Student motivation: Part I

I was going to title this something like “Who to blame when it comes to student motivation,” but the word “blame” seemed too negative. And I couldn’t think of anything creative because I thought it might take away from the seriousness of the issue: student motivation is tough thing to master. That is, if it can ever be mastered.

Note: this entire post is going to be sporadic and jumpy because I can’t even begin to grasp the concept of student motivation. This post is merely just a way for me to complicate and problematize my understanding of student motivation.

The idea for this post came a few weeks ago after my mentor and I returned unit exams back to the students. From the beginning of the year to that first test, student interest, note-taking and participation fluctuated from person to person and from day to day. But overall, it was all probably less than my mentor and I would have liked.

I’m in a 1-to-1 school, which means there is one laptop for every student. Yes, the school gave them each a personal laptop. We’ve had some good lessons (integrating chatrooms into readings of plays) and bad lessons (student distraction with games) involving these laptops. But in general, it’s not uncommon for us to notice a game being played. Fortunately, our students are responsive and will turn it off and focus back on the task at hand.

My mentor said she had a class discussion a little bit ago and the students agreed that these laptops were more of a distraction than positive tool to their learning. Dang.

But the thing is, my mentor and I have had some really engaging, fun and meaning-making lessons with these laptops. And this brings me to the essence of “Part I” of student motivation: the teacher.

Teachers need to make sure that their lessons are strong, eventful, engaging, FUNNY, and overall enjoyable. They also have to contain learning goals. But, I believe, it’s possible to mix all of those together – and then some – to keep students motivated in class. We need to make sure that tasks will not lead themselves to distractions and that the students can stay on task.

If we’re in a whole class discussion, the teacher needs to walk around and have a strong presence in the room to encourage all students to focus and participate in one way or another. If the students are in small group discussions, we need to check in on those groups. We need to see how they’re doing and if they’ve run into any problems.

Overall, and this is especially relevant to my class, the teacher needs to make sure students understand that everything builds on each other. From the first day of a unit (or even school year) to the final day of that unit, lessons should connect. It should get to the point where a student can have that “Oh yeah, I remember that” or “This reminds me of” moment during a lesson. If a teacher can make sure students know that everything works together and builds off previous lessons, the hopefully the students will be more engaged and motivated to stay on task because it is a nice combination of new material mixed with prior knowledge.

The teacher, obviously, must play a major part in student motivation. If there’s a boring lesson, the students daze and get distracted. If it’s interesting and engaging, the students focus.

Does this even answer anything?

Still, even if the teacher does everything in his or her power to motivate students, doesn’t some responsibility fall onto the students as well?

That’ll be my next post, hopefully sometime this weekend after I take the Praxis II. I got to see a talk by Bena Kallick about the “habits of mind” during an in-service a week or so ago, which I’ll throw into that post.

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1 Comment

Filed under Accessing Prior Knowledge, Classroom management, Education, English, Lesson, Lesson planning, Motivation, Personal, Prior Knowledge, Student Teaching, Teaching

One response to “Student motivation: Part I

  1. This is one of those situations where there isn’t really a totally right or wrong method for student motivation. For younger students, certificates and badges tend to work very well and for older students other rewards and incentives work better. I’ve been in a school where older students were given vouchers for spending in stores but maybe this is a little extreme!

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