Motivating Students with Disabilities

As the school year starts, special education teachers are thinking about all kinds of things but student motivation is never far from their minds! Learn from educator, psychologist, and author Allen Mendler about ways to make progress with your hardest to reach students:

Five Key Ways to Awaken Motivation

  1. Show students how achievement benefits life. This is a conventional approach, but it works. Tell students that getting good grades, working well, and making an effort do lead to fulfillment in adult life, whether that means going to college, getting a decent job, or buying a house, and so on. Even if students don’t buy into it, the notion will be planted and they will think about it.
  2. Create challenges that students can master. Give students incremental challenges. For example, for the student who chronically doesn’t do homework, Mendler suggests you ask her to do one problem for the next day, saying that you’re going to call on her for the answer. Between 90 and 95 percent of typically unmotivated students, says Mendler, will at least prepare that one problem. Mendler reasons that students who lack motivation have been so accustomed to thinking that they can’t be successful, that they have to be given small opportunities so they “may be reawakened” to the fact that they can be successful.
  3. Focus on the teaching and learning process. Be aware of the characteristics of a task that can be motivational elements. For example, is there enough time for the task? Can the student be successful at it? Is there some novelty to it? Are students sure of the purpose of it? Should it be done by oneself or with a partner?
  4. Establish relationships. If you invest enough chips in your “goodwill account” with certain students, you can make a “withdrawal” for which you demand better behavior, more academic effort, and so on.
  5. Give rewards for an immediate gain. Use this strategy to obtain a quick change in behavior.

Read the rest of Mendler’s article here:

On a personal note, this will be my final post on the What’s So Special… blog as I head off to Massachusetts for the next phase of my journey. It has been a pleasure getting to know many of you through email, phone calls, and workshop attendance. After two years of working with this group I have an answer to the question”What’s so special about special education?” The answer is: you and your students. Please stay tuned for more great posts from JC, Kim, Nichole, Elaine, and the rest of the team at Region 13. Thank you for all you’ve taught me and for all the great work that you continue to do with your students and their families!

Matt Holloway

One Reply to “Motivating Students with Disabilities”

  1. This article was really, really helpful. Thank you for the great information and suggestions. I particularly enjoyed the “leverage vs persuasion” discussion. Excellent.

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