We often think of motivation as something we have or we don't. We think of students as being motivated or unmotivated.
Motivation experts have long moved beyond this way of thinking about motivation. We know motivation can vary in both quantity and quality, and we know motivation is a broad umbrella that is actually composed of many different beliefs. These beliefs act as sources of motivation (or the lack thereof) that drives effort, performance, strategy use, and all those good things we need for success.
More recently, we have begun to consider how motivation isn't just a personal, internal process. Instead, we acknowledge that each individual person is part of a larger eco-system of relationships and experiences that, together with that person's mind, shape how much and how well a person is motivated toward a given task in a given moment. This is called a situative approach to motivation.
This means that our experiences and interactions can actually change our motivation. This places the responsibility of motivating students not only on the students themselves, but also on teachers, parents, administrators, and policy-makers.
Why aren't students motivated? This is a great question. Perhaps a better one is: how can we make their learning contexts more motivating?
For more on the situative perspective, see Susan Nolen's recent writings: