Hello out there,
As you know, we've been sharing with you how to be an educational superhero. If you need to catch up, here are the articles in order: Why This One Basic Teaching Principle is Holding Your Students Back, 10 Ways to Stop Sending Kids to the Principal, The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Project-Based Learning, 3 Steps to Easy Comprehension for All Learners. Wow, that's a lot of reading. Now that you're caught up, the basic premise behind all of this is teaching students how to learn, teach themselves, or even teach others. I'm sure you're probably burning inside with a desire to hear the answer to the title of this post. What could this #1 reason possibly be? What do I mean by motivate rather than dictate? Well, to keep you in suspense just a little longer, I'll answer the latter question first.
Since it's getting close to testing time, I'm sure you're feeling the pressure, more than ever, to push students to succeed on their tests. Your very career depends on it. It doesn't matter what you've accomplished if they fail the test. Whoa, talk about pressure. Then of course your pressure filters out to the students, and everyone's stressed out. Not exactly an optimal learning environment. You are so consumed by the burden of ensuring students' success that you talk at them, and practice test them, and talk at them some more, hoping, praying, bargaining; anything to get them to pass the test. Can we talk about this meme from Education to the Core?
Can you really say you like doing this? I would wager not. Remember the good ol' days when you could just be a good teacher? Well, I'm here to tell you to trust those instincts and march to the beat of your own drum. Now, I'm not asking you to lead some kind of protest or start a coup against your administration. What I'm suggesting is easy. Motivate instead of Dictate.
Motivate Instead of Dictate
Have you ever had a boss that spends 80% of their day, not only in your classroom, but breathing over your shoulder? How about a boss that talks at you every single staff meeting and never pauses for feedback or questions? Your boss is dictating, not motivating, and you hate it. It's stressful, and sometimes even insulting. Now think about that boss you only see at review time. He or she has spent time to time in your classroom, asking you questions and praising your efforts. You sit together for your review and he or she says, "awesome, keep it up." Which boss makes you want to work harder? Exactly!
Now apply this to your students. If they spend every day being talked at, given worksheets, practice tests, and being berrated by the addage "you must do well on the test," they will either crack, or not want to work. Their motivation, at best, is fear. When they are given a reason to care, though, everything changes. Here are two practical applications for motivating:
1) Incentivize: At the beginning of the year, quarter, week, wherever you are, be transparent with your student. We'll call her Susie. Tell Susie where she is and where you would like to see her. Ask her how she feels, and what she thinks she can accomplish. Next, work together with Susie to set goals for each day, week, to accomplish larger goals for the month. Decide what type of incentive you can offer. My partner, Pam, offers Quality Quentin dollars in her classroom. You can click here for more details. Students are paid to do their job just as teachers or any other profession are paid. This is a simple system to implement and teaches a larger topic of economics. You can also offer computer time, prizes, "teacher for a day," or anything else your heart desires. You can have students write down their goals in sentence form and how they will accomplish them. For older students, they can write how they will feel when they accomplish their goals. This can be easily incorporated into your writing time. The most important thing about this, don't edit their writing. Let this be free journaling time and you can work on editing with another writing assignment. Goal setting needs to be unencumbered and positive.
2) Encourage Independence: Explain to your student, we'll call him Fred, that he is responsible for accomplishing his goals. Explain the consequences if he does not accomplish his goals, and focus on the benefits of accomplishing them. Help him take ownership of his success and show him you are still available to him as a resource. Consider your new role to be that of a textbook or search engine, or even a counselor. You are there to guide and offer help when needed. And of course, when he succeeds, PRAISE, PRAISE, PRAISE.
When Do I Teach?
Now I'm sure you're sitting here wondering, "ok so when do I teach and when do they actually learn new material?" Refer to 3 Steps to Easy Comprehension for All Learners. The best way for students to learn is to find answers and as Ms. Frizzle says, "...make mistakes."
Why Should I Listen to You?
Now the answer you've been waiting for since clicking that button. The #1 reason motivation is better than dictation is: It prepares your students for an actual job. Think about it. As we get older, we are expected to take more responsibility for, well, our responsibilities. No one is there to give it to us step by step or remind us every day, hour, minute, to get it done. We have to take ownership of our success, or we fail. Which brings me to next week's post. Tune in for ways to Redefine Failure.
An added bonus, your students will be happier because they have choices, goals, and a positive outlook on learning. Not to mention, goal-setting is a huge part of success in adults as well. You are teaching them life skills that they will carry into adulthood. You're teaching them how to create to-do lists and accomplish what they set out to do. You're teaching them follow-through and how good it feels to succeed. This feeling carries into the testing atmosphere and rather than dreading that test, they walk in ready to kick its (well you know.)
If you're looking for more tips on test success, you can also check out 5 Secrets to Test Success.
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Ciao for now!