Teachers spend years of hard work and thousands of dollars to become experts in their content areas, with degrees and teaching certification to prove it. We develop curriculum maps and teaching calendars to be sure to cover the appropriate standards. We endure hours of professional development so that we are well versed in all the current educational pedagogy. We collaborate with colleagues so that we are all using best practices in the classroom. We develop assessments for students so that we can track their progress. When all this doesn’t work, we have intentional interventions aimed at getting students back on track.
And students are still failing.
The problem is that many students are not motivated to learn. Even with the perfect lesson plan in place, an unmotivated student will not learn. Some teachers claim that motivating students is not their job. It is a teacher’s job to know the content and to teach it well; the student must take responsibility for his or her learning and find his or her own motivation. This old-fashioned idea is what limits many teachers to being average. A great teacher recognizes that student motivation is necessary for success in learning and that teachers are in the perfect position to improve student motivation. Here are some strategies that can be used in the classroom to help motivate students:
1. Promote growth mindset over fixed mindset.
In her book, Mindset, Carol Dweck argues that students have an underlying belief about learning: either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. A fixed mindset belief suggests that people are born with or without certain abilities and talents, and that abilities cannot be changed. Fixed mindset learners try to prove themselves and will often shy away from challenges because they do not want to appear to be struggling. A growth mindset learner, on the other hand, believes that abilities and talents can be cultivated and improved through hard work. Growth mindset students enjoy a challenge and see struggles and failures as necessary parts of growth. Learners with a growth mindset are certainly more motivated to work hard.
How do we foster a growth mindset in the classroom?
One of the most powerful elements of feedback for our learners is to praise them for their efforts and hard work. “I can tell that you have been practicing your reading,” or “The practice is paying off on your times tables,” tells learners that they have the power to improve their academic success. That said, we must stop praising ability: “Wow, you are such a smart math student,” or “You are such an incredible reader.” Praise for abilities over efforts reinforces the fixed mindset that students have the ability or they don’t and no amount of hard work on the learner’s part can change the outcome. We are all learners, and should be encouraged as such.
Throughout a learning cycle, teachers assess student progress by incorporating formative and summative assessments. The purpose of formative assessment is to pinpoint the learning needed for ultimate success on a later summative assessment. Formative assessment informs teachers and students about student and classroom needs for improvement so both can act accordingly to improve performance on the final assessment. Some formative assessments are: a thumbs up/thumbs down check for understanding, a quiz in small groups, or an exit slip at the end of a lesson. What is important is that students get timely and descriptive feedback from the assessment so that they can move forward in their learning. This cycle of learning will improve results on a later summative assessment.
As teachers, we can model the growth mindset. Have courage! Ask students for feedback about your teaching and be willing to make necessary changes. Be dedicated! Work hard for students and share how hard work and dedication translates to success and growth. This feedback shows that we, too, are learners. It also invites our students to continue on the learning journey alongside us. Students are always willing to work hard for a teacher that is reciprocating that hard work.
2. Develop meaningful and respectful relationships with your students.
If we are going to truly inspire and motivate all of our students, we should know each of them on a personal level. We need to know their interests and hobbies, who they hang out with, their family situations, and what gets them excited. Each student is going to require different motivational strategies, and we have to know them to be able to predict what strategies might work.
In order to begin that “knowing,” try allowing for five minutes where students may share “Good News.” For example, student A shares, “I am a new uncle! My sister had a new baby boy this weekend!” This is an opportunity for us to learn about our students as people and to let them know that we care about them individually. This also provides an avenue for teachers to share some details about their lives outside of school. When teachers are willing to share personally and become vulnerable, students are more likely to do the same. When learners see one another as whole people, they are more willing to take risks, and ask the questions they need to ask in order to obtain success.
We all learn differently. In each classroom several types of learners exist: visual, tactile, verbal and more reserved. We can see it as our responsibility to discover this by knowing them and endeavor to teach them accordingly. This work results in our ability to know our students which leads to a more cohesive, open learning community.
3. Grow a community of learners in your classroom.
Students need a classroom environment that is safe, where they are willing to take risks and struggle. To achieve this goal, the students and teacher must work together towards common collective goals. Students must be willing to work with and assist other students in class. Struggle should be acceptable and encouraged as a part of the learning process.
Traditional teaching consists of teachers lecturing and learners taking notes, followed by the learners doing independent work to check for understanding. Transforming this outdated model to include more time where students are talking to students brings about true community. Collaborative group work should be the activity between the teacher lecture and the independent work. This is the time when students can digest information and ask questions collectively. Learners participate in what could be considered the “problem solving” phase of their development with new ideas, and together they come to new learnings. This gradual release of responsibility from teacher to student encourages deeper understanding of lesson rather than rote memorisation; thus the students are participants in their own learning, rather than witnesses to the instructor’s knowledge.
Student work should be proudly displayed throughout the classroom. This sends a message to students that they are active participants in creating the knowledge in the classroom. The teacher is not the sole holder of knowledge. Additionally, teachers can use language that promotes the community of learners – including the teacher – rather than a room full of individual learners. Using the words “we” and “our” rather than “I” and “you” has a significant impact on classroom culture, and how students function as interdependent learners.
4. Establish high expectations and establish clear goals.
Setting high expectations and supporting students as they struggle allows learners to rise to meet those expectations. When expectations are transparent, students know where their learning is headed and are motivated to get there because it seems possible: the path is visible. Working towards daily, weekly, and yearly goals gives students a purpose and a meaning for the hard work that they do.
Daily learning goals (learning targets, or “I can” statements) should be posted, visible and referenced on a daily basis. Establishing the “goal of the day” at the start of the lesson gives students a purpose for their learning. Students can also formatively assess themselves at the end of each lesson by checking to be sure they have met the learning goals.
Maintaining high expectations for academics is tantamount to learning, but high standards for behavior, academic language, group work, and even the length and format of individual work is also necessary for deep learning. We cannot assume that students know these expectations. They must be clearly outlined. If we expect students to interact in a certain way together, we need to teach them how, and hold them accountable. If we want an assignment displayed in a certain format, we need to model it and expect it. Once the routines to support expectations are established and clear to the learning community, learning becomes the most important action in the classroom.
5. Be inspirational.
Most adults can recall a specific teacher from their childhood who had a lasting impact. These are the teachers that have inspired, challenged, and motivated students enough to be memorable years later.
What makes these teachers inspirational?
Inspirational teachers represent success to their students. Teacher success might be: completing a 10K race, owning a small business, or receiving a teaching award. We each have successes to share. Through our triumphs, students can learn what success looks like and go after it. Once our students decide that they want success, they pay close attention to the behaviours and choices and even sacrifices that led us to our success. These behaviours include hard work, willingness to struggle, and ability to learn from our mistakes. Students internalise our behaviours and strategies as a way to accomplish their own goals. We give them an opportunity to do so in our everyday routines, assignments and encounters with them.
This blog originally appeared on Luke Wilcox’s website.
Students’ mental health is extremely topical at the moment, continuing to hit the headlines. We recently held a mental health awareness week in our school, just as I’m sure it is a hotly discussed topic up and down the country.
We need to make sure that students are able to cope, and ensure that their mental health is not adversely affected by external circumstances that can often be avoided or that can seem trivial to teachers and outsiders (but which, to that teenager, feel like the some of the most important things they have faced).
We have all experienced that internal voice that talks to us, repetitively, preying on fears, stresses, anxieties and worries, and which doesn’t seem to go away. But as we have grown up, we have hopefully managed to navigate the issues, silence the voice, or at least become more able to rationalise it.
For teenagers, issues around friendships, hormones, home life, navigating the day to day pressures of growing up and becoming more independent, all while being stuck in a ‘no man’s land’ between childhood and adulthood, can at times seem insurmountable and incredibly difficult.
But as teachers and support staff in school there are several things that we can do to relieve this burden and ensure that the students in our care are supported and listened to.
So, how can we help?
The suggestions and strategies that I suggest below are not new and don’t necessarily have a ‘wow’ factor – they are simple, common sense ideas that can work in ensuring that students who are facing, or have faced, mental health issues have someone they can talk to.
Pastoral support is absolutely key to ensuring that students have access to guidance and support. Having an individual that the student is able to speak to in confidence is essential – whether that’s a tutor, a mentor paid specifically to be a student wellbeing officer, a head of year or deputy head of year, a head of house or a teacher.
It doesn’t matter so much where that pastoral support comes from, as long as students are aware of to whom they need to go in order to get the support and guidance they need and deserve.
In schools, time is often pressured and hard to find, but if a student is distressed or upset then the best thing anyone can give is a bit of time to sit down with them and listen.
It’s not always easy in the insanity of a school day when everyone is busy and under pressure, and it can feel frustrating to have to take the time out when your to-do list is lurking ominously in the background, but finding a moment to speak to a student who is on the edge is one of the biggest things you can do. And it can really make a difference.
Know your students
Whether this is in classes, during tutor time, in student support or just from simply from seeing pupils around the school, it’s important to know your students.
Try to see break time and lunchtime duties less as a ‘must-do’ inconvenience, and more of an opportunity to get to know the students a little better.
If you have a designated area you will quickly know who ‘hangs around’ in that spot, and it creates the perfect opportunity to have a chat and find out more about these particular pupils.
In tutor time, greet the students by name every day and make an effort to ask them on a Monday what they got up to at the weekend or holidays. These dialogues aren’t time consuming and they make everyone’s day a little bit nicer.
I know that from these conversations I can ascertain whether a student has had a good or bad weekend and if they are likely to need a little pep talk or a reminder that they can pop and see me if they need to, or what more often happens, that they can have a chat with me in tutor time to let me know what’s on their mind.
In class, speak to the students when appropriate.
I teach English, which lends itself to asking students what they enjoy and why when they’re doing speeches or other written work, or what makes them really angry or upset. And this can be a good way to understand where they are coming from.
This links in really nicely to knowing your students.
Have you spotted a drop in output from a previously conscientious student? Have you noticed a change in their demeanour, or spotted an aura of unhappiness about them?
Are you aware of something that has happened in a pupil’s life that could potentially make them feel upset, depressed, uncertain? Or, is there a sense that something has changed or is different?
As I mentioned above, it’s important that you know your students pretty well in order to notice these changes. But if you do spot something that strikes you as unusual, a quick conversation to ‘check in’ can be transformative.
The student may or may not open up to you, but they will know that someone cares, and that can have a catalytic effect. This could mean that they then speak to friends or family, because they know that someone has seen that something is not quite right with them.
I know from experience that this does happen, and it does help.
Have an on-site professional counsellor to help students who have complex issues and problems with which they are finding it difficult to cope.
There are certain circumstances that students have to deal with that should, or even must, involve other people, and a counsellor is a good professional way to go about getting these more-complex issues dealt with.
On a wider scale, schools should make sure that they are open and honest and communicate effectively with the other professionals who can help students.
There are organisations (again, that are also stretched for capacity) to which students could and should be referred. By ensuring that we communicate effectively as a school we can help students together.
Make sure that information about a student is communicated as and when it is relevant, and to whom it is relevant.
This can be a note in the system on a student’s file that goes to all members of staff who have contact with that student. This means that all relevant people are informed, and are therefore able to support them appropriately.
As I said at the top of this list of strategies, these are not wow-factor ideas, but common sense practices that are cheaply and easily implemented.
Dweck, in her research paper Academic Tenacity, states: “Addressing the psychology of the student is critical and can galvanise students to seize the opportunities for learning that exist in their school environment.”
This supports the idea that student’s psychological wellbeing and mental health, if looked after and positive, will help them to have better academic opportunities and allow the students to get more out of school.
So, as well as the fact that we are human beings working to help other humans develop and grow, the idea of students doing better, and being academically better, really is a huge positive.Source: Teachwire