Tuesday, August 29, 2006

What Is It Going to Take?

My little charges have been working on basic human needs over the last few weeks in relation to resources, specialization, and the United States economy. To connect to our Native American standards which will be tacked next I have been hammering home the basic needs for any human: food, shelter, and clothing. The whole point students need to arrive at is humans meet their basic needs with the resouces around them.

I am also teaching two groups of Language Arts this year and we are currently examining literary elements. Character is our current focus, and I am trying to get students to evaluate literature based on what characters do and say, as well as, what is motivating the characters through the plot of the literary piece.

One of the things that really surprised me when I first became an educator was the lack of motivation that most students exhibited. It has been rare to find students who are motivated to turn in neat assignments, correct assignments, or any assignments. The writing process is a real bear to get students to follow simply because they have to revise sometimes and rewrite it. Gee, you’d think I’m asking them to dig a ditch from Atlanta to Boston with their bare hands.

What motivates our littler characters, our students, through their own personal plot line?

Yesterday afternoon I noticed one of my students simply sitting in the hall while we were waiting on late buses to be called. I encouraged him to begin his homework which was to look up five vocabulary words and define them on paper.

One of my classic cinematic/literary characters is Prissy in Gone With the Wind. She’s the one Scarlett sends to town to get Dr. Meade when Miss Melly is ‘bout to birth her baby. After being told he can’t get there in time Prissy saunters back home as slow as molasses and entertains us with her rendition of ‘tote the weary load'. She also has to admit to Scarlett that she ‘don’ know nothin’ ‘bout birthin’ no baby’. Picture the male version of Prissy and you can visualize my young unmotivated friend. After many manueverings and machinations the assignment was begun, and I was free to go forth and harass some other young wee one.

The whole point of the homework assignment was for students to be familiar with their definitions and to have them out as they completed a classwork assignment today. After going over the assignment I began to walk the room to check off homework and to ‘be amongst my peeps’. When I finally stood next to my young unmotivated friend he produced a paper that looked like his dog really had gotten hold of it!

“Gee, my unmotivated young friend,” I said, “I thought you were working on this while you waited for your bus.”

“I did.” He actually believed he had.

It was clear my young unmotivated friend had not written the definitions as they appeared in the book, but what he had been extremely sucessful at doing was presenting the finest example of a half-as-ed rendering of this particular assignment I have ever seen. Letters within words simply morphed into curved lines, dots, and dashes. Finally the markings on the page simply melted into nothingness…..a mere mish-mash of markings on the page.

“Eureka,” I exclaimed. “You’ve created a whole new written language my unmotivated young friend. Please pardon me for underestimating your abilities.”

So, my unmotivated young friend began the homework assignment anew after I gave him a reasonable facsimile of this particular speech:

Who are you hurting when you don’t do what you need to? …..Yes, yourself. Now tell me, who will always be there for you no matter what? ….Yes, you’re right. You! You will always be there for you no matter what. You are your own best friend, and when you don’t do what you need to do you are only cheating yourself. Why would you want to do that?.....I don’t know why either. So, what are you going to do to solve this situation?

Well, my unmotivated young friend got the assignment done plus his classwork. He was met with mucho, mucho praise from Elementaryhistoryteacher too.

But what will it be tomorrow? Maybe my little speech worked that time but what about the next time, and we all know there will be a next time.

Every human has different needs at different times that govern motivation. It is up to us as the educators to discover each student’s needs at the right time and at the right place so that we all can be successful. Research tells us that students can be goverened by approximately seven different needs that we can meet once we tap into them. It’s the tap dance that we have to do that causes the difficulty. Sometimes we are a little rusty with the steps.

All students want to be sucessful. They are not motivated by failure or by a sense of inadequacy. If they feel more sucessful disrupting our classroom than they do by actually completing an assignment then guess which choice they will make. This is why it is so important to know our students as people and as learners. We must be willing to meet some students where they are even if every child in the room is on a different rung of the ladder so that we can carry them to the top. If we, as educators are not willing to do this….if we continue to teach to the top and make our classroom an uninviting place for at least one-third of our students then this particular group will never experience academic achievement.

All students no matter their age want power. Think about the classes you’ve taken. Don’t you like it when you have some choice, some freedom, some responsibility for your own learning. Think about your students who disrupt. All they are trying to do is wrestle with you for power. They want it…..give it to them. Think of some ways to give them choice. Just make sure that when you give them a choice each opportunity you give is actually something you need or want them to do.

Don’t forget the need for affiliation either. Humans need to be with other people. Groups can work wonders for meeting this need. I like a quiet, busy classroom but I have discovered something very interesting….during group time I hear more actual learning going on than when I stand at the front with everyone on the same page, doing the same thing, and at the same time. If I continue with the “its all about me” type of teaching style everyday I might as well be Charlie Brown’s teacher simply sitting at my desk. I’d have the same effect….

Of course, you have students who can’t stand group work and pull a Greta Garbo on you. “I vant to be alone.” These students have autonomy needs. In fact all students do at certain times. Independent projects are just as important as group ones. Mix it up. One activity can meet the affiliation need while another zeros in on the autonomy freaks. Just for the record Elementaryhistoryteacher is an autonomy freak.

The fifth need students want to have met is self-esteem. I know, I know. We’ve heard it before. We have heard it out the wazaoo. Now I’m not Suzy Smile…I don’t give compliments easily and if a student needs to be made aware of a transgression or needs correction I give it. This can be done though with a modicum of tact, however. I like to think of it as truth and mercy. Think how you soar when someone recognizes your hard work.

I see more and more students these days who crave safety and security, the sixth need. Research shows that if you want high productivity, high achievement, and high satisfaction in any environment students must feel they are physically and psychologically safe. This will lead to high satisfaction. We have a responsibility to maintain close contact with all our students and to be aware of what is going on in the room so that ridicule, put downs, and teasing doesn’t occur where it is not wanted.

Finally, students have a need for equity. We need to strive for fairness with our students. They notice when others get special priviledges or attention. However, it is my own personal opinion that fair does not always mean equal.

Well, looks like I’m going to be tapping many times over the next few months….tapping into my students needs. Guess I need to pick up a case or two of carrots and some polish for my dancin’ shoes.

Update: Check out my comment section for an applicable link regarding motivation and meeting the needs of students thanks to kderosa at D-ED Reckoning. You can also check out these articles as well------School Leadership and Student Motivation, Student Motivation to Learn, and Motivation: What Does the Research Say?


Ed Darrell said...

So, where does one find research to back up the "Six Needs?" Everything we do under NCLB must be research-backed, remember . . .

But I am truly curious. Two months ago I sat through a 20-day series of lectures by top Texas educators and administrators, several of them talking about how teachers need to motivate students, a few latching onto Maslow's hierarchy, but not one ever venturing close to Herzberg's solid work on motivation.

You're closer.

What's your source?

KDeRosa said...

You're close to understanding the motivation problem in lower-performers.

I'd suggest reading this.

KDeRosa said...

Here's another good one:

Managing Classroom Behavior

EHT said...

Thanks for the comments and links. I updated my post with a few articles I've read, however, the actual list came from a paper I was given at a meeting. Like many things I'm handed it had no source on it at all. It just seems so basic to me....common sense, you know....

TurbineGuy said...

'teacher, I have many of the same problems at home with my 4 kids of school age. They all have different personalities, strengths, and weaknesses, so its a battle to keep them all motivated. I constantly stress the importance of hard work as opposed to talent in learning and keeping up there grades. I also make sure that everyone of them knows that they are the best at something, while letting them know its ok not to be the best at everything. I can imagine how difficult it is in a classroom.