MOTIVATION IN LEARNING (What’s A teacher to do?)
Learning is a drive:
The teacher’s role in motivating students to learn is simpler – yet more challenging -than has generally been recognized. The teacher who acts the role of leader and facilitator can find their profession to be exciting and fulfilling, perhaps in ways only hoped for previously. Students, generally speaking, come in two broad types: easy-to-teach and hard-to-teach. Every teacher knows what to do and loves the first ones, they can become quite challenged and discouraged with the last ones. Very often, these students’ performances can be quite variable — acceptable one day, confused and blank-faced the next.
Since learning is a largely unrecognized drive, the teacher doesn’t have to whip up motivation for a lesson. Students are far less often challenged by merely making grades on an assignment These days, young people need to understand the importance or to see themselves in a relationally-based effort to achieve the goal. Once the student’s “drive mechanism” has been engaged, the teacher’s role becomes largely that of a pedagogue: shepherding so that the students stay on track. Learning will occur as naturally as a sponge absorbs water. A child is threatened by continuing failure and apparent motivation problems may be a consequence of the depression resulting from chronic failure.
Different learning styles will prevail, however, presenting barriers to any teacher’s desire to present a single-styled presentation. A student can only direct the focus of their attention when it has been captured. This may require that the resourceful, concerned teacher differentiate the intruction to any extent possible: a study by Bond and Dykstra reported in Kaluger and Kolson’s second edition of Reading and Learning Disabilities showed that the three variables in learning success were the student, the teacher, and the amount of time they were able to spend together. However, the student can only bring to the task the skill areas with which they are reasonably skillful. Observing the tasks that the student succeeds with and those that they struggle with can be diagnostic clues to an interested teacher.
Barriers to learning:
Barriers in acoustic processing tend to force visual learning skills to the fore, and barriers – even quite subtle ones – in visual processing tends to force a child to tactual and acoustical learning. Here are a number of the barriers:
- Visual distress – almost never due to sight problems. Suppressions of one eye (85% of students in one study. of reading dysfunction1); scanning and tracking errors; visual fatigue of any cause; poor visual environment; etc.
- Subclinical ear Infections – a history of ear problems that have been beneath current treatment level considerations. (Painless watery or mucous effusion can persist for up to three months beyond an acute ear infection.) Allergies are often involved.
- Affective overlays – peer relationships, home distress, teacher relation ships. The stresses that start the behavioral manifestations are either real, unreal, or merely symbolic of real stressors. The behaviors that we observe are symptoms, not the problems, although they may cause problems of their own.
- Perceptual problems – confusion in receiving, thinking, and doing. Much of what we see clinically has impressed us that the American Lifestyle Is greatly at fault: brains are experiential in style, our lives in the 90’s are observational and acquisitional. Adults are already equipped for this, kids aren’t, and adults have largely overlooked how the brain ‘pays it dues”. (Dr. Jane Healy, in her rich, rich book Endangered-Minds Why Children Don’t Think and What We Can Do About It painstakingly elaborates upon what neurobiologists now accept as fact: the way the brain is used changes its structure.Language is the primary shaper of these changes, according to Healy. Children need interactive language opportunities. Our modern world is presenting them with fewer and fewer experiences in that domain.)
One principle best employed by a concerned instructor is to get the students investing themselves in the lesson plan by using language and experience, if possible, as tools. According to Healy, the main foundations to nonverbal reasoning are built upon body movements: the abilities to touch, feel, manipulate, and build sensory relationships. This is why experience – the school of hard knocks – may be such a valuable teacher.
Use of some of the following principles can begin to turn what may have been previously frustrating into a (relatively) fun-filled and enjoyable teaching experience.
- Make sure each student understands the goals, the purpose and, if possible, the application of the lesson to their lives.
- Consider dividing the class into a small groups format so that bonding toward achieving the group’s goals may occur. Consider letting the groups have relative autonomy In determining how the goals are to be reached.
- Have the students make things: maps, models, poster demonstrations, real products, etc. Let them have the opportunity to create, imagine, speculate.
- Like other strategies that bring multi-sensory inputs into play, bringing vision, hearing, and touch to bear upon the lesson, then get the students using language, both oral and written.
- Speak distinctly and vary your rate, tone, and intonation to the students. Request clearly spoken language from them. Get the students talking.
- Vary lessons – get students out of their sets between seatwork tasks.
- Since use of language sharpens thinking and speaking skills, ask for examples in response to a question: have them write a sentence about it Encourage the use of the student’s own language in response to a question.
- Avoid “McTests” that require plugging in “McBits” of information into blanks or bubbles. Ask questions that require the responses to the classic questions of “Who, What, When, Where and Why” In the student’s own words. If they lack these skills, there’s no time like the present to begin. Teach them to listen, to start to think – in spite of themselves, for sure, In some cases – use outlines for the students to fill in.
- Listen to the students: listen to them reflecting back to you what they’re learned, then ask yourself If you’re finished teaching. “Have I communicated what I intended to?” Then respond appropriately.
- Don’t make the error of assuming that kids can’t or don’t want to learn. In many ways, they’re sharper than ever – they just can’t get it out in coherent ways. Help equip them to show what they know. Don’t worry about getting children working too hard – but they must feel or see its relevance or their performance on even simple work will be slapdash.
- Use experiential strategies:
- Discussion Circles
- Field Experiences
These are open-ended suggestions – more ideas will present themselves to you as you read these over. And remember, generally speaking: when you have people laughing, you have them listening.
One teacher, when presented with some of these ideas rebelled, saying, “How can I single out one child for these accommodations? I’ve got 30 children in my class!” However, when it was suggested that she do them for the whole class, she received the idea and said “I can do that!” Two weeks later, she spontaneously called the parent to say, “I haven’t had this much fun teaching in years!”
That’s the way it can be.
1. Benson, CD; Management of Dyslexias Associated with Binocular Control Abnormalities, in: Keeney and Keeney, Dyslexia: Diagnosis and Treatment of Learning Disorders, CV Mosby, St. Louis, 1968.]