I had the opportunity to spend a day this week with a small group of educators at a school in Europe who are focusing on providing quality learning for gifted students, many of whom have not had previous positive school learning experiences. Over several hours we examined learning effort, ability, grit, perseverance and motivation. 

As I was preparing to facilitate this day of thinking and learning I found a recent blog by Larry Ferlazzo.  The title, Response: ‘There Is No Such Thing as an Unmotivated Student, is drawn from a response submitted by Eric Jensen to a teacher’s question, “How can I deal with unmotivated students? I’m a little bit frustrated when I know my students don’t do their homework and sometimes they talk during my lessons.” 

Jensen’s response: 


“First, stop labeling students. There is no such thing as an unmotivated student. If they’re in school, they’re at least willing to give school a try. They may be in unmotivated “states.” States are mind/body “moments” such as the experience of confidence, apathy, fear, cynicism, intrigue, anger or curiosity or defiance. Very few states are good for learning and the best teachers orchestrate “hungry to learn” states like anticipation. But these can be shifted with the right strategies.” 


I really like Jensen’s suggestion of identifying the current learning condition as a “state”. Then focusing not on changing the student but on changing the state. He identifies the problem caused by labeling students. 


“Instead of pointing fingers at how some kids are “low” start moving them into better social, psychological states. Kids who struggle are often very poor at regulating their own internal states.” 


While at the ECIS conference in Amsterdam, I had the opportunity to hear a presentation by Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands who has an extensive history fighting against illiteracy. She echoed the Jensen statement, ”Our labels on struggling students interfere with their learning”. 

Sure seems unlikely that the label would produce a positive learning state. Princess Laurenentein shared examples of why we needed to value the role that young children’s creativity could play in solving real problems. She stated that we need children to learn, dialogue, and take action.  I can see being recognized and engaged in dialogue leading to action as changing a student’s state. 

Most of the strategies I examined with the group of teachers could be connected with changing the state. 

We looked at Daniel Pink’s suggestions of: 

  • Autonomy: The urge to direct our own lives 
  • Mastery: The desire to get better and better at something that matters 
  • Purpose: The yearning to do something that we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. 

I believe that engaging students in Live Event Learning is the easiest way to generate autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Live events can be project based, service learning, expeditionary and many other terms. The key is that the consequences of the students’ decisions and work have real consequences. If the heat is too high on the burner the food burns. If we spent extra time and made phone call request to the community, the food we collected for the drive surpassed the goal set. 

Live Events can influence the learning state because:  

  • They are multisensory.  
  • Emotions are present.  
  • The environment is real.  
  • Relevance is apparent.  
  • The consequence is real.  

The student in this video describes learning in a “state” that provides motivation for learning. I sensed I could see and hear the state listening to the student.