Motivating Students

September 6, 2007 at 6:53 pm (all, blogging, children, classroom management, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, ESOL, friends, High School, kids, life, Middle School, Parents, principals, school, school administration, teachers, Thornebrooke)

The Groundwork for Motivating Students

It’s the beginning of another school year, and students are excited to find out who is in their classes, what their teachers are like, and what they will learn. Many teachers find themselves overwhelmed with the heavy curriculum requirements and a sea of new faces. You may already be wondering how you can effectively motivate your students and engage them in the learning process all year long.

One of the first things we can do to motivate learners is to make sure that they become and remain comfortable in their learning environments. One way to establish comfort is by providing opportunities for classmates and teachers to get to know one another. Learners tend to work harder and take more risks when they feel they have a strong, positive relationship with their teacher and their classmates. Because there are so many learners in a classroom, it is essential that good relationships be established early. Fostering positive relationships promotes high levels of motivation between:

  • Each and every learner.
  • Each learner and the teacher.
  • Each learner and the content.

Remember that motivated learners are comfortable in their learning environments. You will be getting to know your students and they will be getting to know you and one another all year long. Establishing a comfort level is an important foundation for the process.

Read on for tips to establish and maintain a motivating learning environment.

“If you put a plant in a jar, it will take the shape of the jar. But if you allow the plant to grow freely, twenty jars might not be able to hold it”
— Duke University Coach Mike Krzyzewski

Research shows that teachers who successfully engage students incorporate activities that address students’ basic psychological and intellectual needs (Brewster & Fager, 2000).

In conducting an extensive review of research on students’ need for belonging, Osterman (2000) concluded that students’ experiences of acceptance shaped many aspects of their behavior, but that schools tend to neglect and often thwart students’ attempts to establish social interconnections.

Students’ social relationships appear to influence their academic engagement and success at school (Patrick, Anderman, & Ryan, 2002). An important part of that social environment is the degree of teacher support.

An investigation of teachers considered to be exemplary in helping students develop independence and attain high levels of academic achievement stresses the development of strong positive classroom relationships (Ayres, Sawyer, & Dinham, 2001).

 TIPS: Establish and Maintain a Motivating Learning Environment

Now that the new school year is underway, it’s a perfect time to create a motivational learning environment. The first step is making sure everyone is comfortable in the classroom. Since most classrooms and budgets are limited in terms of what furniture and surroundings we can provide, comfort for our students comes in the form of something much more important: positive relationships between all learners, learners and the teacher, and learners and the content.

Give your learners an opportunity to get to know one another. Make it creative. Skip the dull introductions where each person gives his or her name and a hobby. Instead, use one of the activities below to create connections that are memorable.

  • Ask the Teacher (elementary grades and up):
    Have students form groups of 3 or 4, and then have them write one question per group on index cards. In order to establish connections and comfort between you and your students, each group will ask you its question. Questions may include: If you could change the world, what would you change? If you had a million dollars, what would you do? You can modify the same activity and have students ask one another the same questions, or do a combination where you answer some and the students answer others. Doing so builds teacher/student as well as student/student connections and comfort levels.
  • What Do You Like? (middle school and up):
    Have students share one thing they like and one thing they don’t like. This activity makes quick connections and provides an opportunity for everyone to share. You may learn some important information about your students. Be sure that you participate as well. Remember that the connections students make with you as well as one another are part of a comfortable and motivating environment.
  • Telephone (junior high and up):
    This activity can improve listening skills. Share a story stem, such as “I read a story about a scientist named Ivan Ivanovich Vetakovski, who created a drug that makes people immortal.” Whisper the stem to one student, and have that student whisper the story to another. Each student whispers to the next student until everyone has had a chance to whisper and hear. The final student shares the story aloud. Share the original story stem, then ask different students what they heard when the stem was whispered to them. You can find out what different students think is important by what they heard from those who went before them. You can even make the sentence stem content specific, so students start making comfortable and fun connections to what they will learn.
  • Coat of Arms (high school):
    Have learners create a wordless symbol of something that is significant to them and explain the significance. To promote comfort levels and team building, small groups can even design their own coats of arms to share with the class. This activity can also be modified so students create coats of arms that relate to course content.

These introductory getting-to-know-you activities are fun and provide initial connections and comfort levels. If you stop promoting connection and comfort, motivation will wane. It’s important to keep providing opportunities for students to get to know each other. Once the beginning-of-the-year administrative chores are taken care of, continue building connections between students and the content. Here are some examples and suggestions.

  • Language Arts (elementary)
    Have students print or write their names on a piece of construction paper and then think of one trait they have that begins with each letter. For instance, a student named Ben might write “baseball lover,” “milkshake fan,” and “night owl” for each of the letters in his first name. Have students share in small groups, or post their creations for everyone to see. Be sure you do one too! Another idea is to have students create acrostics of weekly vocabulary words, where each letter contains information related to the definition. For example, the vocabulary word “mammal” might have “mothers nursing their young” and “animal like a cat” for the first two letters (“m” and “a”). Working together, students will get to know one another and contribute to the group effort.
  • Language Arts (middle)
    In groups of 3 or 4, have students write poems about themselves. Each stanza must be about a different member of the group. All stanzas must make sense follow a certain rhyme scheme (ABAB, for instance). The final stanza may have to be something related to the group as a whole. You can modify this activity so it is content specific, where each group writes a poem about a topic you assign: constellations, space travel, NASA, and so on.
  • Language Arts (junior high)
    When students read a work of fiction, ask them to share aloud how they are similar to and different from characters in the work. They can share how they personally would handle different situations and why, whether they agree with reactions of certain characters, and with which character(s) they most (or least) identify. Remember that connecting to and feeling comfortable with the content make students feel more motivated to learn.
  • Language Arts (high school)
    After each unit of study, have students share (individually or in groups) which activities they enjoyed most and which they enjoyed least. Their comments may give you some direction for improving the assignments related to consecutive units and gives them a chance to share who they are as learners.
  • Math (elementary)
    Students can complete this assignment in class or at home. Have them look around for or think of 5 to 10 of their favorite things and list them. They may choose to find blue things (favorite color), books, food, videos, etc. Then they share their number one favorite thing with the class or in small groups, why it is their favorite, and rank the others. Students enjoy discovering what they have in common with and how they differ from their classmates.
  • Math (middle)
    Have individual students add up the number of letters in their first names, middle names, and last names. Put students in a group of four and give them a worksheet asking them to add up the total sum of two people’s numbers, and subtract the total sum of another two people’s numbers. Have them multiply those two results, then divide the product by the number of people in their group. You can think of many combinations to put on the worksheet. Add an element of competition by giving a prize to the team with the highest, lowest, closest to a prime, or otherwise-designated number(s). Students will have fun practicing their math skills through this activity, which has roots in each person’s identity.
  • Math (junior high)
    Ask groups of students to come up with quiz questions. For instance, if you are studying a unit on integer addition, one group could come up with 5 questions such as (-7) + 2, (-10) + (-8), and so on. They would also create an answer key. After 5 minutes, groups pass their quizzes to another group, and each group takes the quiz. The group who created the quiz scores it, and prizes are awarded for the team with the most correct answers in the shortest time. Rather than being just a product-oriented activity (taking the quiz), this allows process-oriented students (those who enjoyed creating the quiz) to play a strong role as well.
  • Math (high school)
    Put students in groups to play hangman. Instead of using letters, use numbers that students have to convert to letters (where A=1, B=2, and so on). Give them calculus problems to solve where the result is a number/letter for hangman. For instance, if y equals the square root of (x-3), and students determine that y=2, then 2 corresponds to the letter B. Then students have to decide if B is a letter in the hangman puzzle. Groups can create their own puzzles or you can provide handouts.


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Lecture vs Whole Group Discussion

September 5, 2007 at 6:28 pm (all, blogging, classroom management, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, ESOL, High School, Middle School, principals, school, school administration, teachers, Thornebrooke, Uncategorized)

Lectures vs. Discussions

New teachers are warned against giving lectures all the time. However, it is important to note that there is a time and a place for a good lecture. With that said, however, most lectures can benefit from the addition of questions leading to a Group Discussion situation. I’ve written two articles that look at the pros and cons of both lectures and discussions. Hopefully each of these can help you as you make choices for lesson plans throughout the year.

Lecture as a Teaching Method: Lecture is when an instructor is the central focus of information transfer. Typically, an instructor will stand before a class and present information for the students to learn. Usually, very little exchange occurs between the instructor and the students during a lecture.

Pros of Lecture as a Teaching Method:

  • Lectures are a straightforward way to impart knowledge to students quickly.
  • Instructors also have a greater control over what is being taught in the classroom because they are the sole source of information.
  • Students who are auditory learners find that lectures appeal to their learning style.
  • Logistically, a lecture is often easier to create than other methods of instruction.
  • Lecture is a method familiar to most teachers because it was typically the way they were taught.
  • Because most college courses are lecture-based, students gain experience in this predominant instructional delivery method.

Cons of Lecture as a Teaching Method:

  • Students strong in learning styles other than auditory learning will have a harder time being engaged by lectures.
  • Students who are weak in note-taking skills will have trouble understanding what they should remember from lectures.
  • Students can find lectures boring causing them to lose interest.
  • Students may not feel that they are able to ask questions as they arise during lectures.
  • Teachers may not get a real feel for how much students are understanding because there is not that much opportunity for exchanges during lectures.

Final Thoughts : Lectures are one tool in a teacher’s arsenal of teaching methods. Just as with all the other tools, it should only be used when most appropriate. Instruction should be varied from day to day to help reach the most students possible. Teachers should be cautioned that before heading into numerous classes full of nothing but lectures, they need to provide their students with note taking skills. Only by helping students understand verbal clues and learn methods of organizing and taking notes will they truly help them become successful and get the most out of lectures.

Whole Group Discussion as a Teaching Method: Whole Group Discussion is a modified form of classroom lecture where the focus is shared between the instructor and the students for information transfer. Typically, an instructor will stand before a class and present information for the students to learn but the students will also participate by answering questions and providing examples.

Pros of Whole Group Discussion as a Teaching Method:

  • Whole group discussions provide for greater interaction between teacher and students.
  • Instructors maintain a greater control over what is being taught because they are able to steer the discussion.
  • Auditory learners find them appealing to their learning style.
  • Teachers can check on what students are retaining through questions posed.
  • Whole group discussion is comfortable for many teachers because it is a modified form of lecture.
  • Students have a tendency to stay focused on the lesson because they might be called on to answer questions.
  • Students may feel more comfortable asking questions during whole group discussions.

Cons of Whole Group Discussion as a Teaching Method:

  • Whole group discussions require setting up and enforcing ground rules for students. If these rules are not enforced then there is a possibility that the discussion could quickly go off-topic.
  • Students who are weak in note-taking skills will have trouble understanding what they should remember from group discussions. This is even more so than in lectures in many cases because not only the teacher but fellow students are talking about the lesson.
  • Some students may not feel comfortable being put on the spot during a whole group discussion.

Final Thoughts : Whole group discussions are an excellent teaching method when used in conjunction with other methods. Instruction should be varied from day to day to help reach the most students possible. Teachers need to provide their students with note taking skills before starting discussions. It is important that teachers be good at managing and facilitating discussions. Questioning techniques are effective for this. Two questioning techniques that teachers employ is to increase their wait time after questions are asked and to only ask one question at a time.

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Positive Environment and Classroom Management

September 4, 2007 at 7:43 pm (all, blogging, children, classroom management, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, ESOL, High School, kids, Middle School, Parents, principals, school, school administration, teachers, Thornebrooke, writing)

Positive Environment

As a volunteer Sunday School teacher, our children’s ministry director asked me if I would look over her sheet of classroom management techniques. “I am too wordy,” she said, “and I’d really like something simple and easy to remember. It should be three major points that would help those who aren’t teachers manage a group of kids.” My immediate thought was, You don’t want me helping, I’m about as wordy as you get. But then I thought about it. How would I simplify classroom management strategies into three major points?  Managing an environment of fifteen to thirty (or more) people is tricky. There is no simple method. There is no “EASY” button for classroom management. However, I did think of a way to communicate the essence of managing students into three areas: Positive Environment, Procedures, and Productive Students. Over the next three weeks I’ll address each issue. This week we focus on positive environment and how it affects classroom management.

A positive classroom environment encourages participation and risk-taking because students know they will not be harassed or belittled by the teacher. Students do not have to shrink within themselves to survive the forty-five minutes, ninety minutes, or full day with teacher who yells, throws things, or makes hurtful comments. In a positive classroom environment students can make jokes, engage in their learning, banter with the teacher, and feel comfortable with the tasks given.

Why is this so important? Let me ask you – when do you feel most motivated to be on your best behavior? Is it for a person who constantly makes you feel small or for someone whom you respect and don’t want to let down? Most students will go out of their way to harass and frustrate a teacher who belittles through words and actions. “Let’s see how mad we can make her today,” becomes the goal. Conversely, those same students will go out of their way to behave for a teacher who encourages and lifts up.

What are some ways we can create a positive environment in our classroom? Read below.

·         Welcome students each day with a smile. Take some time to talk to each person and find out how they are doing. I use the time when my students are copying homework and working on the focus assignment (the activity ready for students to begin as soon as they enter the classroom). While everyone is working I walk around the room and stop to talk to each student briefly. It doesn’t take that long and gives me a good idea of what is happening with each student. Those that need a little extra time get it.

·         Interact with your students as human beings and as colleagues. Be respectful and it will come back to you in spades. Treat your students as you would the other faculty in the school. Yes, they are children, but they are also people. We adults can be childish ourselves at times. Children are simply that way more often. Yet, at the same time they can respond to you in very mature and appropriate ways as well – especially if we expect it of them.

·         Focus on the positive rather than the negative. If you focus your discipline/behavior program on consequences, then you are constantly reacting to misbehaviors. Your focus is on the negative. Instead, create a program that encourages students to act appropriately. You might have a chart or map that students “travel” or advance to a goal of some sort through good deeds and behavior. Every time a student does something good for others, is helpful, turns in homework, etc., he/she gets a coupon or ticket. Collect “x” number of tickets to earn movement to the next point on the chart. No matter what type of system you create, the idea is that students earn their way to something good or fun through their positive actions. This type of program focuses on the positive behaviors of students.

·         Redirect misbehaviors rather than always punishing the student. If you see a student getting ready to push another, catch his/her attention and silently shake your head. Smile and nod when they stop, then say a silent “thank you” to the student. If you notice a younger child misbehaving, redirect his/her attention to another activity. Distraction is an excellent tool to help manage students. Of course, this does not mean that you never have consequences. You will also have those students who deliberately set out to defy and misbehave. You begin with redirection, and the positive reinforcement, but be ready to use consequences when the action calls for it.

Teachers who focus on consequences and set up a discipline system that relies on punishment, or even losing potential rewards (which is also a punishment), set themselves up for disappointment. Students continue to behave immaturely because they are treated as immature. Misbehavior continues because it is assumed automatically that students will misbehave. The focus is entirely on the negative and not the positive. In many cases students will deliberately misbehave to see how many “marks” they can rack up in one week. A particularly bright student might say to himself, “Well, I’m always in trouble anyway, so let’s see how far I can push it.” It is goal setting – negative style. A negative focus almost always results in this type of negative thinking by students.

Our students will live up to our expectations, whatever they might be. When we expect students to fail, they fail. When we expect them to misbehave, they misbehave. When we expect them to act immaturely, they act immaturely. On the other hand, when we expect students to achieve high goals, they reach for high goals. When we expect them to behave, they behave. When we expect them to act more maturely, they act more maturely (well, most of the time. J ). You get the gist of what I’m saying. As the leader of the classroom, our focus sets the stage for student actions and behaviors. So, where does your focus center? How do you set the stage for your students? And what results do you get in return?

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