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.

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Where to begin when personalizing learning

As readers of this blog may know, I have a great interest in personalizing the learning experience for students.

I find that in its simplest form, personalizing is offering students choice and challenging them to think in creative ways that are meaningful and rewarding to them. I have been practicing this for a while in my own classroom, and have witnessed a high degree of student engagement in classroom learning tasks as a result.

Lately, though, my thoughts have turned to scaling a model of personalizing learning for an entire school.

Where do you begin if you want to implement personalized learning for an entire school or school system?

I find that “The Honeycomb Approach to Personalized Learning” makes good sense in that it keeps the student learning experience central to all considerations during the planning process.

Honeycomb approach to personalized learningsource: The Institute @CESA#1

This approach developed by The Institute @ CESA#1, rightly notes that our attempts to implement personalized learning for an entire building isn’t necessarily a linear planning approach. It will get “messy.” Instead, we need to remember that all planning begins with the learner at the core of all thinking (and not new schedules, technology devices or even ‘trendy furniture’ as primary considerations.), and the honeycomb allows us to do this. This helps us focus our thinking on three factors (the cells in blue):

Learner Profiles – Comprehensive, data-rich learner profiles convey how a student learns best and are used to plan a customized learning environment and instructional strategies.

Customized Learning Paths – Students help create unique learning paths based on their individual strengths and interests. Content, pace and feedback are calibrated for each learner and needs are addressed as they occur rather than having to remediate later.

Proficiency-based Progress – All students are expected to demonstrate mastery of rigorous, comprehensive standards. Progress is based on what students have learned, not how much time they have spent in school.

From these starting points, necessary decisions can then be made about suitable teaching strategies and engaging classroom learning experiences (the cells in orange), the expectations for the different roles and relationships of both students and teachers (the cells in green), and the appropriate structures and policies to support the personalized learning practice (the cells in purple), with each decision assessed for its potential impact on the core components.

There are a number of advantages in using the honeycomb approach when planning for personalized learning. Of those mentioned here, I think the flexibility of the this approach offers an “organic” opportunity to help develop teacher capacity for instructional effectiveness in meeting every students’ learning needs:

The core components and surrounding cells can guide professional learning activities for individual educators and teams; they are also useful in supporting collegial coaching and feedback.

As the work gains momentum, schools and teams use the honeycomb as a guide for determining where to build out and scale their work as they move forward. For example, they might chose to add opportunities for Customized Learning Paths or Learner Independence as well as expand their work to other classrooms.

This article provides a concise introduction on how the honeycomb approach can work. Be sure to follow-through on the links, too, to get a wider appreciation on the application of each component.

All in all, I believe that personalizing the learning experience will engage students more in their learning, equip students with the necessary knowledge and skills based on their needs and abilities, and empower students as they move forward in their learning career. This truly is Vibrant Learning for me.

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Dr. J. Rickbaugh. Finding your sweet spot: The honeycomb approach to personalized learning.

The Institute @ CESA#1. Personalized learning.

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.

15 important reminders

The title caught my attention:

When not to use technology: 15 things that should stay simple in education

I agree with the author that we know better than to use technology for technology’s sake. An unfortunate pressure that some teachers face when their school invests in new educational technology is that they are asked to substantiate the heavy financial investment with student academic achievement gains that can be attributed to the use of technology, thus demonstrating a good return on investment.

While there have been researched and documented benefits in integrating technology with instruction, this article was a good reminder that certain aspects of using technology for learning need to remain “simple” to help students in their learning.

Of the 15 reminders, numbers 4 and 5 resonated deeply with me:

#4 – Don’t use technology when it decreases student interaction.

Technology as a tool can lead to incredible social connections for learning. The author rightly notes that technology can also reduce the amount of face-to-face interaction because people are “connected” online. We need to remember the important value of interacting, and learning, in a physical learning community. This is partially behind my thinking why it was so important to include on-campus classes in our hybrid community.

#5 – Don’t use technology when it reduces the chance of failure.

I believe that mistakes are a necessary part of the learning process, and ideally, an important step in self-discovery, too. In fact, I often encourage my students to take risks and make mistakes as part of their learning. This can help them arrive at a deeper level of understanding and learning. For these reasons alone, we shouldn’t simply rely on technology as an “easy way” to arrive an answer. Students need the challenge and feel the joy of success when they overcome and learn through their failures.

These are two important reminders. Why don’t you check out the remaining reminders? Do you agree with the list? Which ones resonate most with you?

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S. Briggs – When not to use technology: 15 Things that should stay simple in education.

How do you know if you are a leader?

Leadership is not about experience, education, or talent. It’s about choosing to lead.      -Michael Hyatt

I enjoy following Michael Hyatt’s blog where his tagline is “Helping leaders leverage influence.” One of his recent podcasts offered 12 ways to know whether or not you are a leader. This was a good list to review and apply to my own situation. Am I exhibiting the qualities and mindset that he suggests, especially as it applies to leadership for learning?

A few qualities jumped out to me:

#1 – You long to make a difference.

#2 – You’re dissatisfied with the status quo.

#5 – You acknowledge what is but inevitably ask what could be.

These first three have been at the heart of what I am trying to do in the classroom and with the new school.

I remain convinced that we need to change our thinking and approaches to teaching and learning in order to be more responsive to the needs that students have today. We live in a society and culture that has changed dramatically in the last few years. Unfortunately our approaches to teaching and school have not.

  • We need to engage students in their learning by honoring their interest and initiative to learn. We need to envision a learning space as one in which students are dynamic and passionate participants in the learning process.
  • We need to equip students with the knowledge, skills and dispositions that will help them face an uncertain future with confidence and preparedness. Our teaching needs to address the headware and heartware needed for their future.  It needs to develop a student’s capacity for innovation.
  • We need to empower students with a mindset for growth and service to improve the world in which we live. They need to believe that what they are learning can help them influence and contribute meaningfully to society.

Qualities #10 and #12 resonated more with who I am as an educator and my attempt to align my actions with my beliefs:

#10 – You value relationships more than tasks.

#12 – You’re a learner.

I like to learn. I like to ask questions and understand more. I try to direct this desire for learning into meaningful conversations and relationship development with others who are committed to improving teaching and learning in the classroom. Together we can achieve more as an investment in our students’ future than if we are working alone.

I think it is helpful to review lists such as these and then self-assess one’s growth accordingly. It helps reinforce what we believe and provide reference points as we project a future of positive impact and choosing to make a difference.

We’re all influential in ways we don’t fully appreciate, but the person who is intentionally influential is going to use their influence for good, to influence a person to help them grow, get what they want, become what they were meant to be. That’s a leader. -Michael Hyatt