All teachers deal with the question of student motivation, but teachers in more individualized classroom arrangements face some unique challenges. If a student lacks internal motivation, what external motivators can help develop this capacity? How can a teacher get students to complete homework if homework completion is not reflected in the final test grade? And what about that student who relies too much on help from the teacher? David Miller offers some helpful tips for all of these questions and more.
I just find myself in the middle of that. They give extrinsic motivation to get them— to bribe them—to do their work. They should be grown up enough to do it because it’s the right thing to do. But then I find that I’m sometimes not that either. So what do you expect out of a 10 year old? And it seems like at some point down there, extrinsic motivation is necessary. They should grow out of it. And at what point should you expect them to do that? And I’m never quite sure. So we try different things, but it does seem that by the time they get into high school that are very self-motivated, and most of them are really, really on top of the work and taking it seriously.
What types of extrinsic motivation do you use?
We do a few different things to keep students motivated. One is that, if they get their goals done today, they get an extra 15 minutes of recess tomorrow. If they don’t have homework at least four days this week, then they get an extra 45 minute recess next Friday. There’s honor roll, a field trip for that. A few different things that it’s not been a real big problem. There’s always a student or two that you scratching your head trying to figure out how to keep them motivated. And what I suppose you have the same, same deal as a conventional type setting. It’s probably different students. Different ones cooperate better with different settings.
What about incomplete homework?
In a setting like this, the homework’s not really part of the grade, and so if you don’t do your homework, if you just mess around all day at school and don’t get your work done, and then you don’t do your homework, then what do you do with that? How do you how do you get them to catch that back up and not get farther and farther behind? What do you use for punishment or whatever? And the best thing that I’ve done is in the last few years, I decided to attach it to the to the test grades. And if they don’t have their homework done, it’s two percent off of the final test grades in that subject. Whatever subjects that they don’t do their homework. That has helped a lot. I give them two free times a quarter. Incomplete homework: no questions asked. No penalty. I know stuff comes up.
How do you answer students’ questions?
Yeah. Try not to just give them the answer. There’s probably occasions when I’m really in a hurry, and you have the answer, but, you know, usually I just start back at the point where I think they don’t understand and ask them questions and try to guide their thinking. Or if they’ve got the work of all worked out, some of them have this habit of coming up with the wrong things. So they erase all that work, and then they put their flag up.
I say, “No. Leave all your work there. I can see what you’re doing wrong, and I know what to explain. I don’t have to explain everything about this. You probably understand most of it.”
Usually got a sign turned around, or they added when they should have multiplied, or it’s just something simple. And I’ll tell them what row to look and see if they can find it, find the problem. Or if they just don’t understand it, step back at the beginning, wherever I think they don’t understand and ask them questions, help them to think through it on their own, and then hopefully that helps. Sometimes just having them read the question out loud is all it takes because they didn’t read it properly, or maybe they didn’t even read it.
What about the student who is too dependent on the teacher?
I think the best thing to do for them usually is just make them look a little look a little harder. Especially, usually it’s more like social studies, that type of thing. They’re supposed to read the text, and they’re supposed to find the answers. And now they read a reading story, and here’s a reading question, and they’re supposed to answer it.
Well you answer their flag and say, “OK, where did they talk about— where’s this in the story?”
The story is 10 pages long. I’m not gonna stand there and read it.
“Where do they talk about it?”
“I have no idea.”
“Well, then you did read the story good enough. You have no idea where they even talked about this. Read the story again. And if you still didn’t find it, put your flag up. But at least you got to give me the page where they’re talking about it.”
Or if I think they… I may, I may narrow it down: social studies textbook or something. I may say it’s on this page or this column, but try to try to help them understand they’re not going to give free answers. They need to put forth effort. But I try to guide them to at least the right place to look.
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CONTRIBUTOR: David Miller