Helping Students Motivate Themselves

I have a great interest in understanding student motivation for learning. What motivates students to learn? How can I help students motivate themselves? What are some implications for classroom instruction?

I came across this article – Strategies for helping students motivate themselves – and was struck how 3 out of the 4 qualities mentioned match Daniel Pink’s work on The Puzzle of Motivation (a TED Talk worth watching; or if you prefer, here is a link to an RSA Animate version on the same talk).

Essentially the insight that I had confirmed again is that tokens and rewards work well as motivators for simple tasks. However, they don’t work the way we think they should when it involves the conceptual and creative thinking that takes place in cognitively challenging tasks.

In their place, a teacher has a greater chance in motivating and engaging students in their learning by thinking about the “Motivation MAP” – an acronym I use to focus on the three essential qualities of motivation and engagement.

Motivation MAP = Mastery, Autonomy, Purposefulness

M = Mastery

Are students working to demonstrate their developing competency and mastery in learning? Are students reflecting on how to improve their learning? Does teacher feedback focus on student effort for their learning rather than an innate ability? (Check out this website to learn more growth mindsets; or if you prefer, here is a link to a video about fostering a growth mindset.) Encouraging student mastery in learning feeds their desire to get better in what they do and, as a result, is a powerful motivator.

A = Autonomy

What choices are offered to students that allow them to be active participants in their own learning? Does this extend beyond simply letting student choose who they will work with on a project or in what format they can complete an assignment, whether poster, essay or presentation? Are there opportunities for “cognitive choice” so that students can determine how they will learn something new? Are they asked to self-assess and reflect on their learning? Offering this type of choice in our lessons helps foster student autonomy and their desire to be more self-directed. This also leads to better engagement.

P = Purposefulness

Of what value are the learning activities in the classroom? Do the students sense that they are simply completing “busy work” or do they find the learning activities meaningful and relevant?  Is there purposefulness in what we do together? When students sense a value in their learning, they will be more motivated and engaged to proceed further, if not deeper, into their learning.

Thinking about the “Motivation MAP” is a simple reminder to helping students motivate themselves: mastery, autonomy, and purposefulness.

Added value in helping kids learn how to code

As I consider general K-12 curricula across schools and districts, I have been advocating for the inclusion of a class in financial literacy for all students. For example, you can read about my thinking here, or here, and click here for links to some classroom resources. I believe it represents essential, daily skills that students will need later in life. Students should know, understand and apply the math behind balancing a checkbook or confirming the accuracy of a credit card statement. They should have a grasp of essential ideas behind supply and demand as it applies to the cost of goods and services, and be able to use this information when comparison shopping. They should have a grasp of the concept of principal and interest when they are ready to make a significant purchase, such as their first car.

I was reminded the other day of another key skill/class that should be included in the general K-12 curriculum: learning how to code. My experience has taught me that kids want to learn how to code. They want to know how to develop games, websites, or fun apps and then challenge their friends play them.

I discovered this when I had the opportunity to teach a technology class to a group of grade 7 and 8 students last year. In addition to the required content that we needed to cover in the class, I wanted to get a sense of the topics and skills that they desired to learn so as to tailor the course as much as possible to their self-identified interests. One topic that became overwhelmingly clear was the students’ desire to learn how to code and even develop some simple games.

Now, I have a minimal background in computer science and programming languages, but I knew that this would be a topic that would engage the students in the class and equip them with some initial skills that they could develop further. I wanted to empower them to create new games or unique programs. For these reasons alone, I was up to the challenge to learn how to teach some basic coding to my class!

Fortunately, I had learned about the Hour of Code movement earlier in the year and tried the teacher tutorial myself.

It was so simple.

I was guided each step of the way through the self-directed tutorial. If I made a mistake (and I did), then I could retry the stage and learn from my error.

I knew that my students would be able to learn from the experience, too. There were plenty of teacher notes to help me plan my lessons. These notes were developed to assist those teachers who don’t have a background in coding. This was definitely helpful so that I could be more confident in guiding the students. I also came across the school district notes to bring coding to an entire school system!

What surprised me the most was how deeply engaged the students were when I introduced the hour of code to them. They were excited to actually code and see the result of their thinking! Upon completion of the beginner tutorial, they started to explore the more intermediate options.

Even President Obama became the first President to write a line of code during the Hour of Code!

It is now a year later and I am teaching some of the same students in a different class this semester. The surprise that pleased me the most was noticing the extent that they have developed in their programming – on their own, outside of class! These students showed me the games they have developed over the year. As group, they are out to challenge each other with games that are more complex and difficult. When there is a free moment between classes, I often find them taking out their laptops to extend their thinking and practice their coding even more.

So why am I thinking about coding today?

This article on requiring computer science in schools and this article on adding coding to the elementary curriculum got me thinking again on the value of engaging students by exposing them to basic computer science. We don’t need to relegate coding as a senior elective in high school, but, rather, take advantage of student interest to learn and understanding better the tablets and phones that they are carrying around with them on a daily basis.

There is a growing research base documenting the benefits of teaching coding to children of all ages. This includes:

  • Developing logical thinking skills
  • Developing problem solving skills
  • Fostering persistence on a task
  • Communicating and collaborating for task accomplishment

These are important outcomes that will help students learn how to learn.

As such, I have modified my thinking a bit – I now believe that all students need to be taught some financial literacy as well as coding during their stay in our schools.

There are some great resources to help us get started, including those found at Code.org. Here is a thought-provoking series of blog posts on coding in the classroom from Edutopia. For example, consider this article on coding for kindergarteners. What if we helped students develop their coding abilities from a very early age, like we work to help them become proficient readers and skilled mathematicians? How might this help us better prepare students for THEIR future?

Besides – it is just plain fun to help the Angry Bird catch the pig. (You’ll have to try it here to see what I mean!)

A simple reminder on the most significant classroom innovation

OK – So the article’s title did catch my attention (just like the author said it would):

What will be the most significant classroom innovation in the next 10 years?

I thought about it a moment and made a guess. I then read the author’s response:

Learning how to learn

So true.

I believe that helping students learn how to learn is really a gift that we can offer them. It can free students to pursue interests beyond what we may do in the classroom. As such:

Learning how to learn embeds the notion of self-directedness and self-motivation as a learner.

Learning how to learn is a process and a skill that allows students to respond and grow in an increasingly changing world. I believe that this is the key to opening doors and offering a bright future to students.

It may, indeed, be the single-most significant classroom innovation in the next 10 years.

It is no longer enough to simply equip students with the primary literacy and numeracy skills that have been a staple of schools for a long time. I affirm the importance of the 3 R’s – reading, writing and arithmetic, especially when they are taught and developed in the context of a rigorous cross-disciplinary curriculum. However, I have also been advocating that we have to do more to help students in their learning journey. They need to know and practice the important learning management skills, such as note-taking, test preparation, and time management. Far too often, I find that teachers are simply assuming that students will know what to do as they encounter new material in their classes.

But now in our 21st century learning context, I appreciated the reminder on four additional dimensions that we need to address in our classrooms if we truly want to help our students learn how to learn:

Students need to …

  1. Know how to access and curate information. This includes the critical 21st century fluencies such as Information Fluency, Media Fluency and Creativity Fluency.
  2. Know how to work and learn with others. This can be fostered as we help students develop their critical 21st century fluencies of Collaboration Fluency and Global Digital Citizenship.
  3. Know how to adapt to new media and different ways of thinking. I understand this to include a proficiency in Solution Fluency.
  4. Know, understand and use a variety of digital platforms (blogs, social media, learning management systems, etc.) and networks for different uses.

What this blog post reaffirmed for me was the value in teaching with the 21st century fluencies in mind, too.  I have been a strong proponent in integrating these fluencies in my teaching and have attempted to integrate these skills as part of the learning experience in the new school, too. You can read about this here. The connection between the fluencies and the learning management skills I have been advocating for so long, in addition to their value to helping students learn how to learn, became even clearer today.

Modern learning routines enhance student engagement

One of my goals in the classroom is to create the learning conditions that lead to engaged students who are thoughtfully and actively taking their learning to the ‘next level’ as they discover more about the subject area and about who they are as learners.

I have been using different ways to gauge my effectiveness in achieving this goal. One such way is through fostering student voice in their learning. I like to know what students are thinking, how they are processing the content we are learning together, how they can demonstrate their learning through innovative examples of application and synthesis. Our use of individual blogs has been very helpful in this. I ask myself how I can design learning situations that foster creativity in learning which, I believe, will lead to higher levels of engagement (you can read more of my thinking about that here). How do I help students practice and reveal their ability in using those essential literacy skills, or 21st fluencies, that will help them succeed in today’s global environment? Ultimately, I want to emphasize the development of thinking about content rather than simply focusing on the details of content as we engage in learning in the classroom. (You can read more about this distinction here.)

With this in mind, I was thankful for the post about modern learning routines that can help reveal student thinking in the classroom. Silvia Tolisano reviewed 5 great modern learning routines that promote learning as well as revealing student thinking. You can read about them here. In list form:

  1. read – write – comment
  2. learn – reflect – share
  3. contribute – feedback – grow
  4. watch – do – teach
  5. document – present – disseminate

Not only does each routine engage students in active thinking about content, each routine also equips students with skills for content creation. More importantly, each routine helps reveal what students are thinking, and apply this thinking, in an authentic context and manner.

i like her suggestion that we need to encourage students to be transparent with their work. (This is a good reminder for us as teachers, too, so that we can grow and develop as members of a professional learning community.) In particular, each routine requires action on the part of the student.

Note some of the verbs of modern learning in action:

  • comment
  • share
  • contribute
  • teach
  • disseminate

These are just a few verbs/activities that hint of student engagement in their learning, of routines that I am integrating more and more into my teaching with the goal of fostering a vibrant learning culture.

For example, I have been working with my students this week to provide authentic feedback on each other’s blog rather than the simple encouraging comments of “Way to go!” or “I agree.” I am trying to help them share their thinking in response to their classmates’ posts.

  • “What connections can you make that could further the ideas of the post?”
  • “What new ideas did your classmate share that you hadn’t thought of before?”
  • “To what extent do you agree or disagree with the main idea of the post”?

Through this process I am trying to help my students understand the value of their own contribution to someone else’s learning. I am also trying to help them be open to the positive impact of feedback from others on their own posts. Through comment modeling and providing time to read everyone’s blog, we are fostering a greater appreciation of learning together. What I have noticed is that the students are actively engaged as they support each other.

Even more on leadership for learning

I have been thinking about leadership skills, and especially those that are needed to advance student learning in a school setting. My first post emphasized the “real power” of relationships, collaboration, equality, conversation and coaching:

  • Acknowledging and developing all the relationships involved in the learning process.
  • Collaborating to achieve results in learning.
  • A spirit of equality that fosters trust and opportunity for growth in everyone’s learning.
  • Meaningful conversations that honor a teacher’s voice and ability to impact change for learners.
  • Coaching as a meaningful investment in growing people for further thought, creativity and innovation.

My second post attempted to frame these essential skills as an action-response to the important question “Why are we here?” Leadership for learning helps remind teachers and staff members why they committed to engaging students in the first place; that we possess a sense of vocation that really matters as we make a positive difference in the lives of kids.

I have been thinking that this type of action-response comes out of a professionally-oriented growth mindset that acknowledges the potential and possibilities of working together to further student learning. Such a mindset focuses on fostering relationships and commits to a “with proper support, collaboration, and partnership, where you are 8-12 years from now will be further than I will ever be at any time in my career” mentality when working with others (see here for more about this idea). This mindset values open communication and providing timely feedback, too, as we all work together. It would seem to me that such a mindset would continually create a culture of progress and achievements in learning.

_________

L. Fliegelman – 2 Top things teachers want from their principal

S. LeDeaux – Leaders: Strive to be the weak link

Teach content or teach thought?

I have been giving a lot of thought lately to curriculum development and 21st century fluencies. How can I help students develop those essential literacy skills, or fluencies, that will help them succeed in today’s society? What balance do I need to establish between “crystallized intelligence” and “fluid intelligence”:

If our job is to teach skills, facts, and concepts–crystallized intelligence–then thinking is simply a tool, and our curriculum is content.

If our job is to teach critical thinking, design, and problem-solving–fluid intelligence–then thinking is our collective circumstance, and our curriculum becomes thought. – Terry Heick

An emphasis on the former has been the standard for generations of students and classrooms. This has been the default in our planning for teaching, too. I often tell colleagues that “We teach as we have been taught”; thus the persistence of this emphasis in schools. We need to be deliberate in our efforts to change.

What if we were more intentional to make critical thinking and 21st century fluencies the focus in our classrooms? How might this change the classroom? How might this impact the way that the curriculum is experienced by students? How will it change me as my students’ teacher and as the learning leader for the school?

I like how Heick explores this implication on teaching, teachers and the classroom environment:

To learn to think, students need powerful and inspiring models that reflect the design, citizenship, creativity, interdependence, affection, and self-awareness we claim to want them to have.

To teach careful, creative, and truly innovative thinking, students need creative spaces and tools, and frameworks to develop their own criteria for quality and success.

They need dynamic literacy skills [read: ‘fluencies’] that they practice and build upon endlessly.

Not projects that have creativity and design thinking added on, but projects that can’t function without them.

And they need control of it all.

I am reminded how I argued for a paradigm shift in how we “do school” when I first presented my ideas for a new school to the Board. It isn’t an easy challenge. It can be messy, too, Nevertheless, I still believe that the positive impact for students and their learning is worth the effort.

_________

T. Heick – Are you teaching content or teaching thought?

Students as creators or consumers?

I have been reflecting on the “learning from a question week” experiences from last week as my students were clearly engaged with the learning opportunity throughout the week. This reminded me of the importance and value of having students experience themselves as creators, rather than consumers in the learning process at school.

I returned to my copy of “Creating innovators: The making of young people who will change the world” by Tony Wagner, which I have been using as one of many resources to guide my thinking. It brought back to mind the value in providing opportunities for students to pursue personal interests at school in order to develop their passions. Such opportunities are inherently motivational. This is what happened last week. The students were so focused in what they were doing that they often commented at how quickly each class session seemed to speed by. Pursuing personal passions can also help develop student expertise and creative thinking skills, too. This is why I often said to the students that they were going to be our ‘local expert’ in the question they were researching; they needed to share their insights with the rest of us. The challenge was to do this in a manner that could keep the rest of us engaged (thus the need for some extra critical and creative thinking in their blogs).

My big take-away: Last week reminded me once again that the teaching and learning environment can help develop a student’s capacity to innovate, especially when students are afforded opportunities to create rather than simply consume information.

My question: How can I design learning situations that continue to foster a creator orientation to learning rather than a consumer orientation?