motivation · writing workshop

Tapping Into Motivation

Kaylee has always loved reading. She is voracious. She is spunky. She was bitten by the bug of learning early.

In kindergarten Kaylee was introduced more formally to writing. She ate it up, stapled paper together and got busy. She was a book maker. Kaylee was a scavenger of ideas. She was eager to share this part of herself with her peers, her teachers and her family.

Not everyone is a Kaylee. Some are challenged. Some never get the nudge. But, I believe there is a Kaylee in all of us, a place inside of us screaming to learn. There is a part of us that wants to devour books and write our stories. There is a reason the Kaylees in the world exist. They show us the joy of reading and writing.

Tapping into this world for some children sometimes feels like a daunting task. It feels like there are so many obstacles in the way. There are learning disabilities, poverty, behaviors to tackle, neurological and speech disorders. There is a gamut of reasons students don’t progress on “our timetable.” However, the desire to learn still exists. Just because a student has little fine motor development and struggles to form a letter, does not mean he or she lacks the desire to write. I think sometimes we mistake hurdles that children face for laziness. We don’t see the reason. We see someone unwilling. I refuse to believe that children are lazy. I do believe they can become unmotivated. I also think when these hurdles present themselves we make the mistake of using them as an excuse not to push the writer.

Motivation is half of our battle.

Tapping into a student’s motivation takes time. We need to know students as people and as writers. We need to understand their strengths as much as we understand their struggles. When we look at what a writer can do, we can more efficiently tap into what is next for that student. Not everyone is on the same timetable; there is a spectrum with no clock attached. Recognizing this is what makes us better teachers and helps us get students closer to their developmental potential.

I think the best way to tackle motivation is to allow risks to be taken. Let students try things; sometimes they won’t seem ready. They will show us their capabilities and it is on us to respond to their failures in a nurturing manner. When we allow students to be the captain of their own ship and stand back a little they see themselves as a learner, a reader, a writer. Step back. Watch them sail into new adventures and take themselves on new journeys forward.

How do you motivate students and tap into their interests? What are you doing to create an environment that allows students to take a risk?

6 thoughts on “Tapping Into Motivation

  1. I was just doing some writing in my notebook about how I feel unmotivated to write the stories I want to tell. And then I saw your writing and I thought about how sometimes we have to tell students our own stories about what we do when we feel unmotivated to write (or to do whatever it is we know we should be doing).

    I love that your words about no student being lazy. I think lazy is learned. It’s a terrible label so many people put on others as a means of giving them a pass or making excuses for them. I think we need to reposition the kids we call lazy and help them gain the courage and confidence they need to get going.


  2. It’s interesting that your post about motivation popped up today. I’m writing a post that I hope to get out this weekend about a project I did where I “forgot” my plans and went with the kid’s ideas.. It’s hard to go “astray” from the plans when every moment counts; however, that was the reason I formatively assessed the way I would get “more bang for the buck.”! Without motivations and writing from the heart, our writers’ workshops become writing classes.


  3. I guess I would say there are varied answers to your question, Betsy, and choice is key. Teachers who widen students’ worlds of possibilities and then stand back and let them go (as you said) they will choose, and be motivated because it is their choice. And if they find they don’t like that path, they can re-look at the choices and try again. I like your ideas!


  4. I really love this post, Betsy. And these lines, in particular: We need to know students as people and as writers. We need to understand their strengths as much as we understand their struggles.
    Not every day is going to be a great writing day for some of our students, but if we believe in them…they take small steps, and then bigger ones. I love Kaylee’s “Sneak attack of kindness” story idea – share that one with us, won’t you?


  5. How precious! Getting our young writers to really internalize that they are writers is the most important thing. Therein lies the motivation. In great classrooms I have seen it is an absolute. “We are all writers, what shall we write today?” Is the mantra I hear over and over. Having a strong classroom community and sharing our reading lives is a great way to tap into interests. I always like to have a go to fact about a student as a “way in” to a conversation. Comfortable little ones gain the courage to share at their own pace while being nudged along. Great and important post!


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