Remember, one of the reasons for a lack of student motivation is fear of failure and embarrassment. Their teachers can address their lack of knowledge and giving clear, scaffolded instruction we can bypass this hurdle whilst meeting a very powerful need – the need to achieve and feel successful.
Achievement is met by providing interesting work at the right level of challenge and by giving just enough guidance & support to enable them to succeed without having the work done for them.
Here’s a five-point plan on how to ensure your lessons give students the maximum chance of experiencing success and achievement…
Don’t let your students struggle to figure out what is expected of them. Reassure students that they can do well in your course, and tell them exactly what they must do to succeed. Under-achieving students may need everything explained in a step-by-step fashion.
Remember also, a good recipe book will not just list instructions in a sequence of orders; it gives some explanation as to why you are being asked to complete each step, eg ‘the reason you maintain a low temperature while adding the lemon juice is to prevent the mixture from curdling’. It might also include some pictures to illustrate each step in greater detail. There might be some ‘tips’ for saving time and avoiding mistakes as well as advice on suitable times to prepare the meal, and perhaps even suggestions as to alternative ingredients. These extra pieces of information give some background to the various stages involved in following the recipe and make it more interesting, enjoyable and purposeful.
Your instructions need to answer students’ most pressing questions about a new topic:
• What am I being asked to do?
• How exactly am I supposed to do it?
• When and where will I be able to apply what I’ve learned? (In other words, what is the point in doing this/what are the benefits to me?)
• How will I know when I’m doing it right?
To be motivated to continue with any new task you must start at the most basic level. I took some lessons in fly fishing many years ago and had to stand in a field to master casting without a hook; only after that could I progress to looking slightly less silly by casting from a riverbank; and then finally they let me loose with my rod in a small boat. If they’d started me out in the wrong order (in the boat) I would have ended up a very tangled, stressful mess, probably put off fly fishing (a very sedate, relaxing hobby) for life. I learned the right way – though I still haven’t caught any flies.
Similarly, when you’re learning to drive a car you start in car parks and open spaces before being allowed into the nightmares that are town centers. Learn a new language and you’ll master basic verbs and nouns before they let you loose on whole sentences.
If increasing the motivation of students is our goal, then it is our responsibility as teachers to structure tasks that virtually guarantee early success. Once the simple tasks have been mastered we can move them up a stage and at each stage, they gain a sense of achievement and mastery before moving on. Nothing is more important to student motivation than initial success so take care to set initial tasks at an achievable level or ask simple questions before providing progressively more challenging activities.
As soon as a new concept or subject has been presented via text reading, teacher instruction, video or discussion, allow the students to put the concept into action immediately by completing a simple consolidation assignment. These assignments can be very short and should preferably include cooperative learning elements such as the one presented HERE (taken from one of my other books ‘The Active Learning Tool Kit’).
Ready, Steady, TEACH!
After explaining or demonstrating a new concept to the class have partners teach the main points to each other. It is most helpful to demonstrate EXCELLENT teaching first by making sure each partner understands the importance of CLARITY (sticking to 1-3 main points covered) and ENERGY (speaking with enthusiasm and passion). Peer teaching is a phenomenally powerful method for improving understanding – hence the saying ‘you don’t actually learn anything until you teach it’.
Keep sessions very brief, either to sum up lesson content, as a review activity or as a reminder to reinforce some difficult new information and always demonstrate and encourage appropriate, positive communication.
i) 5 minutes: Partner one teaches; partner two listens.
ii) Partner two thanks partner one and gives appropriate feedback (See below).
iii) 5 minutes: Partner two teaches; partner one listens and gives feedback.
Thank you, I agree with…
I liked the way you explained…
I think you’re very good at…
The best thing you brought up was…
We improve by learning from our mistakes so that we do not repeat them. For that to happen we need to know when we’ve done something wrong and know how to put it right – we need to check our work (or have it checked by someone else) and receive further guidance and instruction along the way. This is an essential part of the learning process if we are to experience a feeling of success and achievement.
Students will become frustrated if they are left wasting time, making mistake after mistake. If the first mistakes are corrected a great deal of stress can be avoided, new skills practiced, and a sense of achievement gained. We must not give too much help, however – when you simply give the solution, you rob students of the chance to think for themselves and to experience success.
During a lesson observation early in my career, I delivered what I thought to be an outstanding science lesson to a group of low-ability KS3 children. They were struggling with some of the procedures and equipment (we were investigating insulation) so I made sure each child was given maximum support and guidance. It wasn’t until it was pointed out to me in the debrief that I realised what I had done wrong – I had done most of the work for them! How could they learn when I was taking the opportunity away from them?
The key to ‘improvement’ is to get the students themselves to work out their own solutions and for a teacher to give them the tools and skills to work independently. If that’s to happen they need to know how to improve their own work – how to check it, correct it and learn from the corrections.
When problems do appear in students’ work, try to get them to identify the specific problem they have encountered. Unless they know exactly where they are going wrong, they are unlikely to work out how to do it right.
Rather than accepting ‘Sir, I can’t do this’, ask them to tell you what it is, exactly, that they don’t ‘get’. Doing so focuses them on the problem at hand and reduces their anxiety and frustration.
Once the specific problem has been identified, ask them to try and build up a solution in gradual steps through further questioning and simplified examples. Ask them to build on what they already do know.
As students work through the steps they’ve identified be quick to acknowledge progress and further encourage them.
If you follow these steps, students will learn that it is acceptable not to have an instant answer. They will also learn to develop greater patience and to work at their own pace; and by working through the problem, students will experience a sense of achievement and confidence that will increase their motivation to learn.
Only when the student has been made aware of the specific problem they must solve, and is still unable to do so, should we take the reins and correct the error for them.
It’s empowering for students to realise that they have done something right. This is not achieved just by acknowledging their efforts but by getting them to stop and think about what they’ve done. Doing so not only makes them feel a sense of achievement but also increases the likelihood of them repeating the good behaviour because they will know exactly what to do.
The way to do this is simply to ask them how they have achieved a particular success…
“Hey Jonny, you’ve managed to work independently for the last fifteen minutes. How did you do that? So if I asked you to work independently again what would you do/how would you do it?”