Low Motivation in Kids


Motivation refers to the ability of students to understand the teacher’s instructions and to perceive them as adding value to their education and lives. Motivated students cooperate with the teacher and perform exemplarily (Guzzini, 2011). Such students follow instructions and perform tasks assigned to them on time. Low-motivation steps in when the students are no longer interested in the teacher’s instructions or the school activities. Such students do not see the need for or the benefit of the learning process. They cannot wait to finish school while some may end up quitting altogether. The level of student motivation is influenced by both internal and external factors. Low levels of motivation in children can however be mitigated through the application of the motivation and constructivism theories.

Motivation Theory

Motivation is simply the psychology of influencing an organism to behave in a particular way to achieve the desired outcome. Motivation can be internal or external. Internal motivation springs from within the individual and can be attributed to interest in the task that is about to be undertaken. Intrinsically motivated students tend to perform better in all the activities that they engage in. Extrinsic motivation on the other hand comes from external factors whereby the individual in question must be pushed to perform a task. Something has to be done to ensure that the individual is interested in the outcome of the task. External motivation factors include punishment, money, and good grades.

Extrinsic motivation only encourages an individual to outdo others while intrinsic motivation encourages individuals to enjoy the rewards of their passion. Fitting an individual’s values and beliefs with the task results is intrinsic motivation that pushes the individual to perform better. Intrinsic motivation is therefore highly recommended for students who are encouraged to specialize in subjects that arouse their interests (Abbott, Dornbush, Giddings & Thomas, 2012).

There are various motivational theories that are attributed to various psychologists. The instinct theory of motivation is attributed to William James. It proposes that evolution has programmed people to behave in particular ways (Katz, 2011). Inborn human instincts such as love, shame, attachment, anger, shyness, and fear propel a person to be motivated to perform a particular task and to refrain from engaging in another one. The incentive theory of motivation presumes that external rewards inspire people to perform activities. For instance, workers go to work due to the monetary motivation of receiving a salary.

The drive theory of motivation opines that people engage in activities in order to meet their day-to-day needs (Hickey & Robinson, 2010). For instance, hunger motivates people to eat. When people have unmet needs, they suffer from tension which motivates them to act. According to the arousal theory of motivation, the need to raise or reduce levels of arousal makes people to behave or act in particular ways. When arousal levels reduce people engage in activities that increase the arousal while when the levels soar, people are motivated to engage in activities that reduce the arousal. The theory presumes that people are motivated to maintain an optimum level of arousal.

The hierarchy theory was advanced by Abraham Maslow who opined that fulfilling unmet needs is the greatest motivating factor. A person starts from fulfilling the lower-level needs before advancing to the higher level needs. The needs in order of hierarchy (from the lowest to the highest) are Physiological needs; Safety needs; Identity needs; Self-esteem needs; and self-actualization needs. His theory is mainly utilized in motivation of employees.

The two-factor theory is attributed to Frederick Herzberg. The theory combines factors of external and internal motivation. The theory states that factors that motivate people keep changing but self-respect remains the top factor during a person’s entire lifetime. Richard Ryan and Edward Deci proposed the Self-determination theory. The theory stipulates that intrinsic motivation is central to sparking a person’s interest in activities. Intrinsic motivation is the best for personal growth, self-esteem and individual development (Kincheloe, 2007).

Motivation plays a pivotal role in the learning process of students. Motivation in the education process differs from the psychological notion of motivation. Motivation is applied in education for various purposes; to improve the performance of students; to enhance cognition and processing of information among students; to increase concentration, energy, and effort; and to focus student’s behavior towards achievement of goals. Most students are not intrinsically motivated since they view education as an obligation and an unnecessary evil (Schunk & Meece, 2011). Extrinsic motivation in form of rewards and punishment is widely practiced in classrooms.

Constructivism Theory

Constructivism theory emphasizes on creating meaning of life and the world through constructs. Constructs are the factors that change a person’s reality and perception of something. In education, the constructivism theory is applied by placing a student in a particular environment and allowing the student to gain knowledge by familiarizing with the environment. The student acquires and tests the new knowledge through staying and interacting in the environment (Harwood, Miller & Vasta, 2008).

The theory of constructivism is attributed to John Dewey who is credited with creating an intellectually stimulating environment for learning in his laboratory. Learners acquired knowledge through conducting experiments and seeing the outcomes firsthand for themselves. He was insistent that the educational system must incorporate democracy since not much could be achieved if the learners did not have self-will. Real-life experience and experiments construct knowledge in a learner’s mind.

Constructivists are of the view that education is not what the teacher teaches. According to them, education is what the learner’s mind conceptualizes upon conducting experiments in the environment. The teacher’s role is limited to scheduling activities in a specified environment then leaving learners to obtain whatever knowledge they can without direct interference from the teacher (Chen, McPheeters & IGI Global, 2011). Constructivists purport that learners are endowed with creativity, innovation, and self-direction. Education serves the purpose of creating new knowledge through analysis of existing knowledge.

According to social constructivists, rewards are integral to celebrating the uniqueness of a student. The learner must arrive at his version of knowledge based on his cultural background and perception of the world (Katz, 2011). The responsibility or learning vests with the student not the teacher. The learner’s motivation for learning in such an environment depends on the student’s potential and confidence for learning. First-hand experience is the greatest motivating factor since it builds and sustains motivation as opposed to extrinsic factors. A learner’s confidence is build through successful accomplishment of assigned tasks.

Constructivists believe that the learner achieves more when the teacher acts as a learning facilitator rather than an instructor. The work of an instructor extends to mere lecturing while a facilitator ensures that the learner conceptualizes the information and generates new knowledge. Facilitators engage in dialogue while teachers engage in monologues that students find monotonous and demoralizing. The environment is set to stimulate and challenge the thinking process of the student. Constructivists thus view the learning process as an interactive, active, and social activity.

In the constructivist theory, the student learns from the teacher as the teacher is learning from the student. The teacher’s background also becomes integral to the learning process. Since learners have different cognitive capacities and skills, they are encouraged to collaborate with each other. The results are that each of them ends up understanding the same knowledge after assessing different viewpoints. The context in which the teaching occurs is the central aspect of the learning process. Dividing knowledge into different units/subjects is highly discouraged by constructivists since knowledge should be understood as a whole. Constructivists therefore advocate for inquiry-based and problem-based teaching methods. Critics have dismissed the constructivist theory as utopian and misleading.

Causes of Low Motivation

The assessment of statistic data does not depict an optimistic picture in today’s educational system of the United States. On the contrary, the results received during a number of anonymous surveys, held in American schools during the last decade, indicated a great problem among the kids. According to Martin (2012), compared to the previous generations of American society, the percentage of children, who feel unmotivated to study, grows on a regular basis. In 2010, 38% of boys stated that they were not interested in the majority of school subjects, and school was a negative experience in their life. This number was less among girls, and it amounted to 29% (Martin, 2012). Below, the reasons for such a state of affairs will be addressed.

Students suffer from low motivation due to diverse factors. Some students lack motivation due to learning disabilities or attention deficiency which causes organization and concentration problems (Guzzini, 2011). These disorders usually manifest in form of laziness and poor performance of tasks when compared to colleagues. Change of environment can also lead to low motivation particularly when the student has just moved from a different geographic location.

The student’s personality and disposition also affects the levels of motivation. Non-verbal cues delivered by parents at home or teachers at school may influence a student’s motivation. Curriculums that are not challenging tend to bore students and reduce their levels of interest in the subject. On the other hand, curriculums that are too complex and complicated tend to push away students by reducing their zeal for studying (Hickey & Robinson, 2011). The teaching methodology determines the rate of motivation of students. Passive non-interested teachers often generate resentment and low-motivation among students while active interactive teachers tend to boost the motivation levels among their students.

Some students have claimed that the high expectations that parents put upon them lead to low-motivation when they cannot deliver the results expected of them. They are thus not motivated to engage in extra activities that they like. They end up being disappointed in themselves since they are deprived of the satisfaction that comes with doing something you like.

Drug and alcohol use, depression and normal illnesses have also been cited among factors that cause low motivation. Depression leads to reduction in the zest for life leading to withdrawal and general disinterest in all activities. Everything seems hopeless and the focus for learning declines to zero levels. Students suffering from depression can only be helped by a visit to the therapist while rehabilitation services can greatly help students suffering from drug use.

Relationship issues such as break-ups or negative relationships with parents reduce zeal for learning. Consistent failures in examinations, extra-curricular activities and other activities in the school calendar generally discourage a learner. A lack of self-esteem coupled with a lack of confidence in one’s capabilities regularly causes students to lose their motivation. Schools are perceived negatively, and most children simply do not like to learn.

Bullying reduces student motivation by creating an environment full of fear and intimidation for the student victim. The student’s rate of attendance tends to reduce as the instance of bullying increase (Katz, 2011). Bullying reduces the victim’s interest in schoolwork. It also reduces the self-esteem and degrades the self-worth of the student leading to an inferiority complex, which is a fertile breeding ground for low motivation. Such students refrain from speaking their minds in turn reducing the quantity and quality of the output of schoolwork that they deliver.

Methods of Raising Motivation

Nowadays, a great number of methods that raise motivation levels among students, mainly based on motivation and constructivism theories, are developed. In general, the task of a teacher is to provide multiple means of action and expression to the students to engage them into the educational process (Martin, 2012). The multiple means of engagement should be used by a teacher to involve students in the process of learning including activities such as drama, songs, films, and short stories as part of teaching methodology. Also, engagement in collective and reflective practice should become an important goal for teachers.

In addition, while making educational plans, the pupils’ needs, abilities and preferences should be taken into account (Niehaus, Rudasill, & Adelson, 2012). Children with psychological problems need a special attention. Specific level of learning difficulty for students is to be regulated on the basis of the student’s previous experience. Inclusion of opinion serves as a great motivating factor for students whose low-motivation stems from self-esteem issues.

Besides, students need help in managing their emotional readiness for studies; thus, in times, teachers will have to provide not only educational assistance to their students, but even a psychological one (Martin, 2012). The majority of children with different abilities are under-served by this mainstream curriculum. It is one of the main problems of modern education. To improve the situation, teachers should develop new effective approaches aiming not only to improve student’s body of knowledge, but also to help them develop as personalities.

Finally, proper assessment strategies should be utilized by teachers (Niehaus et al., 2012). Rewarding students who perform and encouraging those who do not with positive words also helps in boosting motivational levels in the classroom. Condemning students who do not perform or comparing them with their colleagues should be avoided since it would only serve to discourage them.


Both the motivation theory and constructive theory of education play significant roles in motivating students with low-levels of motivation. Constructivist theories deliver the best results when applied to learners at a higher level of learning than when applied to beginners. When children are at their early stages of learning, motivation theories should be applied in boosting their levels of motivation. Besides, visits to places where knowledge learnt at school is being applied practically will excite and motivate children. The teacher may take them to offices and workshops where the knowledge they are learning is being applied. The teacher should also create an environment where collaboration is encouraged in place of competition. Competition humiliates low-performing students who may feel as if they are not good-enough while collaboration enables students to realize their strengths gradually and capitalize on them.


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