“There are two levers for moving men: interest and fear.” ~ Napolean Bonaparte
We cannot effectively teach our students things they do not want to learn. Unless we can figure out a way to motivate students to want to learn what we are teaching, they might sit through classes and memorize the necessary material to pass a test, but students aren’t likely to retain that information for very long after the test and they probably won’t gain a lifelong desire to learn more about that subject. Which “lever” should we be using as teachers to motivate our students? I have known a few teachers who try to motivate with fear, but for better or worse, I could never seem to strike fear into my students. My best bet for motivating students is to make what I am teaching interesting to them. If I can’t make the subject alone more interesting, I need to find a way to tie the learning to a subject that is something that piques students’ natural interests. This sounds easy enough, but it is something teachers need to keep in mind throughout their teaching and planning.
In order to make the topics I teach more appealing to my students, I need to figure out what types of things occupy their time outside of the classroom. I can’t expect students to invest themselves in a subject they aren’t interested in or that is not related in some way to their lives. It’s also very helpful if students are able to anchor the new learning to an existing interest that they know a lot about already.
What are your students into this year? Do you know what types of books and activities they enjoy during their free time? The beginning of the year is a good time to survey kids and find out more about their likes and dislikes, but you can continue to take this “interest pulse” throughout the year so you can take advantage of their interests to continue to motivate them throughout the year. They really seem to enjoy learning about the teacher’s interests, too. Do you have a sports team you love? A favorite hobby? A community organization you support? You can build lessons on your own interests, too, and students might feel inspired to learn more about the things you are passionate about.
According to a study of intrinsic motivation in the math classroom by James Middleton, Joan Littlefield, and Rich Lehrer, students first choose to engage in activities that they personally deem interesting. If they don’t immediately find an activity or subject to be interesting, they base their decisions of whether or not to fully engage in that activity on whether or not it is stimulating or challenging enough for them while still allowing them enough personal control that the activity doesn’t become too difficult to handle. If a teacher can’t build this interest on the merit of the subject alone, tying the subject to an outside theme is a logical step to take.
I got to thinking about the topic of motivation when I read Joann’s latest post about Harry Potter resources for the classroom. As a big Harry Potter fan, I think the resources Joann presented are really exciting. She has found some unique ways to tie the theme of Harry Potter into many different subject areas. If you have Harry Potter enthusiasts in your class, these lessons and activities may be just what they need to excite them about a subject for which they might not have a natural interest. If you have a class full of muggles who aren’t interested in Harry Potter, you should be able to find a theme that they enjoy and you can tie into your curriculum.
The subjects and themes that interest your students are as varied as the students themselves. These interests are constantly changing. Once you have an idea of themes you might want to tie into your lessons, search The Gateway to find lessons and activities that might fit in. We’d love to continue this conversation on our Facebook and Twitter pages to help you find resources and collaborate with other teachers who might have some great input.
~Peggy's Corner - 3/10/2011~