Thursday, March 29, 2012

Student Self-Motivation

What factors determine the level of a student’s intrinsic motivation for success? This has been the essential question within many conversations I’ve had with people lately. On each occasion, I’ve walked away thinking that we’ve nailed the solution, only to take another step and reflect that maybe the actual solution was far away from our concluding thesis. I’m usually left scratching my brow.

Certainly the family priorities hold weight in this discussion. Most of us assume that a student can’t be truly motivated unless their family places education in high regard. Is this a true assumption or are there exceptions? It’s my experience that while the focus and support provided by families is critical to success, it’s not always a sure indicator for a child’s development of self-motivation. I’ve struggled with many students who had very supportive families. Conversely, there are students that appear to have a strong level of motivation whose parents are virtually unknown by the school. How can this be?

Grading, which is definitely the third rail in public education, has been debated as a tool affecting motivation. I’m not sure if students are truly inspired by a grade. Can they be engaged by an assignment, by critical feedback, by affirmation, by goal acquisition? I believe we can all agree; yes. Being motivated by a grade? I’m unsure. Maybe a grade can be viewed as an affirming comment. I guess it could be a motivating factor, but only to the individual students who have a people-pleasing mentality or are already intrinsically motivated. Most grading guru’s would not endorse the idea that a grade should be used to motivate.

Can a teacher be a tool for improving a student’s level of self-motivation? Similar to the concept detailed above regarding parents, a teacher can have a tremendous impact on a child. Believe it or not, you have affected others and probably saved lives. The impact cannot be measured. However, I know of many excellent professional educators who struggle with student motivation. So there must be more to it.

The additional factors leading into a child’s level of self-motivation are limitless. I, like you, have the perspective of watching thousands of students grow and mature. Most develop into confident and successful adults. So, is the level of self-motivation trapped in the developing child’s mind only to be released when maturation progresses? This is an intriguing thought. To compound this issue, it seems, in a general sense, that more young girls develop self-motivation earlier than their male counterparts. Or is this a reflection of a desire to please? Okay, I just stepped over into child development and the field of psychology. (I should know better.)

Let me refocus and reflect on my personal experience. At the age of 15, my sophomore year, and then again at the age of 20, my other sophomore year, I transcended through a metamorphosis and cared about the classes I attended. I can’t attribute many factors to these two specific moments, as my family structure remained the same, my teachers were similar to others that I had, and the grading was done in a relatively consistent manner. Some of my peers developed a deeper sense of personal motivation earlier and many were later. I attended school with some children who, upon reflection, appeared to be self-motivated in the primary grades.

Normally I attempt to impart knowledge, wisdom, and advice. I’m sorry to say that I’m no closer to understanding intrinsic motivation than I was five, ten, or twenty years ago. However, I believe there are many strategies which help develop motivation, such as, goal setting, engaging activities, positive relationships, etc. By externally motivating students through our various methods, I surmise that we are ‘training’ our children to be intrinsically motivated. I would be interested in your thoughts about student self-motivation.

Have a wonderful weekend – almost Spring Break!

Friday, March 23, 2012

You Decide

There’s been a lot of talk this year about budgets, CCLS, APPR, SQR, QIP, SINI, and testing, and they are all connected in some form but I took a few minutes to actually think about pedagogical philosophies. I began with a broad essential question: What is the most important strategy to employ when working with children ages 10-14?

While this exercise is an overly simplistic approach, it did allow me an opportunity to contemplate the many individual classroom strategies, approaches, and methods. I’m sure my pro/con list for each was woefully inadequate and many of you could debate my lists. Knowing that my process was flawed in many respects, I still found value in taking the time to sharpen my view. I would encourage you to take a few minutes, look at your own processes and designs. Spend time thinking about an approach of a colleague, especially if it’s different from your own. What’s the most important for our students? The key phrase is for our students. As I conducted this exercise I felt some déjà vu. I remembered going through this same process as a new teacher. I remember thinking, “What did that teacher down the hall do that was so successful?” I learned a lot then from our former AAKer’s, and I learned a lot in this current activity, too. Go ahead and give this a try.

Well? What’s your answer?

Knowing that I can’t just walk away at this point, I am compelled to share with you my concluding thoughts. While every individual strategy, approach, and method holds merit for measurable student results, few will be effective without one single concept: relationships. A positive relationship between a teacher and a student is the single most important factor in any aspect of teaching. Please do not mistake a positive relationship with being a “push-over” or relinquishing control. The teachers from my past who pushed me the hardest and obtained the most significant results were also my favorite. They weren’t my favorite teachers because they pushed me the hardest. They were my favorite because they took the time to understand and learn about me. As a result, they were able to maximize potential in a reckless, sarcastic child who preferred to sit in the back of the room. I had teachers who tried to push me without building the relationship, as I’m sure you did, too. The results from those classrooms were predictable; frustration.

I hope you have an opportunity this weekend to conduct a similar exercise. It was valuable for me.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

What Did You Do Today?

I remember my father asking this question of me. He tended to ask on Saturday evenings during my adolescent years. I’m sure his intention was to remind me of my chores, which usually remained untouched, but this nostalgic question exploded within me as I read the winning six-word essay. Sponsored by Students First, this unique essay contest drew over 100,000 votes and the winning essay spoke more in six simple words than the largest volumes stored in the recesses of teacher preparatory colleges and hallowed halls of learning. Written by Cullen A. of Indiana, the winning entry was, “I remember her 50 years later.”

So, I ask again. What did you do today? This question now holds intense meaning. Our task must not be diluted, distorted, or masked by outside distractions. Educating our children is paramount and you share this burden of raising the leaders of tomorrow with the parents and community; collaboratively. Because, what you do today will forge tomorrow. Personally, I want to be remembered in 50 years for making a positive impact on this world – one child at a time.