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Despite our best efforts as educators and parents, many students still underperform or struggle academically. Most teachers observe that their students would succeed if only they would invest more effort in their work. In some cases, we see a grave lack of student engagement leading to classroom management challenges, low student achievement, and high drop-out rates.
While some studies cite boredom and disinterest as the cause of these problems, perhaps they are actually symptoms of a broader issue: lack of motivation. Numerous studies have shown that, as student motivation goes up, so do effort and student achievement, in both short and long term situations. In addition, attention, which is a scarce resource in most classrooms, has also been proven to increase with kids’ motivation levels. As we empower students to increase their own ability to focus and apply effort, we witness them becoming better able to process relevant information, which impacts their ability to succeed academically. This, in turn, will set the foundation for an intrinsic love of learning, by teaching students to value their own progress and growth.
Here are three techniques you can use to increase students' motivation:
Last month, I wrote about creating a risk-tolerant classroom environment as a way to empower students to seek challenge and risk mistakes—core principles of a growth mindset. But how can a classroom be risk-tolerant when there are tests and grades at every turn?
Recently, I gave a workshop in an elementary school full of creative and dedicated educators. These teachers thought their kids were wonderful, and they wanted nothing more than to simply nurture their enthusiasm, creativity, and growth. But the students (and their parents) were full of anxiety about grades and state tests.
It's no easier for the teachers. Assessment and grading are among the most complex and controversial areas of teaching, because they're expected to do so many different things: motivate students to do their work; measure progress towards learning goals; identify and promote talent and merit; and hold schools and, increasingly, individual teachers, accountable. Many educators are struggling with these competing priorities, and wonder how they can foster a growth mindset at the same time.
We often speak about mindset as an attribute of a person—we say that a child “has a fixed mindset,” “I’m working to develop a growth mindset,” or even, “She has a fixed mindset about math”—and much of our research has focused on how individuals’ mindset beliefs influence their feelings, choices, and outcomes. But as we know from other research (on the impact of praise and of teaching about a growth mindset), the environment has a big impact on our mindsets too. This is no less true for adults than for kids. Try this thought experiment:
Imagine that, in your workplace, your performance is judged solely by a set of “high stakes” events: the number of sales you make, cases you win in court, or students’ scores on an annual exam. How much you have learned and improved are not considered; your helpfulness with your colleagues is irrelevant; your willingness to work hard and to learn does not matter. Furthermore, no one provides any support to help you improve; it’s “sink or swim” (really, really fast). Your colleagues are competitive and unwilling to share information and strategies, and your supervisor is remote and inflexible.
My co- teacher, Courtney Zaleski and I teach an inclusion 7th grade class. In order to set the stage for the year, we teach them that mistakes are not only OK, they are necessary:
Ask an adolescent how they feel about making mistakes and they will be very honest (sometimes brutally so). This year, on the first day of school, we asked our students to write down their thoughts on a post it note and compiled their responses on chart paper titled “making mistakes.” The students are then asked to stay and read their classmates’ comments. Words like “dumb,” “foolish,” “angry,” and “bad” were common responses.
No wonder so many kids don’t take academic risks. Who wants to feel like that?
As the students returned to their seats, we handed them each a personalized envelope. Inside, they found a pink eraser, a pencil with “Think Different” inscribed on it (“Think Different” is our class name), and a Maichin Welcome Back Letter. We asked them to open the envelope and read the letter silently.
Blogger and educator Larry Ferlazzo partners with Carol Dweck, Ph.D. and Lisa Sorich Blackwell, Ph.D in this article.
This blog post is re-posted from Larry Ferlazzo's blog.
As Professor Carol Dweck -- one of the authors of today's guest response and the developer of the Growth Mindset concept -- has written elsewhere:
Individuals with a fixed mindset believe that their intelligence is simply an inborn trait--they have a certain amount, and that's that. In contrast, individuals with a growth mindset believe that they can develop their intelligence over time.
Thanks to Professor Dweck's work, I have been explicitly applying this concept in the classroom for the past few years, but won't take up space here to share my experiences. Instead, I've developed a list of resources you can access here.
We're lucky today to have Professor Dweck and Dr. Lisa Blackwell, the co-founder of the organization designed to help schools be more effective in helping students develop growth mindsets, as the co-authors of today's guest response. In addition, several readers offer their comments.