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.

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.

__________

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!)

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.

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My day at the Microsoft Innovative Educator Teacher Academy

I was fortunate to attend the one-day Microsoft Innovative Educator Teacher Academy in Bellevue yesterday. This was a good event to learn about some new tools as well as improve my skill set on some of the tools I am already using at school.

I was glad that our hosts and presenters were all experienced classroom teachers who were proficient in the different tools. They could relate to how we may use the various tools differently in the classroom than in a business environment. In particular, I appreciated how they could share actual implementation stories from their schools and classrooms, as this helped give me new ideas to consider in my own teaching. This part was inspiring. My lunch conversation on using Yammer within the building or district was insightful since I was finally able to talk with an experienced teacher who could explain it in action and demonstrate its usefulness as a resource for teaching and learning.

Even as an Office 365 school, I did not know that Microsoft offered a number of additional free resources for the classroom. I was happy to learn about the Microsoft Educator Network and its wide range of resources, tutorials, lesson plans and professional learning community. This is a site that I have bookmarked and will discover more. It is also a good complement to the resources from the Microsoft in Education site that I was already aware of and had accessed from time to time.

I was keen to learn more about using OneNote in the classroom. The group task in creating a reading assignment using OneNote sparked a number of ideas for my own classroom, especially since we are connected with Office 365 accounts. This could help me as I strive to teach and learn in a paperless environment. In fact, I am already thinking about sharing out resources and lesson notes through OneNote, and will work on setting that up in time for my new second semester class.

I was intrigued with the new Office Mix and will have to explore this more. It appears to be a great tool for making our presentations more interactive. This may help me improve the way I make presentations, but I can see how useful it will be for my students as they work on developing their creative and media fluencies. They will love using it!

Finally, I was very happy that I was able to attend the MIE Teacher Academy with a number of my colleagues. We are now able to share our common experience with the rest of the building faculty and look for ways to access these tools in support of student learning across grade levels.

Let’s do an “exploriment”!

The weather was crisp, cool and clear last weekend when I went out with my family for a walk through the woods alongside the river. We stopped regularly to pick-up fallen leaves, examine tree trunks or toss pebbles into the water. What I enjoyed watching the most was how my daughter carefully investigated and asked questions about what she saw. She wanted to know more and learn about the growth cycle of trees now that they were losing their leaves, the process of animal hibernation, and the use of an old railroad trestle that we happened upon. When we were by the river side, she said it:

Let’s do an exploriment!

What a great word to hint at the learning that was taking place!

She wanted to continue exploring the riverbank for natural debris that she could toss into the river and experiment with different weights and materials. I loved how she wanted to combine the discovery of learning (exploration) with a reasoned inquiry (experimentation) to create her “exploriment”! It was great fun, too!

Back at home, I wondered later what the classroom would be like if I more deliberately fostered an “exploriment” attitude to learning? I asked myself if I sufficiently allow student exploration of ideas, materials, and passions? (Our learning from a question week was insightful.) Do I encourage them to test and experiment new ideas? How would this impact overall student engagement for learning? Would the classroom become more vibrant? Would my teaching practice become more vibrant?

I have to believe that the answer would be ‘yes’!

My resolution (once again) is to try my best as we ‘exploriment’ together in the classroom. I look forward to sharing my classroom ‘exploriment’ with a trebuchet after Thanksgiving break.

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?