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by Bob Sullo
Table of Contents
In the past quarter-century, we have seen the emergence of numerous "best practices" that have significantly improved curriculum and instruction. A sampling of innovations includes differentiated instruction, Understanding by Design, the emergence of state standards, the development of curriculum frameworks, scope-and-sequence charts that inform teachers of what to teach and when to teach it, the expanded use of technology in education, active literacy, curriculum mapping, and the proliferation of professional learning communities. Formative assessment informs instruction like never before. In short, teaching has become significantly more "professional."
That said, our schools are still in trouble—big trouble. Christopher Swanson, the director of the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, states: "When 30 percent of our ninth-graders (ultimately) fail to finish high school with a diploma, we are dealing with a crisis that has frightening implications for our … future" (Chaddock, 2006). The dropout rate in urban areas is even higher; the situation, even more grim.
What about those who remain in school? In Results Now, Mike Schmoker (2006) reports the following alarming statistic based on 1,500 classroom observations: in 85 percent of the classrooms observed, fewer than half of the students were paying attention!
Despite exemplary innovations in curriculum and instruction, students are dropping out of school at an alarming rate, and many of those who remain don't seem to be paying attention. How can we explain this discrepancy? Educational advances have focused on curriculum and instruction, the what and how of teaching. Far less attention has been paid to the who of teaching: the students. While we have developed ingenious methods to teach what we think is most important, we have largely ignored those toward whom we are supposed to be directing our effort.
We pay scant attention to students because we believe we know what motivates them; we are confident that if we appropriately reward and reinforce desired behavior, the students will thrive. Clearly, however, this is not the case. Nevertheless, the outmoded reward/punishment paradigm, which is still tightly woven into the most laudable attempts to improve curriculum and instruction, continues to wield a stranglehold on our thinking. More and more schools pay students for increased academic achievement, the ultimate "carrot and stick" strategy. According to the Washington Post, schools in Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago, Baltimore, and Boston have all recently initiated programs that provide money and other tangible rewards to students for good grades and improved behavior (Turque, 2008). A review of our current best practices will find very few voices arguing vigorously against the notion that we can externally motivate students to achieve academically with the right blend of positive reinforcement and unpleasant sanctions. This book is different.
The Motivated Student: Unlocking the Enthusiasm for Learning is based on the premise that our ideas about motivation are wrong-headed and that practices based on this flawed model unintentionally limit student achievement. As long as we continue to organize our educational practices around reward and punishment, we will see high dropout rates and a student body that is alarmingly inattentive. Once we structure schools and classrooms around the idea that students are internally motivated, we will be able to take full advantage of the many recent innovations and advances in curriculum and instruction.
In The Quality School (1990), Dr. William Glasser defines teaching as a "process of imparting knowledge through a variety of techniques … to people who want to acquire this knowledge" (pp. 174–175). Using Glasser's definition, we don't have a teaching problem! The heart of the matter is the relative clause "who want to acquire this knowledge." Given students who want to learn what we are trying to teach, ideas about curriculum and instruction are put to good use. Teacher preparation programs have improved dramatically in these areas, and teachers today are well prepared to effectively teach those "who want to acquire this knowledge." The staggering dropout rate and number of students who do not pay attention in class are sobering indicators that not enough students are positively engaged in the learning process. Too many drop out or become "enrolled dropouts," those who remain on class rosters but are disengaged and unmotivated.
While concerted efforts to improve curriculum and instruction have largely eradicated widespread teaching problems, the harsh reality is that good teaching is not enough. In addition to teaching, we need to effectively manage, which is defined by Glasser (1990) as "the process of convincing people that working hard and doing a quality job of what the teacher asks them to do will add quality to their lives" (p. 176). Students who see achieving, working hard, and doing what we ask as enhancing their lives are less likely to drop out and more likely to be attentive and engaged when they are in our classes.
The Motivated Student provides a concrete approach to engaging students through effective management, the missing piece in the achievement puzzle. It offers strategies to incorporate into your repertoire as well as practices to avoid. You will encounter teachers from across grade levels who put these strategies into practice every day. The situations and conversations in this book represent both "real" stories and composites woven together to illustrate a particular point. For that reason, the names of teachers and students are fictitious.
Begin by reading the book in its entirety. Then choose a particular strategy you want to incorporate into your teaching. Go back to that chapter to study what the teacher did to engage the students. Determine how you can implement the same principles in a way that matches your style and your personality and is appropriate to the students, subject, and grade level you teach. Some chapters describe teachers who engage in practices that diminish student engagement and learning. You can also learn from these chapters by reviewing them and honestly assessing whether you engage in some of those same practices. Enhance your teaching by developing alternative approaches that inspire your students.
After you become comfortable, choose another strategy, and then another, until you have woven all of the strategies presented here into your repertoire. The more strategies you implement, the more engaged your students will be, the less disruption you will face, the greater achievement you will inspire, and the greater satisfaction you will derive from teaching.
Although failures in education persist, they need not go on forever. After all, there is something fundamentally "natural" about teaching. When caring adults with expertise pass on valuable information and skills to the next generation, it can be—and should be—a joyful experience. We can only take full advantage of the array of the best practices that have been developed when we simultaneously implement strategies that engage and inspire our students.
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