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What Really Motivates Students?: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

What Really Motivates Students?: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

Visitors to Schechter Manhattan often comment to me about how engaged and happy students appear.  They notice how the students are busy at work, focused on the learning activities at hand.  Sometimes I am asked, what motivates our students?  Why do they choose to do hard things in order to learn?

Motivating students, and people, in general, is a challenge faced by all educators, and Schechter Manhattan is no exception.  After all, our students don’t get a choice about whether they come to school, the adults in their lives insist.  And, at Schechter Manhattan, like at most schools, we adults have made decisions about what content, concepts, skills, and values to include in the curriculum of study- things we think are really important and expect all students to learn.  Add to that our approach to assessment and reporting, which includes lots of feedback but no grades or other such external motivators, and the question becomes even sharper.  What motivates students to try?