishments are used to achieve the desired student behavior. However, it is interesting to know that when we assign complex tasks, which require effort and continued creativity, these types of rewards do not work to sustain long-term motivation.

This statement is not a suspicion or an opinion but a reality documented for more than 50 years by experts and social studies on human behavior. Numerous experiments reveal to us what motivates humans in general, and the results can easily be applied to your students in and out of the classroom.

Theresa Amabile, an expert in organizational creativity, has shown in her research that offering rewards or punishments can kill creativity:

“People (and therefore your students) will be more creative when what motivates them is the interest, satisfaction and challenge of the work itself and not external pressures.” (Theresa Amabile, “How to kill Creativity”, Harvard Business Review, September 1998)

“In 9 out of 10 tasks that we examined through three experiments, we saw that the more external incentives were given, the poorer performance was achieved.” (D. Ariely, U. Gneezy, G. Lowenstein & N. Mazar, Federal Bank of Boston).

Daniel Pink, American writer and journalist, scientifically identifies in his book The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, three keys that work repeatedly to achieve motivation and the path to better performance: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Its application in the classroom could be translated as follows:

If you want your students to feel involved in a classroom project, instead of giving them notes and an exercise, give them the freedom to learn for themselves. Give them the autonomy to choose where and how to obtain the knowledge.

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