The very best form of motivation comes from within. Anyone observing healthy and well-attached infants knows that children are naturally curious and interested in learning, exploring, and mastering challenges. Youngsters with less innate talent but who gain satisfaction from engaging in tasks with responsibility, creativity, and effort can equal the performance of students with IQs 20 points higher. Persistence and task orientation make very significant contributions to achievement, sometimes over twice that made by IQ. Nowhere is this phenomenon more evident than in tracking the occupational success of midd1960s Asian American high school graduates who were of average intelligence. Nevertheless, disproportionate to their numbers, they were working in high-level managerial, professional, and technical positions usually occupied by individuals testing above the 90th percentile on IQ tests. These people benefited from being raised by families that valued education above all else and instilled this drive in their children.
Students with learning disabilities who, despite competing against the odds, have maintained high internal motivation also can achieve significantly beyond the expectations set by their intellectual or information-processing weaknesses. Unfortunately, when such a student's high motivation results in grade-level achievement, the fact that the child has a learning disability may be missed altogether. Ironically, the child's motivation can mask his or her constant struggle, frustration, and effort to keep up.
The very best support for internal motivation is the family. When children see their parents and other family members work hard to achieve, they tend to do likewise. And after a while, they don't need hugs, praise, or treats for doing well. Achievement has become a highly valued motivator in its own right.
To be intrinsically motivated to achieve an objective, the child needs to be interested in the task. But interest isn't enough. A sense of competence ("I can do this"), autonomy ("I am making the decision to do this"), and relatedness ("I feel secure and supported in doing this") supports this intrinsic motivation. In other words, the higher Serena's feelings of competence and the more she sees her family and school as supporting independence in learning and behavior, the higher Serena's achievement is likely to be. This process begins by taking pride in even the smallest of victories. It is important to recognize and reward moves in the right direction—not to expect perfection.
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