David Wingfield, Headmaster of Eaton House The Manor Pre-Prep School for boys aged 4-8, discusses how to build self-motivated learners

‘It’s not that I can’t do it, it’s that I can’t do it yet!’ is an oft-repeated phrase at Eaton House The Manor Pre-Prep. We believe in encouraging boys to have a go and try their best to succeed, even if the path forward is not immediately illuminated.

With the average number of jobs per lifetime increasing with each generation, it is more important than ever that those first few years of school build a deep-rooted love of learning that will carry children through life. As educators, it is our duty to foster an environment in which children are not only stretched but wish to stretch themselves. We want them to relish each new challenge, rather than run from it.  With this in mind, I have broken down the strategies that we, at Eaton House Belgravia Pre-Prep, use to motivate the boys in our charge to want to expand their own potential.

Champion creativity and independence

We know that one of the surest ways to build resilient motivation is to support boys’ individuality and freedom of expression, while challenging ‘permission culture’ and anxious perfectionism in relation to schoolwork. It boils down to encouraging children’s natural ability to want to push boundaries, do things their way, take risks and have a go, and it applies equally to English and mathematics.

Break down the steps to success

We support every child, by breaking each task down into small, achievable steps that form part of a challenging trajectory for that individual. Teachers make hundreds of micro-assessments in every lesson, to gauge how each pupil is progressing through a task, and how that task may be adapted ‘on the fly’, in order to enable them to make progress during the lesson.

Eaton House The Manor Pre-Prep on building boys' motivation
Celebrating achievements, big and small, and championing independence are important in building boys’ motivation, says David Wingfield of Eaton House The Manor

Celebrate small wins

Whether a boy has taken his first steps in forming a letter or a number, remembered – at long last! – to include capital letters and full stops, or written a self-motivated description of their favourite food, well-judged praised for effort reinforces self-esteem and builds motivation.

Accept that motivation can ebb

We do not expect our pupils to be robots, with equal levels of motivation every hour of every day. We treat them with empathy and understanding when things just will not flow. Our aim is to help them to view dips and slips as part of the process of deep and effective learning, rather than a cause for disappointment and despondency.

Foster a mastery approach

We use a multi-sensory and graduated teaching style that prioritises depth of conceptual understanding as the foundation of pace and fluency of procedure – from developing a deep understanding of composition of the number six, to considering examples of how commas may be used in clauses. Teachers model the best examples, and sometimes make deliberate mistakes to prove that they are mere hiccups on the path to success.

We run welcoming and inclusive classrooms, with a culture of high expectations. Activities and lessons are designed so that boys across the attainment spectrum may commence a task – often choosing it themselves – that is pitched at a level ‘just right’ for them, before moving onto progressively more challenging activities.

Our aim is to educate pupils to be adventurous, curious, and brave. This starts in our classrooms and our approach to learning in English and mathematics, and it quickly spreads across the curriculum and beyond the walls of the school because the insights above, I believe, are as valuable for progress in life as they are for academia.

Eaton House The Manor eatonhouseschools.com

Further reading: Sandroyd on taking learning outside