Let's Change Education

Challenge. Discover. Lead. Change.

Month: December 2015 (page 1 of 2)

January 2016 Topic: Motivation

Why aren’t students motivated to learn?  Little has vexed me more than this particular question over the course of my career. And while I have certainly sought the answers during my first two decades in the classroom, the answers elude me, and I remain certain of only one thing: for the most part, kids have little motivation to engage–truly engage–in what we call learning.  This month we will explore and seek to better understand what truly motivates students to learn, hopefully turning understanding into action by doing differently in the classroom.

Is it grades? For a time, naively and stubbornly, I clung to the notion that grades motivated students to engage in learning. And so, for years, I attempted to make kids learn, using grades as both punishment and reward.  I wasted many a year here.  

Is it me?  Maybe if I am engaging, the kids will be more engaged.  And though there is some truth found in this approach, I have often wondered if the kids were really more engaged or just more entertained.  Good teachers have to be engaging, but good teachers, I believe, also know that being engaging alone is not enough to truly engage all the kids in learning.  At least, that has been my experience.  Of course, it may be  that I’m not as engaging as I think.

Is it parents? I became a more empathetic teacher when I became a parent. As a young, yet-to-have-any children-of-my-own teacher, I imagined that parents getting their children to be more committed to education simply required their telling them to do it.  Just do it, right?  As if.  Now, with children of my own, I know and fight the nightly battles to get my children to do their homework, listening to a litany of reasons for why they don’t want to do it, ranging from boredom to frustration.  And sometimes–hear comes the confession of the public-school teacher who’s also a parent, I give in.  I am human,  I am a parent.  I get it.  And while I know that parents play a very vital role in their children’s education, the answer cannot simply lie in parents’ parenting.  There has to be a better answer.

Is it the future? The future can be scary.  And it seems we teachers count on and exploit that to motivate our students. “You have to pass the state assessment…, If you fail this class…, If you want to go to college…, If you want to get a good job…, It will hurt your GPA…, This will be on the final…, When you get into the real world….”  Admittedly, sadly, I believe all of these scare tactics have crossed my lips over the years, especially early on, but now, thankfully, I know better, for these rarely inspire commitment and more often coerce compliance, which does not elicit engagement.

Is it students themselves?  The longer I’m at it, and the more I learn, I have become increasingly suspicious that the truth of the matter lies somewhere within this realm.  Yes, to varying degrees, the above considerations matter and play a role in motivating some students, but not all.  And while we will continue to use them, despite their limited success, I wonder if we shouldn’t instead focus our energy here.  That said, I am not suggesting that we simply dump it on the kids. No, to be sure, but I am suggesting that maybe we need to work harder to create learning opportunities that transcend traditional approaches that emphasize extrinsic factors and compliance,  and focus instead on approaches that trigger intrinsic factors and commitment.

In the end there are no simple answers, and as with most things, the truth is probably closer to the middle than the ends, but without answers, we will never arrive at a truth.  So, over the next month, let’s  seek some solutions, some answers to the question: What will it take to truly motivate students to learn?

Teachers, please join this month’s Teacher Talk conversation post (http://www.letschangeeducation.com/?p=118) by discussing the question: What works and does not work for motivating students to learn in your classroom?

Students–both past and present, please join this month’s Student Say conversation post (http://www.letschangeeducation.com/?p=120) by discussing the question: What really motivates you to learn?

Parents, please join this month’s Parent Perspective conversation post (http://www.letschangeeducation.com/?p=122 ) by discussing the question: From home, what works and does not work for motivating your children to learn?

Public, please join this month’s Public Platform conversation post (http://www.letschangeeducation.com/?p=124) by discussing the question: Now that you are on the outside looking in, how did your motivation impact your own education and what implications has that had in your life after school?

All, please join the conversation–any part of the conversation, for your words matter.

superman

 

Public Platform: Now that you are on the outside looking in, how did your motivation impact your own education and what implications has that had in your life after school?

Public, please join this month’s Public Platform conversation post by discussing the question: Now that you are on the outside looking in, how did your motivation impact your own education and what implications has that had in your life after school?

Welcome, public!  Your words matter.  Please join the conversation.  Though you may have never had or no longer have children in school, and you don’t feel you have a voice or can make a difference, education is a public investment, and you have to help change the narrative and believe that you can help move the needle and change education.  Your words matter.

Note on comments.  Please post honest, open comments.  We have to have real conversations to make any kind of significant change, even if those conversations are tough.  But, please do not post comments that are degrading and/or defamatory to any individuals.  I will not be able to approve them, and unfortunately, your voice will not be heard.

superman

Parent Perspective: From home, what works and does not work for motivating your children to learn?

Parents, please join this month’s Parent Perspective conversation post by discussing the question: From home, what works and does not work for motivating your children to learn?

Welcome, parents!  Your words matter.  Please join the conversation.  As you know, you have a great deal at stake, for there is nothing more important than your children, and while you may not always feel that you have a voice or can make a difference, you have to help change the narrative and believe that you can help move the needle and change education.  Your words matter.

Note on comments.  Please post honest, open comments.  We have to have real conversations to make any kind of significant change, even if those conversations are tough.  But, please do not post comments that are degrading and/or defamatory to any individuals.  I will not be able to approve them, and unfortunately, your voice will not be heard.

superman

Student Say: What really motivates you to learn?

Students–both past and present, please join this month’s Student Say conversation post by discussing the question: What really motivates you to learn?

Welcome, students!  Your words matter.  Please join the conversation.  Though you are young and may not feel you have a voice or you can make a difference, you are the most important voice of all, for it is truly all about you, and you have to help change the narrative and believe that you can help move the needle and change education.  Your words matter.

Note on comments.  Please post honest, open comments.  We have to have real conversations to make any kind of significant change, even if those conversations are tough.  But, please do not post comments that are degrading and/or defamatory to any individuals.  I will not be able to approve them, and unfortunately, your voice will not be heard.

superman

Teacher Talk: What works and does not work for motivating students to learn in your classroom?

Teachers, please join this month’s Teacher Talk conversation post by discussing the question: What works and does not work for motivating students to learn in your classroom?

Welcome, teachers!  Our words matter.  Please join the conversation.  We must remember out of all things and people involved in education, nothing makes a greater impact on a child’s education than a teacher.  That is not to devalue the other stakeholders, for they all play a significant role, but we have the greatest potential to impact change, for we are the change agents in the arena where the most difference can be made–the classroom.  And though we may feel at times that things are out of our control, we have to believe otherwise and find the courage to confront the things that we know we must change. We have to help change the narrative and believe that we can help move the needle and change education.  Our words matter.

Note on comments.  Please post honest, open comments.  We have to have real conversations to make any kind of significant change, even if those conversations are tough.  But, please do not post comments that are degrading and/or defamatory to any individuals.  I will not be able to approve them, and unfortunately, your voice will not be heard.

superman

Subscribe Via Email

Good morning, readers.  You can now subscribe to our blog via email to receive notifications of posts.  You can subscribe at the bottom of the site.  Thank you for joining the conversation.  Your words matter.

superman

Morning Minutes: December 18, 2015

Did I do enough?  Did I do all I could?  Teaching is full of ends and beginnings, a constant cycle of looking forward and looking back, both blessing and curse. Indeed. With each beginning, I wonder at the opportunity and possibility, inspired by hope.  But, with each end, I worry about the outcome and impact, haunted by doubt.  A year and a half ago I began a journey with my student teacher, Maddie Alderete.

Then, I was inspired, an opportunity to learn and grow.  And now, at the end, I am haunted.  Did I do enough?  Did I do all I could to arm her with the tools to be both  scientist and artist in the classroom?  Remarkably, it is not all that different from how I have felt all too often in my career as I bid farewell to my students in June.  My cycle of hope and doubt. And though I would expect that one year I would eventually learn that hope trumps doubt, wisdom eludes me, and I play the part again, forgetting that doubt fades and hope triumphs.  But then I remember.  Just as now,  as I write, my doubt diminishes and hope emerges from a new beginning.  Yes, one journey ends today.  Maddie is done.  But she’s also begun.  And as I look back on our journey, I am reminded of her hard work, her eagerness to learn, her challenges, her successes, and most importantly, her impact on kids.  She is ready.  Whether I did all I could is irrelevant; she is ready.  And as she begins her new journey next month at Connell High School, she will shine in her moment, a moment that will mark the beginning of a brilliant career for an incredibly talented and dedicated young lady entering the best of professions.  Welcome aboard, Maddie.  I am so proud of you.  Thank you for all that you have done for me.

This marks the last “Morning Minutes” of the year for letschangeeducation.com. I will continue when we officially launch our mission in January, when I hope all of you will contribute by joining the conversation, armed with the conviction that your words matter.  They do.

With that, I wish all a happy and safe holiday season.  And as we prepare for the new year, I will leave you with a link to a video that my student Kiersten created for her project on procrastination https://youtu.be/_-zWxuEdjoY.  Take care.  See you in January.

superman

Morning Minutes: December 17, 2015

Good morning.  As our project presentations come to an end today, I’d like to begin by giving one of my students Megan a huge shout out for publicly challenging me to complete this project, resulting in this blog.  Thank you, Ms. Megan.  I wouldn’t have done it without you.  You rock.

Now that I know, I will do better. This sentiment was shared with me by one of my students at the end of third period yesterday.  Her sentiment was echoed in chorus as others near her chimed in, expressing they, too, after watching and learning from their peers, had finally begun to see the purpose of the project.  The day before, the very same choir had shared during their reflections that their least favorite part of the project was the vague nature of the assignment.  But now–after it’s over–they’ve finally begun to see.  Alas, clarity.

Of course, I was intentionally sparse with my instruction.  After all, my goal was to take the learning away from my direction, handing the keys to my students, putting them in the driver’s seat. I would only be along for the ride. This was their task.

  1. Choose a topic of genuine interest.
  2. Pose an authentic or essential question about your topic.
  3. Research to learn about your topic and find the answer to your question.
  4. Keep track of your sources and provide a bibliography.
  5. Create a product that demonstrates some aspect of your learning.
  6. Present both the process and product of your project to the class.
  7. Complete a meta-cognitive map each time you sit down to work.
  8. I will not be a resource, but you may ask clarifying questions.
  9. You have one month.  You will get no class time.
  10. Your grade will be based on successful completion of all parts of the project.  If you finish it–right or wrong–you will get an “A.”  I will give you feedback, but the feedback is only for helping you do better next time, my judgment will not affect your grade.  We will do this each month till the end of the year. Good luck.

Sparse but simple.  Or so I thought.  As I shared in an earlier post, this was quite uncomfortable for my kids.  They not only asked many clarifying questions but also on more than one occasion voiced their mounting frustration as the project progressed, sometimes with thinly veiled anger at my stubborn persistence to do no more than patiently–okay, sometimes impatiently--remind them of the steps to complete the project.  Of course, sadly, they were really just concerned about their grades, which often become a distraction to true learning, and despite my constant assurance that the grade was not important, that they would get an “A,” they leveled their lack of trust at me through doubtful eyes.  But that was then.

Now it seems on some level they distrust me less and are eager to get to the next round.  And that, the next round, is the key, for the wisdom contained in the notion of “Now that I know, I will do better next time,” vanishes if there is no next time.  And that is where we often fall short when it comes to learning.  We don’t offer kids enough–sometimes any–next times.  And this is where we need to “do different.”  This is where I have fully committed to re-do’s, retakes, and rewrites on everything, including major assessments.  I believe learning necessitates the opportunity to try again.

With this project, my kids did okay.  Some projects were amazing, and some–if I am honest–were disappointing.  They weren’t perfect, and they never will be, but they will be better.  Because now that they know, they will do better next time.

superman

Morning Minutes: December 16, 2015

Two nights ago I attended my son and daughter’s piano recital.  As they each faced the anxiety of performing in front of a crowd, I shared in their anxious moments, hoping for their sake, for their well-being that they performed well and were personally pleased with their performances. After all, they had worked hard for their moments, and my wife and I want them to understand the truth in hard work. As they performed, I leaned in as if my leaning somehow brought me closer to their moment, adding my strength to theirs.  And as I leaned, I watched, surveying the crowd for their reaction to my children’s hard work, seeing if they too were held in the same moment as I, marveling at the magic of work done well by youth.  And assuredly, they were.  We all were, and after the anxious moments were over, I reveled in their work, grateful that I was able to be a witness. And while it is hard to fully equate the pride I feel for my own children to the pride I feel for my students, it is not a completely dissimilar feeling.

Yesterday, as our project presentations resumed in room 219, I found myself lost in more anxious moments, surveying the crowd, leaning in to give my strength,  marveling at work done well.  In particular, one such moment came during my student Kasia’s presentation when she shared her product, a video she made to demonstrate what she learned about why we fall victim to brain and body teasers, which she has graciously granted me permission to share with you through this link.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fAo4UJqTc2U  After hours of work (those who have ever made movies know) and a major obstacle (it wouldn’t play the day before on my computer), Kasia was able to shine in her moment, and we were able to share it with her.  And it was truly her moment.  I can take no credit for it. She learned, worked, persevered, and succeeded on her own.  All I did was give her an opportunity.  That’s it.  And as we round out the presentations over the next two days, I look forward to leaning in and marveling at the wonder of my students’ hard work. Thank you for the moment, Kasia.  Thank you all for the moments.

superman

Morning Minutes: December 15, 2015

I’d like to begin the morning with saying happy birthday to my dad who passed away in February 2006.  Happy Birthday, Dad.

Back to the classroom.  So, as it happens, after all my scrambling and anxious anticipation to present my blog to my students yesterday, I never got the chance.  We drew cards, and mine never got drawn.  So, instead, I watched and I learned.  I watched kids share their genuine interests through their topics, ranging from “Why do we dream?” to “How to make the best pie crust” to “Do mermaids exist?”  No, not the most academic pursuits, but they were their pursuits, and that was the point.  I watched kids both struggle and shine on the stage as they confronted the very-real fear of public speaking. But, I watched, too, as they settled in and and eventually got lost in the moment, finally relaxing and simply sharing their interests and passions.  I watched kids beam with pride as they shared carefully and cleverly crafted projects with their peers.  And finally, I watched kids reflect on the process of their projects, and this is where I believe I truly learned about their learning.

Nearly to a kid, as my students reflected on their projects, they intimated, in one way or another, their discomfort with the process, and while I believe many of them worried that I would take offense at such remarks, their fears were misplaced, for I was not offended.  I anticipated and appreciated their candid remarks, mostly aimed at the uncertainty of knowing what to do when placed in the driver’s seat of their own learning, seeming to seek instead the comfort of what has been the default setting in most classrooms–teacher-led learning.  Of course, that is not to say that teacher-led learning is somehow wrong or unnecessary–we have to lead.  It is to say that we need to share the lead at times.  We need to relinquish the wheel and let the kids drive.  Yes, it’s scary.  Yes, it’s uncomfortable.  Yes, it’s different.  But it’s also necessary if our kids are going to navigate the roads of the world as we hand them the keys for good after the few, short years we have with them.

So, as I sit in the audience today, and I again watch and learn, I will relish the students’ and my discomfort with different, for I know that we grow not in comfort.  Today, I will do different.  Today, I will grow.

superman

 

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