In August of 2009 two boys began their school year at public schools in Southeastern Idaho. Both boys had been raised in similar settings of a two parent home, average income, and raised in a demographically rural community. These boys have had equal opportunities in the educational system of supportive parents and teachers and after school programs. Intellectually both boys have the ability to succeed in school. This tale of two Southeastern Idaho boys, and of millions of children just like them, raises the question of why some students educationally excel and others do not.
If both boys in this scenario have the same opportunities, the same environmental settings, and the same level of intelligence then why will one excel and the other not? Research has shown that motivation reasons, such as fear of failure, incuriosity, and lack of ambition, can cause low classroom achievement. Have you ever been so afraid of failing at something that you decided not to try it at all? Or has fear of failure meant that, subconsciously, you undermined your own efforts to avoid the possibility of a larger failure.
Many of us have probably experienced this at one time or another. The fear of failure can immobilize – it can cause us to do nothing, and therefore resist moving forward. But when we allow fear to stop our forward progress in life, we are likely to miss great opportunities along the way. According to the Reiss Motivational Profile, fear of failure in the number one reason for low achievement in school. Students that display this fear of failure often feel that failure hurts less if they don’t try to succeed.
Signs that a student may have a fear of failure are a reluctance to try new things or get involved in challenging projects, procrastination, and low self-esteem or self-confidence. We have defined the emotion and identified the symptoms, now how can we help overcome. Students with fear of failure may be at their best when parents and teachers stand behind them and encourage them. Positive encouraging words and actions are observed and taken in. Students will respond if the classroom atmosphere is uplifting and rewarding.
Students should be made aware that in everything they do, there’s always a chance that they will fail. Facing that chance, and embracing it, is not only courageous, but it gives them a fuller, more rewarding life. According to Steven Reiss incuriosity scored as the second motivational reason why students have low achievement is school. In the Merriam-Webster dictionary incuriosity is define as lacking a normal or usual curiosity: uninterested. Students in school seem to regulate how much thinking they do. Some need to think a lot, these students need many interests to satisfy their “high” need for intellect.
Others aim to think very little. It is not just one or two topics they hate thinking about, they just don’t like to think for any length of time. At least, that is what they say and how they behave. These school children need many practical activities to gratify their need to minimize thinking. They hate school because it makes them do something [think] they don’t want to do for longer than a few minutes at a time. Teachers need a general sense of how long each individual student needs to think versus how long he/she needs to rest from thinking.
Incurious pupils enjoy thinking for below-average periods of time and need long periods of rest. Teachers should break down the material into small bites and to give emphasis to the practical application of the curriculum. Lack of ambition was rated number three for motivational reason why students have low achievement in school. Lack of ambition is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as absence of the desire to strive toward achievement. For students in school, it manifests as an inability to consistently take action toward goals – or even the inability to create goals in the first place!
Without accepting full responsibility for the direction of their life, students will not be able to commit to a plan of action, and will ultimately remain sitting on the fence. These students find it easy to blame people and situations for their failure to move forward in life. Students can be motivated differently for a variety of reasons, from age to culture to special needs. Teachers will need to incorporate various scenarios. Some motivations might work better than another or a combination of the two is a better approach.
Individual students respond differently, some may respond to tangible rewards, stickers, and praise. Motivation for others will be a sense of accomplishment, responsibility, and pride. The tale of the two junior high boys in Southeast Idaho illustrates the role that fear of failure, incuriosity, and lack of ambition plays in low achievement at school. Both boys had equal opportunities educationally and environmentally. Their internal self shaped the outcome of their achievement. Teachers can encourage and inspire our children to overcome these setbacks of fear, incuriosity, and lack of ambition. Success can be a