Unmotivated students are easy to spot. They tend to be dissatisfied with school and disengaged from learning. But take note: They also have the power to disrupt the entire classroom, disengaging other students from academics along the way.
A new report from the Center on Education Policy—Student Motivation: An Overlooked Piece of School Reform—looks at the problem of student motivation and suggests that the following policies and practices can foster student engagement:
- If your school has decided to implement a reward program—such as giving cash or other rewards to students for accomplishing a given outcome—consider rewarding students for mastering certain skills or increasing their understanding rather than for reaching a specific performance level or outperforming others. Offer rewards linked to academics, such as books.
- Recognize that assessments that reward creativity, effort, growth, and strategizing are more motivational than assessments that emphasize competition or performance levels. Give frequent assessments that start with easier goals and gradually increase in difficulty. Before administering a high-stakes test, give students the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge through performance tasks or low-stakes tests.
- Offer programs that encourage students to view post-secondary education as a goal. Programs should provide low-income and disadvantaged parents with the information and resources they need to better support their children toward this goal.
- Provide professional development that helps teachers identify students who may be unmotivated. Share ways that teachers can foster motivation, such as by holding high expectations for all students, increasing student autonomy, emphasizing mastery over performance, and creating an environment where students can take risks without fear of failure.
- Inform teachers about how they can effectively engage families in learning. Consider providing inquiry-based learning and service learning that foster connections between what students are learning and how they can apply that learning.
Written by Alexandra Usher and Nancy Kober, Student Motivation: An Overlooked Piece of School Reform is available at www.cep-dc.org/displayDocument.cfm?DocumentID=405.
Numbers of Note
48 The percentage of U.S. middle and high school students surveyed who said they experienced some form of sexual harassment in the 2010–11 school year.
9 The percentage of sexually harassed students who reported the incident to a school adult.
Source: Hill, C., & Kearl, H. (2012). Crossing the line: Sexual harassment at school. Washington, DC: AAUW. Findings are based on a national survey of 1,965 students in grades 7–12 conducted in spring 2011.
How to Bullyproof Your Classroom, K–5by Caltha Crowe (Northeast Foundation for Children, 2012)
The common characteristic of children who bully, says Caltha Crowe, is that they see assertion of power as desirable and aggression as the best way to rise in the social hierarchy. This practical guide describes how teachers can prevent bullying by building a classroom community in which everyone feels valued. To build such a community, teachers need to increase their awareness of gateway behaviors—those small acts of disrespect or unkindness that often go unchallenged. Through many examples and strategies, Crowe shows how teachers can firmly let students know that even minor meanness is unacceptable and give students the tools they need to establish inclusive, positive relationships with one another.
"Any child can be targeted. Any child can find himself sucked into behaving aggressively. If you watch objectively, you'll be positioned to be most helpful to all students." (p. 25)
Mortal Kombat … on the Playground
In the United Kingdom, attendees at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' annual conference voiced concern about the influence of violent video games on primary school children. They noted that children as young as 5 are acting out violent scenes from the video games they play at home on the school playground. In addition, teachers have witnessed far more hitting and hurting taking place in the classroom.
It isn't just the violence that's a matter of concern. As one teacher explained, "Obesity, social exclusion, loneliness, poor physical fitness, sedentary solitary lives—these are all descriptions of children who are already hooked to games." Attendees called for stringent legislation to address gaming's negative influences.
The Fourth R—For Free
Do your students need practice with the "fourth R"—that is, with relevant life skills like communication, self-reflection, and conflict resolution? Thanks to a recent initiative, the Overcoming Obstacles curriculum, created by the Community for Education Foundation, is now available free to any school that applies.
The curriculum includes 80 50-minute lessons and 500 activities for middle school and high school students on such topics as assertiveness, stress management, teamwork, study techniques, and planning for college. (Check out a sample lesson at www.overcomingobstacles.org/files/samples/MS_samplelesson.pdf.) An 18-minute video shows the program in action in participating districts and includes interviews with administrators, teachers, and students who discuss how the program has improved school attendance, decreased discipline referrals, and helped students monitor their emotions and respond more maturely to both teachers and peers (see www.overcomingobstacles.org/press_video.php).
Find out how to apply for the free curriculum at www.overcomingobstacles.org/giftinginitiative.php. Schools need to commit to using the curriculum at least weekly and submit a two-page plan explaining how they'll implement the program.
"The student has already failed the course, lost a friend, been kicked out of the house. You don't need to be punitive. The world is already supplying the natural consequences."
—Jeffrey Benson, p. 76