Variation in the "how" and authentic tasks are key to student motivation

14 maj, 2017

thinking-emoticonAs a school leader, I think a lot about what motivates the students at my school. Of course, our work is greatly informed by current educational research on this topic. Yet, I am left to ponder how does this scientific evidence translate into our classrooms? After countless conversations with students and teachers and nearly 75 walk-through observations this year, I have begun to draw some conclusions.

I believe student motivation at my school is influenced by many factors:

-the balance between challenge without overload and self-confidence

-relationship and level of trust between student and teacher

-real and relevant tasks

-variation in the ”how”

-the element of the unexpected; curiosity

Here is one example of what student motivation looks like in Social Science:

Students in Social Science 2 have studied a module of their course about Climate Change.

The task was called the World Climate Project.

After a thorough introduction to theories and resources.  Students were divided intoparis groups each representing a different country that had signed the Paris Agreement and were also amongst the largest global CO2 emitters. Each of these countries has different social, political and economic situations and are affected by climate change in different ways.

spetscountry.jpgThe task was to research relevant information about the country in order to develop a realistic climate policy for that country. The research and presentation were developed in teacher-led coaching feedback sessions.  

Each group presented their country’s proposal for the class.  
[googleapps domain=”docs” dir=”presentation/d/1yExGbSq7MKQ-fWJrd5b4Nwu1S0vdL_pX4ndhOVdmnCg/embed” query=”start=false&loop=false&delayms=3000″ width=”650″ height=”569″ /]

The country presentations were assessed by both the Social Science and the Natural Science teacher as many concepts, theories and important points relate to both courses.IMG_0070 (1)

In the next two weeks, all groups will take part in negotiations with other countries over policies and solutions. The purpose of the negotiations is to reach consensus on how to reduce emissions and reduce the rate of global temperature increases. Some of the questions that will be central to these discussions are:

  • What should the global climate change and emissions targets look like?
  • How can different countries contribute to achieving these global targets?
  • What kind of measures should be taken in order to achieve these targets?

The ”HOW” …

The project consists of the following stages:

Part 1: Research of country and development of climate policy.  

Part 2: Presentation of country climate policy (group presentations)

Part 3: Participation in UN-led climate negotiations (whole class)  

This unit of study directly relates to the course core content:

Teaching in the course should cover the following core content:

  • Contemporary political development in society on the basis of historical ideological conditions, such as human rights, nationalism, colonialism and gender equality, in relation to the distribution of power and economic conditions. Issues of the freedom of action of players versus structural conditions.
  • Critical examination of sources, interpretation, and assessment of information from different media and sources when working with complex social issues. Referencing sources in accordance with established norms.
  • Oral and written presentations in different forms, using different techniques common in the area, such as debates, articles, reports and essays.

And, the grading criteria:

  • Students can discuss causes, and also political economic and social consequences of different solutions to social issues. Students can give arguments for their viewpoints and evaluate the viewpoints of others.
  • In their work on social issues, students can search for, examine and interpret information from different sources.
  • Students can with certainty and in a structured way, express their knowledge of social studies using different types of presentations.

How does this example relate to my conclusions about student motivation?

Consider this:

  1.  Students were challenged to think beyond the details of climate change.  They were required to consider the application of the details for their own situation and set that in the context of a comparison with other countries.  While difficult, the students had the coaching of their teacher throughout the process.  They also discussed with their Natural Science teacher for further support.  Presentations were in groups of three and practiced in advance.

-balance between challenge without overload and self-confidence

-relationship and level of trust between student and teacher

2.  The Paris Agreement is a current agreement being debated.  The realities of different country’s situations are what defines this debate.  By ”taking on” one country’s perspective, students had to set aside their own opinions and work even hard to understand those of their country.

-real and relevant tasks

3.  In class lectures, coaching sessions, research, discussions in Natural Science class, group presentations and class debate … different steps in the process allow for different approaches and development of different skills.

-variation in the ”how”

4.  The country presentations are now complete.  The students are eager to move on to the debate because they do not know how it will end.  They know how they want it to end, but they are unsure if it will work.  They are motivated to participate to get their proposed solution agreed upon by all.

-the element of the unexpected; curiosity

Wondering if this unit of study is typical for this class and if they are motivated to learn more than in a traditional setting, I reviewed an external survey of students in the Stockholm area where they commented on the learning at their school.  

In each statement:

-The teaching motivates me to learn more.

-My teachers cooperate for my learning.

-There is variation in how we work during my lessons.

this class answered much more positively than their counterparts in other Stockholm schools.

enkät spets

spets skl vt2017

These student survey results mirror my observations and discussions with this class. The students said they really ”get excited about their country’s ideas” and are ”really ready for debate”.

We all understand that motivation is a key component of learning.  If we can identify (and agree on) what ingredients are needed to incite motivation, then we can work systematically to design the learning to ensure that it happens.

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