How to Foster Student Motivation: The Key to Academic Success

A classroom full of students are busy completing an assignment while the teacher holds a conference with a small group.

Some students hunch over their work, absorbed in completing their assignment. In another area, students chatter about the upcoming weekend. Another student is almost asleep, their head resting in their arms.

A wide range of student motivation levels can be observed in this classroom. The assignment is the same for all students, so how do some children find motivation to do it while others don’t?

Student motivation can be elusive and tricky for teachers and parents to instill. A better understanding of what student motivation is, how it works, and why it matters can help educators and parents build motivation in the children under their care. Let’s take a look!

What Is Student Motivation?

Student motivation is the desire or willingness to complete school-related tasks. School-related tasks can mean paying close attention to a lecture, completing an assignment, studying for a quiz, or simply following instructions.

But, what is student motivation on a deeper level?

Student motivation is composed of three main parts.

Elements of Student Motivation

Student motivation doesn’t come out of thin air! It is a complex driving force that can help students succeed or flounder. Here are the elements of student motivation:

Ability Self-Concept or Expectancy

This refers to perceived skill-level. In other words, the students ask themselves questions like “Am I good at this?” or “CAN I do this?” The more capable students believe themselves to be, the more motivation they have. Research has shown that this aspect of motivation is a key factor in academic performance. In another study, ability self-concept was the strongest predictor of academic success.


Another important element of student motivation is that they believe it is a valuable use of their time. Students might ask themselves “Is it worth it to do this?”, or “Will this be important for my life?”. When students see little value in school activities, they have poor motivation. When they believe in what they’re doing, they are far more likely to engage.


Chelsea Yarborough and Heather Fedesco of Vanderbilt University also highlight that many students may face obstacles or barriers to success. For example, students might not have internet access at home or may be required to help care for younger siblings. These barriers prevent children from feeling like they have a chance at completing the school activity, and may even affect their attitude during class time.

These elements can help explain why students might be highly motivated in some subjects and not in others. Their ability, self-concept and sense of value may vary greatly between subjects!

Just think, a future professional sports player may be highly motivated in gym class (because she’s good at and loves to play sports), but she may not be motivated in mathematics (because she struggles with it and sees no value in it).

Why Learning Motivation Matters

Learning motivation isn’t just a “nice to have” feature that makes teaching easier for educators. Student motivation can make a real difference in student behaviors and outcomes. When students are motivated, they are more persistent and put more effort into their school work.

You can guess the results!

Students who are motivated achieve higher academic performance.

Student Motivation and Academic Performance

Student motivation and academic performance are closely linked. Over one hundred studies pointed to the conclusion that student motivation is one of the best predictors of GPA. In another study, maths students with greater motivation had better grades.

Specifically, intrinsic motivation is valuable in learning outcomes and achievement. In other words, students who view learning as enjoyable are more likely to be high achievers than those who don’t.

What can we do with this information? There are some clear practical steps teachers and parents can take to help build student motivation.

How to Motivate Students

Here are some important strategies you can use to help motivate students:

Build a Growth Mindset

One of the key elements of student motivation is ability self-concept. Students who think they’re “stupid” or “not good at maths” may believe that this is a permanent trait - something they can’t change. That is not true! Our brains can grow and change. When students begin to believe that it’s possible to grow, they change these thought patterns and begin to believe that they can be smart and good at maths. This is called building a growth mindset. To help children, we should help them understand that their ability is not fixed, and help them adopt positive mantras like “I can do this!”. It’s also important to emphasise that mistakes are just a part of the learning process.

We have brought these ideas to Matific - we understand very well that getting things wrong is part of learning anything, especially in mathematics. When students answer incorrectly, they’re encouraged to try again and prompted with new strategies to help them succeed. We want to make sure students become comfortable with failure, heading off “maths anxiety” and helping them adopt a growth mindset.

Highlight Relevance and Value

To help with the value element of student motivation, ask students to imagine how they might find a topic they’re studying helpful in the real world. Be careful though, students must generate these ideas themselves! If you say “You’ll need to know this in high school,” research shows you’ll only turn students off. But, if students themselves identify how school topics will be useful for them in the future, grades and interest will improve!

Use Adaptive Learning

If you’re wondering how to motivate students, try adaptive learning! Adaptive learning is tailored to a student’s strengths and weaknesses, while also moving at the student’s pace. This type of learning boosts motivation because the learning goals are relevant and interesting to students.

In a Matific maths classroom, two students sitting next to each may be operating at very different year levels. The app adapts the pace and difficulty of the activities to their unique needs. However, the two students will see the same interface and be presented with a very similar experience. We want to make sure that students understand their effort and perseverance is what matters - the student growing the fastest is the best in the class!

Try Student-Led Learning

When students help direct their own learning, they’re more invested and motivated to learn. In student-led learning, students help pick projects, activities, and determine their learning goals.

We bring student-led learning to Matific by allowing students to track their own progress and growth. In the Training Zone, students can see the full list of skills they are working on. By visualising their progress - and their growth - we help students take charge of their learning journey. Here we reward students who show initiative and concentrate on the areas where they can improve the most.

Make it Fun!

Bringing game-like aspects to learning can boost student motivation by helping students see greater value in the learning. It’s something they want to do! One study showed that using board-games in the classroom can help boost motivation and achievement.

Matific brings fun to the maths classroom every day! Our activities are fun, entertaining, and relate maths concepts to real life.

Remove Barriers

Where possible, remove barriers and obstacles so that students can achieve. Schools can offer spaces like libraries so that children can access the internet after school. Or, parents can strive to give their children the time in their schedules and a quiet place at home to complete homework.

When parents and teachers focus on improving student motivation, they’re taking great steps toward helping students achieve their full potential!

Are you ready to discover how Matific can help boost student motivation in maths? Sign up for your free trial today!