Do you believe students become smarter through learning or that intelligence is determined at birth? How we as educators answer that question ties into the subject of motivation as a force for learning.
For me, the importance of motivation surfaced in the early 1980s while I was working with a group of seventh-grade students who had been classified as "gifted."
Some of these students were highly motivated to achieve while others were less motivated and underachieving. This latter group seemed to believe that because they were "smart," they did not need to put forth much effort in school. In contrast, their higher-achieving peers seemed to understand that they needed to put forth effort in order to reach their potential and achieve better results in school.
Over the years, I've heard teachers tell stories about students who have overcome odds to become high academic achievers. These are the students who have put effort into their learning to become top performers. Teachers love having these students in the classroom because their work hard.
In classrooms, when students believe their are responsible for their own success, they are likely to feel a sense of pride in their accomplishments and confidence in their abilities. This fuels continued effort to achieve. On the other hand, if they attribute their success to someone else—i.e., "The teacher gave me an A"—they are less likely to feel pride and confidence that it was their hard work that allowed them to achieve academically.
The belief that intelligence can be developed, just as musical talent or athletic ability can be honed through dedication and hard work, is a crucial element to motivation that will improve academic performance.