I’m not fast. I’m not athletic.
I’m not even funny, like Phoebe on Friends
As a kid, I could sprint across the playground during a game of tag, but I never enjoyed it. When we ran the mile in PE in elementary school, I always came in last.
My PE teacher or coach would holler across the track at me, “Tracy! Pick up the pace!”
And I would scowl. And grumble. And probably jog or walk a little slower, just to protest.
- Making “cold calls”
- Throwing and catching anything
- Doing mental math without using my fingers
- Getting my kids out of the house in a timely manner in the morning.
- Sticking to “the list” at the grocery store.
- Pulling “all-nighters”
- Measuring and being precise.
- Drawing things others can recognize.
So I want to ask today ... what are YOU terrible at?
Now, chances are that, as adults, you have found work-arounds for the things at which you are terrible. If you hate to run, you probably don’t have to. If you are a terrible cook, you have probably found a roommate or a significant other or a take-out menu to take care of that for you. If you are terrible at mental math, you now have a calculator in your pocket to help.
But you’re an adult. So you have a lot of independence to make choices about your life.
Kids have a lot fewer choices. They don’t get to choose where they live or what chores they do or (often) what they get to eat and what classes they are in.
And every time I see a kid who replies “I don’t know” (or worse, “IDK”) at every question he comes across, every time I see a kid put her head down and refuse to work....
I think of running. And how much I hate it.
And I think of what kind of student I would be if I had to go somewhere I didn’t choose every day and if I was forced to do something I disliked which I also happened to be terrible at.
Meaning, what if I had to go somewhere and run every day? What if I was evaluated on my running? What if I was rewarded or punished based on my running ability?
I would hate life.
I would put my head down. I would fold my arms across my chest and make snarky remarks under my breath. Maybe some of those snarky remarks would even bust out loud. I would run as slowly as humanly possible. I would fake sick and ask for a hundred bathroom passes and skip class and forget my running shoes. I would have a terrible attitude.
What are YOU terrible at?
How would YOU feel if you had to do that thing every day?
What would motivate you to work hard at something you hated and stunk at?
I’m pretty sure that if you put me back on that PE track in fourth grade, the only things that would motivate me would be either extrinsic rewards or a powerful relationship with that PE coach.
I don’t pretend to know what will motivate every kid. But I do know what it’s like to be terrible at something. And I do know how awful it feels to have to do that thing I hate every day.
Here are eight suggestions for increasing student motivation (but not a single “magic bullet”)
- Become a role model for student interest.Use energy and enthusiasm. your passion can motivate your students. Make the course personal and show why you are interested in the material.
- Use examples freely. Many students want to be shown why a concept or technique is useful before they want to study it further. Inform students about how your course prepares students for future opportunities.
- Use a variety of student-active teaching activities. These activities directly engage students in the material and give them opportunities to achieve a level of mastery.
- Teach by discovery. Students find it satisfying to reason through a problem and discovering the underlying principle on their own.
- Cooperative learning activities are particularly effective as they also provide positive social pressure.
- Set realistic performance goals and help students achieve them by encouraging them to set their own reasonable goals. Design assignments that are appropriately challenging in view of the experience and aptitude of the class.
- Place appropriate emphasis on testing and grading. Tests should be a means of showing what students have mastered, not what they have not. Avoid grading on the curve and give everyone the opportunity to achieve the highest standard and grades.
- Be free with praise and constructive in criticism. Negative comments should pertain to particular performances, not the performer. Offer nonjudgmental feedback on students’ work, stress opportunities to improve, look for ways to stimulate advancement, and avoid dividing students into sheep and goats.
- Give students as much control over their own education as possible. Let students choose paper and project topics that interest them. Assess them in a variety of ways (tests, papers, projects, presentations, etc.) to give students more control over how they show their understanding to you.
As you start fresh this semester, I would encourage you to think about what YOU are terrible at. I would encourage you to imagine having to do that thing you hate every day.
And I would encourage you to use empathy from that position and think about what would motivate your students who feel about your class the way I feel about running. See what you can do to increase student motivation in 2017.
As always, I love to hear from you! Email me firstname.lastname@example.org