Motivating Students

From on

Self-Directed Learning

December 7, 2006

* North Star is a learning center for homeschooling teenagers in Hadley, Mass. As is detailed in Teacher Magazine's recent article on North Star, the center caters mostly to students who became disaffected with high school, and many of them say its unstructured approach has reawakened their interest in learning. It's certainly a model that challenges the conventional high school environment.

Question from Conny Jensen, GT advocate:

What "basics" do you feel students need (to know) before they can be "entrusted" with edcuating themselves further?

Answer from Catherine Gobron, North Star's Assistant Director:

I don't feel that students need to be "entrusted." A concern for one's own success in life, an interest in the world around them, these are not things that can be given. They can be allowed or obstructed. We are trying to allow and facilitate what we believe is a natural human tendency, the will to learn.

From on

Student Motivation: What Works, What Doesn't

August 30, 2006

Question from Conny Jensen, Education Advocate, Greeley, Colorado:

Currently, under the No Child Left Behind law, schools which show low achievement scores for students are hard at work to remedy the situation by taking drastic measures. Lock step curriculum, elimination of recess, whole day kindergarten with strong focus on building literacy skills, lots of testing, etc. How is it possible to motivate students to learn in such strict environment which sucks all creativity out of our kids as well as their teachers?

Edward L. Deci:, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester:

It is a tough one. The high stakes tests pressure administrators, teachers, students, and parents. It is hard to maintain optimal motivation under such circumstances. I see two ways to address this.

(1) Work at the political level for more effective legislation.

(2) Work within whatever demands are there and do the best you can. Administrators can support teachers to teaching engaging material that helps students become better readers, writers, and math students. Teachers do not have to teach to the tests in order to facilitate better test scores. They can focus on teaching interesting and important material, and if they do that well, making the material rigorous for all students and relevant to the local, state, and federal standards, there can be exciting and engaging work going on. The tests work against that, but we do not have to let them sap us of all our energy and enthusiasm for students and for the educational process.
Yes, lots of schools are responding by falling into step, and using practices that are not best practices. But some districts and schools are not letting the laws/tests be so undermining. They are doing engaging teaching regardless of the tests. And, happily, their students are making good improvement.

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