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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

8 New Resolutions to Feed Student Motivation

There is no doubt that sometimes it takes a little bit of motivation to get back to work after a long holiday.  Even with goals and resolutions, it can be hard to get going.  It’s funny, the business of learning doesn’t seem like a chore at all to the very young.  They seem to be exploring every nook and cranny of their world, full of questions (sometimes many, many questions, sometimes questions that can really stump you).  So what happens?  Do we stifle those questions?  How do they go from curious and excited to bored and beleaguered? 
How do we keep that intrinsic motivation to learn alive?  What do we need to feed student motivation?
Why not resolve to:

1.        Develop curiosity.  How do you keep their curiosity going in the classroom?  Do you shut students down when they ask questions that are “off topic” or do you allow them to be curious and encourage them to find the answers and ask some more?   Don’t stress over every minute of precious instructional time that you won’t take time to smell their roses.
2.       Make connections to their lives and the world around them.  To some, this may seem like you are “getting off the track” but it actually is a great way to get kids thinking.  One minute you’re talking about prohibition, the next minute you’re talking about the recent legalization of marijuana in Colorado.  It is just that sort of “off the track” thinking that gets them juiced (could not resist the urban dictionary pun) and wakes up their thinking.  How do these two events relate to each other?
3.       Share your enthusiasm!  How do you sell your lesson or activity? As tough as outside forces make the teaching profession, there is just no time to be an Eeyore in your classroom! Start every day, every year, and every class, with boundless enthusiasm.  “You would not believe what we are going to do today!” “Wait until you see what this will lead to…” 
4.       Aim high—that is aim for higher order thinking skills.  Ask the right questions.  Huh?  (explain that) Really? (do you know this to be true?) and So (why does it matter?  So what?)” I always told parents at back to school night that their children were learning rigorous material,  and added “please don’t tell them!”   
5.       Infuse the magic of technology- Many of our students have infused the magic of technology in their everyday lives in a big way.  It should just be a matter of course in the classroom.  To quote George Courso in Inequity in BYOD “Technology should be at the point of instruction and be as accessible in learning as a pencil; it shouldn’t be an event.” 

6.       Provide opportunities for coopertition- I think the word coopertition was coined by someone involved in First Lego League.  Our students should be involved in activities where there is both competition (for some motivation on its own) and cooperation (which makes it more or less risky depending on the student)…either way, it is part of life and motivational.
7.       Mix it up- I know that classroom routines are a must, but that doesn't mean that your class is routine.  My classes were set up with a starter or a grabber (maybe a question, maybe a discrepant event, a short video, a word or two from our sponsor (yes, I do like to say a thing or two), and then a “cooperative exploration” – which was a fancy of way of saying “the day’s activities…could have been simple or complex, 10 minutes or 40, whatever. Structure was routine, class was not!
8.       Keep your sense of humor – I had a principal who started the year off with “if you’re not having fun, it’s time to get out” – of course there was a large percentage of the staff who thought that was a ridiculous statement, after all, education is a serious business.  But, what can I say? Middle school is fun!