How Praise, Intrinsic Motivation, Effort and Student Achievement Go Hand in Hand

By Dr Raymond Huntington

Any parent who has set foot in a Huntington Learning Center before has likely heard our teachers stress the importance of recognizing children’s efforts, not their achievements. Our years of experience with thousands of children have taught us that it is far more effective to encourage children to work hard on homework and in school than it is to encourage them to strive for high grades and test scores. Our beliefs on this are rooted in research: the right kind of praise inspires motivation, and therefore, achievement. Also, studies show that one of the key dimensions of student motivation is control, a student’s belief that there is a direct link between his or her actions and successful outcomes.

At Huntington, we strive to not only build students’ academic competence and ability, but also nurture the development of their intrinsic motivation: the desire to complete tasks for the self-satisfaction that results from doing so. We know that students who are intrinsically motivated are more likely to take ownership of their success in school and put forth the effort that it requires.

Without a doubt, many children are extrinsically motivated by rewards such as praise from teachers and parents, grades or other factors. This is natural, of course, as not all students find enjoyment in homework. However, there are many ways that you can foster intrinsic motivation, even if you cannot convince your child to love Algebra or writing papers. Here are a few effective strategies to motivate your child, an essential part of helping him or her become a stronger student:

Encourage the child to value hard work. Emphasize the importance of perseverance in all that your child does, and especially in school. Learning is a journey that requires goal setting and constant dedication, and your child needs to know that it isn’t always easy. Teach your child that the way to master a subject, improve in something or overcome challenges is to put in the effort. When it comes to learning, progress is success.

Nurture a child’s inner curiosity. Challenge your child to explore new topics, question assumptions and never take knowledge for granted. Doing so encourages learning for the sake of learning, and it also teaches your child to be more independent as a learner. Congratulate your child when you notice him or her coming up with new ideas and solutions to problems.

Point out the relevance. Continually point out how your child’s school work is relevant in daily life. Especially when he or she doesn’t necessarily enjoy a subject or topic, it’s helpful to share ways that the subject matter is used in the real world or why it is important.

Embrace a growth mindset. A growth mindset is the belief that intelligence isn’t a fixed trait, but rather, one that can be nurtured and developed. Children who have a growth mindset understand that effort is the way to become smarter and recognize that a challenge is an opportunity to learn, not a road block.

When parents hold high, but achievable expectations for children, praise their efforts, encourage them to learn from their mistakes and point out often that such a combination is what leads to learning and improvement, they fuel their children’s intrinsic motivation. Just as important, such actions send the message that learning is continuous and requires persistence. Take note when your child works hard and makes progress. In doing so, you’ll help shape his or her attitude about the effort and diligence that school requires and will foster his or her long-term academic success.  

About Huntington

Huntington is the tutoring and test prep leader.  Its certified tutors provide individualized instruction in reading, phonics, writing, study skills, elementary and middle school math, Algebra through Calculus, Chemistry, and other sciences. It preps for the SAT and ACT, as well as state and standardized exams.  Huntington programs develop the skills, confidence, and motivation to help students succeed and meet the needs of Common Core State Standards.  Founded in 1977, Huntington’s mission is to give every student the best education possible.  Learn how Huntington can help at For franchise opportunities please visit   

©2016 Huntington Mark, LLC. Huntington Learning Center®, the three-leaf logo, and 1 800 CAN LEARN® are registered trademarks of Huntington Mark, LLC. Each franchised Huntington Learning Center is operated under a franchise agreement with Huntington Learning Centers, Inc.


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