Motivating students to want to learn

Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.

Firstly, treat your students the same as you’d like to be treated. Each year, on the first day I tell my students that I am not going to clap , whistle, put my hand up, ring a bell or chant to get their attention because if someone did that to me, I wouldn’t like it. I let them know that there is one of me, usually 29 of them and when I start talking they need to stop talking. It does take a week or so, you will find yourself standing there waiting for them to stop talking, but as students notice, they touch the person next to them and tell them to stop talking.

Secondly, never raise you voice. Who likes being yelled at? My father always told me, ‘If you raise your voice in an argument, you loose automatically’. I agree. There is no need to yell at students. Sometimes you may find yourself wanting to but what is it going to achieve? It may make you feel better but it will damage your relationship with your students. I guess, that is the key work to motivating students to want to achieve, relationships.

Thirdly, accept that you make errors. Once I taught a math lessons and it didn’t seem quite right. I ran next door and asked Jayne (she was another Year 5 teacher at the time) and I asked her, she told me I got it wrong. I went back into my class and asked the students to glue their pages together. I told them, ‘I got it wrong and I will teach it again tomorrow’. I also remember teaching algebra to Year 5, I taught BODMAS but for some reason our answers were different from the answer sheet. I ducked next door and interrupted a Year 10 math class, asked the teacher and she replied, ‘Addition and subtraction equal each other other, you go from left to right’. Awesome, ran back to my class and shared my mistake. I’m not that bad at math, it is just that these two examples highlight my point. You also need to apologise, yes teachers can apologise to students if they get it wrong. This builds relationships.

Also, I don’t have monitors. Many teachers have monitors for lunch orders, errands, books and so forth. At the start of the year I let students know  that we have no monitors. Why? I value students using their own initiative. Each day we manage to deliver iPads to the junior primary classes, water the herb garden and deliver the lunch order basket because students are empowered with choice, they offer, they do it because they want to not because they have to.

Most importantly, take away the rewards!  If you are using stickers, stamps, table points, lucky dips or prizes, stop. I haven’t used them for years. I believe, that student motivation to achieve should come from within and you can actually guide students to achieve self motivation.

Let students know what you have to teach them and why. Before I teach a unit of work, I show or tell my class what is expected of a Year 5 student in Australia, according to the national curriculum. I tell them, that as a Year 5 teacher I need to teach certain things and they need to demonstrate an understanding of  certain concepts.

Then I invite students to help me develop ways to assess their understanding. The Australian Curriculum explicitly outlines what to teach, and it give examples of evidence of students understanding, but it doesn’t tell you how you have to assess. Of course I don’t do this all the time because there are certain assessments students simply have to do. For example, this term in English we were learning about information reports, so for their assessment on bush fires for Geography, students wrote an information report about a particular bush fire, demonstrating their understanding of bush fires for Geography and their understanding of information report writing for English.

However, there are times when you can open your assessment up for discussion with students. After students had written an information report about bush fires, they then researched and wrote an information about the impact humans have on natural and man made features of Europe (another Year 5 requirement). We then moved onto North America, and again students had to demonstrate an understanding of the impacts humans have on natural and man made features of North America. I asked students, how would they like me to assess their understanding. As a class they decided that they should each be able to choose their own natural and man made feature of North America, create a concept map to show note taking skills and then present it any way the liked. Choices included posters, Power Points (not my preferred choice but some students chose this), collage, talk, video or audio recording and flow charts.

Assessment rubrics are common in schools and I use them too.  However, sometimes I find that teachers use assessment rubrics as an assessment tool for themselves, rather than giving them to students at the start of a unit. Big mistake! If students have access to a rubric which clearly shows them what to achieve, then they have a clearer vision for learning and know what they need to do to achieve a high mark.

However, don’t give students rubrics all the time. To motivate students to want to learn, create a sense of the unknown, mix it up a bit. In order to do this, one of my favourite replies to students is, ‘How long is a piece of string?’. How often do you hear students ask, ‘How much do I have to write?’, ‘How long does it have to be?’ or ‘How many do I have to learn?’. Students will step up to the plate, and actually achieve more. Recently, I asked my students to learn the countries of Europe because that is what the curriculum tells them to do. They weren’t given a specific number to learn, so how many did they learn? For a class of 29, 3 students learned less than 14, 5 students learned between 14 and 24 and the rest learnt more than 24 (6 actually learnt them all). Why? Because they challenged themselves, they weren’t told how many the had to learn, they wanted to learn as many as they could.

This technique called ‘How long is a piece of string?’ (I can call it a technique as it is my own blog) only works if you are consistent. I discovered this when recently teaching coding. I regularly use ‘How long is a piece of string?’ with my class and one of their assessments for coding was to play Code Studio’s The Artist for 15 minutes, and then I would record the level they achieved. They had 3 lessons during class to practice and a week practice for homework. I also teach the same coding program to another class, I have them 3 lessons per week, and they had the same assessment task. 19 of my students complete 15 levels within the time frame, whereas 1 student from the other class completed 15 levels. Why the significant difference? I don’t have a class of more academic students, I have a class of self motivated students, self motivation of students requires consistent teaching practices.

There are probably other things I do, but I can’t think of them now. I guess my main points to get students to achieve is to treat them as you would like to be treated, focus on developing relationships with your students and actively involve your students with your assessment criteria.

I’ve blogged the video below but I think it is appropriate, how to motivate students to achieve.

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