Teaching - Reflections

"Motivation 3.0" and How Carrots and Sticks Hurt Our Students and Research-Based Best Practices in Education (June 3, 2017)

What motivates people has been on my mind for a number of years. With students in particular appearing to take on more than ever before - between sports, homework, extra curricular clubs, etc. - motivating students beyond simply giving them a playing test is proving to be more and more difficult. Without that "threat" of a "grade" associated to their performance, most students don't seem to get their practice into gear until within a week or two of the concert. Without a motivator of a public performance, practice would likely not happen in band at all. I, myself, was very unmotivated to practice at a young age. The only motivation came through weekly assessment in private lessons - which I was fortunate to receive throughout middle school, high school, and college. The question I continue asking is - how can band students be motivated outside of the realms of playing tests, the public at large hearing them at a concert, practice logs, stickers, or candy?

Within the past 2 years, Chris Gleason (Sun Prairie School District educator) has taken the time to look over the research and summarize his own findings - based on the works of Daniel Pink, Alfie Kohn, Daniel Coyle, and Sir Ken Robinson. Their findings seem to confirm what my own personal experience - grades, pizza incentives, free movie rentals, or any other extrinsic motivator, do little to foster long term motivation.

All people - not just students - are better motivated through Motivation 3.0 - the development of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Students need to develop self-direction by having autonomy over the task, time, and technique of how they approach something. Reflecting on and showing students their gradual mastery of a task is essential - along with the mindset that "full" mastery can never be realized and that people are simply not "born" masters. Even some of the world's greatest talents had to work hard at a very early age to develop their craft. Finally, it's necessary to guide students to see a purpose in what they do. This is something people do naturally, but the middle school mind may need guidance in this area.

I expressed my concerns regarding the decline of curiosity and creativity in education in my last public reflection from 2010. If I plan to foster this as an educator, the motivation piece needs to be present as well. My hope over the next 2-3 years is to continue fostering methods of developing Motivation 3.0 with my students and to dig deeper into the research-based methods that seem to work best for motivating people for my next professional development plan.

Through my work in our district-offered "Research-Based Best Practices in Education" course, I have been able to explore how meta-analysis leads to a greater understanding of how a change may or may not be necessary to impliment in a school, the importance of collaborating within a PLC to ensure a common curriculum and greater student outcomes, how to look for issues in education research, school-level factors that strongly affect student performance (John Hattie's discussion on what school factors influence learning the most was striking to me), and leadership and mindset's influence on student learning. It's clear that there are a lot of factors at play when it comes to student success - with some stronger than others. As an educator, I have made a shift from the little things that don't matter as much (as highlighted by John Hattie) to the bigger picture - especially in the realm of student motivation.

 

Stuck in the Box: The Unnoticed Decline in Curiosity and Creativity - Brief Thoughts on Education in the 21st Century (Sept. 4, 2010)

As technology has flourished within the last couple decades, there have also been falling trends within education. For a country of our size and wealth, our educational statistics have been more than disappointing. As of a 2003 international study among 38 countries, our students rank as low as 24th in mathematics and 20th in problem solving. In response to such studies, we have put greater pressure on school systems to meet certain testing benchmarks. Good in theory, however it simply results in teachers being forced to "teach for the test." Simply trying to prepare students to answer questions they may see to raise the school's testing results, rather than trying to inspire them to find real-world usage for their content area. Schools are more worried about receiving government funding than inspiring our students.

The internet can often do for students what some teachers are currently being paid to do. Wikipedia, Google, and other sources can provide information for what a student is looking for. However, it is instantaneous and discourages further research. Yet, it is typically good enough. Individuals nowadays are satisfied with information that while it may not always be correct, fits with their beliefs. There is currently a serious and dangerous lack of intellectual curiosity and creativity in our society.

Teachers, while most have good intentions, are finding it more convenient to teach to the test. Think within the box. The political climate within school systems, the incredible demands laid upon teachers, growing class sizes, and numerous other issues are making it difficult for teachers to allow students to be creative and curious. Teaching the kids, rather than allowing the students to learn, can be seen as less chaotic and less demanding. However, the internet can provide facts. It cannot provide experiences. Teachers have the ability to generate powerful learning experiences, and must do so to remain relevant in the 21st century.

In order to allow all students the opportunity to be successful, we as teachers have to hold our end of the bargain. We must remain dedicated to inspiring our students, through our own energy and excitement about what we teach. We must provide them the experiences necessary to provide relevant and meaningful education and allow the students to make their own discoveries, rather than hand-feeding them information. In that light, we must provide opportunities for our students to question, and to becurious enough to explore. This will result in further creativity - not just in regards to creation. Creative thinking, problem solving, and increased thinking outside the box. We cannot afford to think within the box as a society. It's currently cramped enough in there.