Friday, September 6, 2013

Creating Mountains Students Can Climb

cc flickr photo by azjd

A common struggle in many schools -- mine included -- is igniting the intrinsic motivation of students, particularly those who feel disaffected due to previous school experiences. I am currently reading, Motivating Students Who Don't Care, by Allen Mendler.  I have grown to appreciate the work of Mendler, and his frequent co-author Richard Curwin, because of their emphasis on the importance of relationships and meaningful connections with students.   In Motivating Students Who Don't Care, Mendler suggests five processes that can be used to connect with students and encourage active engagement in the learning process.
  1. Emphasizing effort
  2. Creating hope
  3. Respecting power
  4. Building relationships
  5. Expressing enthusiasm
While each of these strategies is very powerful, I was immediately struck by the importance of fostering hope for our challenging students.  I continue to be appalled by the number of times that I speak with students who honestly can not recall the last time they experienced success (of any kind) in a school setting.  These are twelve and thirteen year-old kids who see no relevance to education and have lost all hope that school will improve their lives. One way to begin turning the tables for these students is to actively generate opportunities for them to experience success.  As Mendler points out, "our challenge then, is to create mountains that students believe they can climb."  Just giving students a sense of accomplishment can be a powerful means of shifting their attitude toward school -- fostering a belief, that with some effort, they will be able to experience success.  We have to be purposeful about setting these students up to succeed -- not necessarily staging events, but certainly taking time to ensure that struggling students have multiple opportunities to experience the feeling of accomplishment.  This might mean calling on them when we are certain they know an answer, altering the way we address concerns (i.e. "I see you a majority of the assignment...that is great!  Is there something I can do to help you with the remaining problems?"), or just being cognizant of their little successes for celebration. As you work with students who seem to lack motivation, think about whether or not they have developed a sense of accomplishment and then consider what you can do to set them up for success.  How do you create mountains that students believe they can climb?

From the archives Molehills out of Mountains - originally published on October 11, 2012

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