Motivating All of Our Learners
A MiddleWeb Blog
Here’s a question that comes to my mind each day as I teach in my inclusion classes: How can we spark our students’ curiosity enough to encourage them to be active listeners, eager participators, and interested learners throughout the forty-one minutes of class time?
My focus as I strive to answer this question has two parts. The first part lies in the way we plan to teach the content. I ask, what strategies did we put in place to engage the students? The second part of my answer involves thinking about how we are going to help students to motivate themselves during the learning process?
The idea of helping students motivate themselves can become quite a heated topic among educators. In the many conversations I’ve had with colleagues over the years (both online and face to face), some feel that it’s up to the students to decide to take ownership for their learning. Others feel that the emphasis is on their teaching style and methods of delivery. They feel they need to be like an actor on stage as a way to entertain their students and (they hope) sustain their attention.
I say it’s some of both. We know that students’ attitudes toward learning play a crucial role in the results of learning. And we also know that our decisions about how to use class time — how we teach and engage — can either propel or shut down a positive learning attitude for so many students.
It’s All about Balance
I recently read Self-Driven Learning: Teaching Strategies for Student Motivation by Larry Ferlazzo. As I read and annotated in the margins, it was like having a wonderful collegial conversation on the importance of getting students to advocate for their own learning.
Larry reminds teachers that we must look at the big picture — we must think about “why students would want to learn what we are teaching.” In addition, we must think about “how noncognitive character traits (self-control, perseverance, etc.) influence academic achievement and what we can do to help students develop them.”
Teaching in any classroom involves getting the students to buy in to the learning process. Larry’s book is now on my must-read-again, refer-back-to, share-with-colleagues shelf. It is a book that is valuable for all teachers, yet as a special education teacher, I find additional value for co-teachers.
In an inclusion classroom, there is an additional motivation curve ball to consider. In these classes we have students with special needs being educated alongside typical learners. The two teachers in the room must reconsider the instructional methods to make sure that additional supports are strong enough to meet the needs of all students.
The idea of motivation has a different spin to it in an inclusion classroom. It is no longer just about getting kids to buy into the learning. It is about taking into consideration the specific needs of students. There’s an added factor of how are we creating the ability for students to access the curriculum? How can we guide our students with disabilities to develop self-control and perseverance?
As Richard Lavoie points out in his epic and profound F.A.T. City video, when we understand students with learning disabilities, we understand that learning is not just about motivation, but about perception.
Often, students with learning disabilities misperceive information due to their specific learning disability. In inclusion classrooms, we must make sure to support learning needs, so that these students have the opportunity to become motivated to learn.
They need the access. And we are the gatekeepers for providing that access.
How to Motivate Students?
Larry Ferlazzo’s first chapter lays the groundwork for the rest of his book. He brings in the research to support that intrinsic motivation has long term positive effects to learning. The importance of having students set goals, make choices, and participate in cooperative learning all contribute to their ability to take ownership for their learning.
As I read through Larry’s book, I made many connections to the ideas shared by Lavoie in his book, The Motivation Breakthrough. Students with disabilities are often misunderstood as not being motivated when indeed they are completely motivated. They just aren’t motivated to do the things that teachers are asking them to do.
Lavoie argues that all human behavior is driven by motivation. So the student (yes, one of mine earlier this school year) who avoided a task by making unnecessary trips to the bathroom or breaking his pencil point on purpose a million times just so he could spend his time sharpening rather than writing was quite motivated. He was motivated by channeling his energy into avoiding the writing assignment. Quite brilliant when you think about it.
Do you know any students like this? These students are using their strategic thinking—just not in the ways we’d like. Lavoie states that a student in this situation is a kid who “didn’t have lack of motivation. He had a lack of success!” His motivational energy was driven by his need to avoid the task because he didn’t have any other strategy to help him to successfully complete the task.
Again, it falls on us. What access to the curriculum are we providing for these students to guide them to persevere and have the self-control to complete academic tasks in systematic ways? Check out this video where Lavoie describes the motivation process for students with learning disabilities in more detail.
Ferlazzo’s Strategies Can Guide Teachers
Larry Ferlazzo’s book offers many valuable strategies to guide teachers to help students feel more positive about the learning process. His ideas provide the answers about how to create an environment where students take on academic tasks in systematic ways rather than avoid them.
Larry identifies five action-oriented principles that teachers should weave into their daily instruction. Each action can help students to become intrinsically motivated and cognitively supported to become successful, independent learners.
- Building a classroom community of learners
- Activating students’ background knowledge
- Encouraging student leadership through cooperative learning
- Facilitating a classroom culture where students learn by doing
- Providing ongoing opportunities where students reflect on their learning
Larry’s book is filled with lesson plans that are so easy to adapt and personalize to one’s teaching situation. It is a book that I highly recommend for all teachers. Additionally, it should be a must read for all teachers in inclusion classrooms where we are faced with students who need additional tools to become self-directed learners. This is the book to provide those tools!