Motivation

I have read a number of articles about student motivation. I may have blogged about them once or twice… This post, “5 Questions to Ask Yourself about Your Unmotivated Students” is one of the first to admit it might be the design of the school that is contributing to lack of motivation. I love it!

There’s a very good chance that the technology, the parents, or the entitlement are playing a role in what we perceive to be reduced student motivation. But there’s a very good chance that our instructional decisions play a role as well.

The author outlines a  number of questions to ask (I have paraphrased):

  1. Relationship: what is the teacher’s relationship to the student?
  2. How much choice do students have in their work?
  3. Do you reward with candy?
  4. Do you have a growth or fixed mindset?
  5. How do you make the content relevant to the student?

This is a wonderful set of questions. The author admits things she’s done wrong in the past, but isn’t accusatory about teachers. Just really pushes her fellow teachers to think about their approach.

I watched a highly motivated student turn into one that probably looks like one that couldn’t care less. But guess what – she does care. She cares deeply. But, over the years, she learned that it didn’t matter how much work she did. Traditional school/testing is not how she thinks. She shut down. But, she still cares. A few teachers were able to get good stuff from her — and those were the ones who made things relevant, had an honest and caring relationship, gave students choice.

I bet even the most unmotivated student cares….

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Broken Child

I have to reblog this. It breaks my heart. It hits so close to home.

This is by one of my favorite bloggers. I have tremendous respect for her honesty, her approach to life, her love for children and her love for books. I have tremendous respect for her teaching. She had the courage to completely change how she structured her class. She empowers students in a way not seen frequently.

This is a post about one of her children. I wish I could tell her that no, her child is not broken. Her child is lovely, wonderful, creative, caring. It’s not her child who is broken — it’s the school system. It is hard to tell a teacher that the school system is broken, but she knows it. She changed who she is in the classroom to address the very issues she’s seeing now in her child.

As one of the commenters said,  a world where kindergartners, first graders, etc., are expected to sit still is unnatural. Some kids thrive in it, but certainly not all. We crush the spirit of those who don’t fit that expectation. Why is that the value? Why do kindergartners need to read? Why is it that the only valuable learning occurs at a desk?

I saw this happen in my house. I was stubborn — too stubborn — and thought if my child only tried harder, if she only cared. I watched her spirit get crushed. I watched her frustration. I watched her self-esteem plummet. I watched her level of anxiety increase to the point of being incapacitating. All this for similar reasons — she couldn’t focus no matter how hard she tried. If I could do it all over, there are so many, many things I would do differently.

I wish I could just say to this blogger to follow her heart. Do what you need to do to honor your child. That’s what’s important – not what the expectations are of society, or of school.

 

She’s got my eyes, you know.

Blue mixed with gray depending  on the weather.   She’s got my long legs, arms for miles, and a laugh that comes from her heart.  Her hands look like my grandfather’s who gave her her name.  And those feet of hers are just like mine, growing too fast for her shoes to keep up.

She’s got her daddy’s sense of humor, always ready to make you smile.  And also his artistic eye, declaring one day she will be an artist.  She will paint the sky with every color she knows.

But she doesn’t have my skills of sitting still.  Of staying quiet.  Of focusing in.

She doesn’t smile easy or understand when others are kidding.  Friendships are sometimes hard to find.

Some would say she is a broken child.  Some would say she is a broken child.

We come up with fixes to help…

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Treatise on Audio Books

One of my all time favorite bloggers, Pernille Ripp, wrote about audio books, a pet topic for me: “Why Audio Books in the Classroom?” (Read this, but read all of her blog. It’s wonderful.)

I cannot believe I haven’t written about audio books before. They have been a huge part of my family’s life for the last 10 years, and is what started me on the path to working in education technology.

boxcarIt all started on a car trip. The kids were little (probably 8 & 5 years old) and antsy. We stopped at a bookstore. I spotted a CD of The Boxcar Children. Aha! Perfect for a car trip. The kids were hooked, and our adventure with audio books began.

My daughter has never liked to read – with her eyes. She was not a natural reader, she has never liked to read. It has always been a struggle. However – as Ms Ripp describes her student doing, my daughter INHALED audio books. We couldn’t keep up – it involved many trips to the library and finding affordable books on CD (and yes, even on cassette!) The arrival of the iPod and downloadable audio books was a game changer.

Yet, we still struggled to get school to accept audio books as books. My daughter’s 4th grade teacher flat out told us they didn’t count. Well, I flat out lied about it on those stupid reading logs we were supposed to do. (This teacher wouldn’t let kids read graphic novels either, but that’s another post.)

Thank goodness for the 5th grade teacher who not only accepted, but encouraged the audio books! Turns out her daughter is legally blind and consumes audio books at an amazing rate. At that point, the audio books were written into the 504, and although we have had to keep fighting for acceptance, we had documentation in our court. My daughter now gets all her college books in an audio version and it’s not an issue.

I get why people struggled to accept audio books as legitimate, but it’s time to change. The skills of listening to a text are just as necessary as reading with your eyes. Just as the world is moving quickly to more visual literacy (meaning learning to “read” images, data visualizations, etc.,) we also need to teach audio skills. We get information in so many ways now that we cannot limit it to reading with our eyes.

It is always expected that my daughter has a print book in front of her while she listens. She can’t do that. She needs to have her fingers busy. While listening, she often does a puzzle, knits or plays sudoku. It’s how she listens deeply. We’ve learned that this is how she learns best — not the way school thinks she should learn. I think the visual decoding is really difficult and distracting for her.

Sometimes, my son does listen to a book with the print book in front of him, if he’s doing heavy reading for school. He takes notes, marks the text. It’s how he learns. For him, using both audio and visual works.

One of my recent work projects  was producing a digital curriculum. We fought hard to have all the text narrated by professional actors. And guess what — it is probably the biggest selling point of the digital product. When we did early testing, I had the opportunity to test it with all levels of readers. Even the “high” readers – those reading far above grade level – loved the audio. It isn’t just for “special ed” (I HATE that term) or kids with LDs.

Give them a shot — while I love reading the Harry Potter series, I also love listening to Jim Dale read it to me. And how about celebrity bios? Nothing funnier than listening to Ellen DeGeneris reading you her book, or nothing more enjoyable than listening to Rob Lowe read his. Seriously. Try it.

 

“I Don’t Care”

Short piece from Edutopia today about Strategies for Reaching Apathetic Students.

This could be my daughter. I’m sure she looked like the stereotypical apathetic student. I know she was on her phone quite a bit. She didn’t take notes. She hated group work. She rarely did homework in the last two years of high school. She failed many tests. She hated writing papers. She was, I am sure, quite sassy in class. (She did, however, actively participate in class discussions. I regularly heard from teachers about how well she did in discussions, about how she had very astute observations and offered critical analysis.)

While her behavior may indicate that she didn’t care about school or anything, I can guarantee you that she did care. She cared so deeply that her struggles and difficulty meeting everyone’s expectations – difficulties that are not her fault, and are not because she’s not intelligent or talented – triggered serious anxiety and depression. Honestly, the “disabilities” are only disabilities in an academic setting like her high school. Look at the things she didn’t do: homework, tests,  writing. Hmmmmm — does that suggest a text based disability? YES! And, as she is a strong introvert, group work in class was excruciating.

As the article said, it became easier to say “I don’t care” than “I need help.”

In her case, the “I don’t care” came from hidden learning disabilities that she masked well that eventually manifested themselves in mental illness. It came from a school environment (both physical and pedagogical) that did not fit her needs. It came from a system that meant teachers had way too many kids to track. She switched teachers every trimester, so few teachers ever really go to know her to get below the “I don’t care.” It came from a learning environment that valued rote memorization and testing over creativity and critical thinking. The huge school and large classes meant that teachers had to do the easy-to-grade assessments, like multiple choice tests, as opposed to projects or more creative ways to express learning.

So, next time you see a student that doesn’t seem to care, don’t immediately blame them. Take a closer look. I bet there’s something else going on.

Grade Level

Recent Huff Post article by Dan Peters, “Smart Shaming: Sorry but Your Child is Too Bright to Qualify for Help” hit home.

I get the limited amount of money, I really do. I also get that there are kids who need services “more” than others.

The real issue for us wasn’t so much the “services.” We were able to get a 504 with accommodations. We weren’t asking for anything that cost money or took any staff time. The problem was the pedagogy, assessment and expectations.

Most of the struggles came from doing tasks that will not be needed elsewhere: memorizing facts and spitting them back on tests, writing structured 5 paragraph essays and doing detailed math problems. There was little struggle in class discussion, creative projects or similar assignments.

Yet, the cumulative effect of failure or poor performance on the “essential” elements of how schools measure kids had a significant impact. She shut down. Motivation was gone. You can beat someone down for so long. That in itself is a disability and hurdle to overcome, along with everything else.

Why Do We Hold Students to Higher Expectations Than Adults?

This is a very well said observation. As a parent, I see that my kids need these breaks, yet school doesn’t give many – and certainly not in a way the kids can control. Breaks are on the school or teacher’s schedule. Why do we expect kids to always follow the adult schedule?

I told one class today that I was not there for their sheer entertainment.  I didn’t raise my voice, nor did I yell.  I simply stated it and asked them to step it up, to show engagement, to show me that what we were doing mattered to them because I could tell they were checked out and it made me unhappy.  And then we continued on with what we were doing.  Just another moment teaching 7th grade.

Yet, as it popped back into my mind, a seemingly insignificant moment from my day, I now see what a missed opportunity it was.  Not for another lecture, but instead to realize that these are kids that I am teaching.  Kids that we hold to insanely high expectations every single day.  Every single day, we expect full commitment in every subject matter.  We expect passion.  We expect interest.  We expect a willingness to…

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Dear Student Letter

Posting this “Dear Students” letter to keep it in my list.  She has great one-liners, such as

I’m sorry that you are forced to sit for six hours each school-day despite research that reveals the detrimental cognitive and health effects of excessive sitting.

This teacher puts into words what I feel, but cannot say — not being a teacher. It’s what I’ve seen happen to my daughter, in particular, as she went through a traditional high school setting. Of course, she needs to take some responsibility for her own education, but watching these last four years has given me an entirely new perspective on the kids who don’t appear engaged in school.

My personal world view held (past tense) that academics were the be all and end all. The measure of success was your GPA, where you went to college, etc.  Of course, you’d be engaged in school and get As. Kids who didn’t were just lazy.

Watching my daughter’s journey through school, especially high school, has changed my perspective tremendously. A kid who is “shut down”, doesn’t do homework or participate in class likely has a very good reason. It may be the “problems at home” excuse we hear about. This is certainly a legitimate reason and a very real situation for many students.

The one reason I’ve never heard from her school is “problems with school” — not that my daughter is having problems in school, but that the school set up itself is the problem. No one has ever suggested that the reason she’s shut down and not engaged is because the school atmosphere is overwhelming (2000+ kids in one space for 6 hours?) or that the emphasis on test prep (be it the state tests or AP tests) might lead to a type of learning that is not enticing beyond the drive to get a 4.0 GPA.  Could it be some of the reasons mentioned in the Dear Student letter?

My daughter with ADHD and dyslexia became a classic shut-down learner (see Dr. Richard Selznick’s writings for more) after 9th grade, and totally shut down after 10th. School was (continues to be) a major (I’d say THE) contributing factor in depression and anxiety issues. Yet, right now, she is directing a full-length student produced musical with 70 cast members. She has the entire show blocked in her head — exactly where 70 kids will be on stage, how she wants the songs to sound, the set to look and more. She’s actively making decisions, working with a production team of peers, and directing a cast of her peers (much harder than an adult directing high school kids). She was forced to choose between two best friends for the lead. Frankly, I think this is a tremendous learning experience — and honestly, more valuable life skills than some of the academic work.

I don’t buy the “blame the victim” attitude that it’s all her fault that she’s not engaged in school. (And that is what I often hear. Most of her teachers have been caring and understanding, but the system does not allow for any flexibility unless one pushes VERY hard. That’s a topic for another post.) I certainly couldn’t tolerate the conditions in which she has endure  to be at school. It’s true that some kids thrive in school — which is awesome. But, just because some kids look and act like they don’t care does not mean they are bad kids or not worth it. Look deeper — there’s likely a pretty valid reason and we owe it to these kids to meet their needs. Maybe, just maybe, it’d be worth our time to make some of these bigger, systemic changes like mentioned in the Dear Student letter that would mean all learners would be engaged, have a positive experience, and grow into thoughtful, caring and successful adults.