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The Power of Self-Motivation in the Primary Years

Unpacking our Flinders Learner Powers - A Five-Part Series 
Article #5: The Power of the 'Self-Motivation’ Learner Power 
By Mrs Ingrid Clarke, Head of Senior Primary

Self-motivation is the internal drive that leads us to take action towards a goal and to persist in the face of challenges. At Flinders, our teachers are instrumental in supporting students to develop their ‘Self-Motivated’ Learner Power by bringing energy to their learning. When students are engaged and focused, work hard and aim high, they develop the tools to be self-motivated and exhibit perseverance and resilience.

The role of self-motivation in academic success is closely tied to a student’s belief in their academic abilities (self-efficacy) and their sense of purpose for learning (Dogan, 2015). A self-motivated student tends to be more proactive, taking the personal initiative to go beyond the scope of the assigned curriculum.

The Benefits of Intrinsic Motivation 

As Ryan & Desi (2000) found, when students are intrinsically motivated, they engage in their studies for the inherent pleasure of learning and achieving, as opposed to being driven by external rewards or influences. Some of the best ways to build motivation for primary-aged students is through praising their effort, modelling motivated behaviour and promoting a growth mindset. Students of this age are still developing their sense of self, so trying new things and exposing them to new ways of learning can assist them in developing new motivational tools. When students are motivated, they are more likely to engage in their learning, take responsibility for their own progress and seek out resources and opportunities to improve their performance (Brubaker, A. 2023).

A team of Canadian and Australian researchers decided to take a scientific approach and comb through classroom studies across the world on sparking student motivation. They found 144 studies involving nearly 80,000 students, from elementary school through to university. 

Bureau's comprehensive research study (2021) highlighted the critical role that both teachers and parents play in cultivating intrinsic motivation within students. This intrinsic drive is essential for fostering a student's growth in three key areas: competency, belonging and autonomy. The study's findings underscore that when students are internally motivated, they are more likely to develop a genuine interest in learning, leading to enhanced academic performance, greater persistence in the face of challenges and improved overall wellbeing.

Self-Motivation as a Predictor of Success in Learning

The evidence gathered from the research strongly indicates that self-motivation is a powerful predictor of success in school. Students who are motivated by an internal desire to learn and excel tend to exhibit higher levels of engagement and resilience, which are crucial for academic achievement. On the other hand, the study revealed that motivation driven by external factors, such as the pursuit of rewards or the fear of punishment, is the least beneficial. This type of extrinsic motivation is associated with lower levels of wellbeing and can undermine a student's long-term success. When students are primarily motivated by external rewards, they may become more focused on short-term gains and less likely to develop a sustained interest in learning (Barshay, J. 2021). 

In summary, Bureau's research underscores the paramount importance of fostering intrinsic motivation in students. By doing so, educators and parents can significantly enhance a student's competency, sense of belonging and autonomy, laying the foundation for lifelong learning and wellbeing. 

MFAC_Learner_Powers_Self-Motivated (1)
Key Takeaways for Parents

Parents wondering how to empower their child to be more self-motivated in learning and life can consider using these strategies and approaches.  

  • Self motivation begins with praise:
    You can help your child to feel competent, develop self-belief in their academic ability and gain a sense of accomplishment, even if they get some answers wrong. Pointing out the positives and celebrating their successes will encourage your child to be more motivated in their learning.
  • Separate effort from achievement:
    Praise your child for their efforts, rather than their performance, and for trying their best even if the outcome wasn’t the grade they wanted. Receiving recognition for hard work will motivate them to continue putting in the effort to achieve.
  • Enable your child to take an active role in decision making:
    When your child feels their voice is being heard in decision making and goal setting for their learning, they are more likely to stay motivated. For example, discuss with your child the favourite topics they might choose to work on in future classroom learning or let them pick the household chores they’d like to conquer on the weekend to help as part of the family. 
  • Model motivated behaviour:
    You can demonstrate self-motivation by attempting new tasks such as DIY projects at home or learning a new skill. Let your child see you working hard, sometimes failing and persisting to achieve.
  • Encourage your child to try new things:
    Expose your child to new experiences and different ways of learning to help them develop their motivational tool kit. Perhaps you could go on regular hikes in the hinterland or along the coastline as a family, noticing how you get stronger and more confident with each adventure. Or you could let your child choose a cake recipe to bake together.
Read about our other Learner Powers:

NOTE: This article is part of a five-article series to explore the five learning dispositions of the Flinders Primary School's signature Learner Powers program. To follow the series, visit the website news page here or see the articles below. 

Article #1: Reflective Learner Power click here 
Article #2: Innovative Learner Power click here.
Article #3: Collaborative Learner Power click here. 
Article #4: Resilience Learner Power . 
Article #5: Self-Motivated Learner Power, see this article above. 

Article references:

Barshay, J. 2021. The Hechinger Report: PROOF POINTS: What almost 150 studies say about how to motivate students.

Bureau, J. Howard, J. Chong, J. Guay, F. 2021. Review of Educational Research: Pathways to Student Motivation: A Meta-Analysis of Antecedents of Autonomous and Controlled Motivations.

Dogan, U. 2015. ResearchGate: Student Engagement, Academic Self-efficacy, and Academic Motivation as Predictors of Academic Performance.

Ryan, R. Desi, E. 2000. Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being.

Brubaker, A. 2023. Connections Academy: 

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