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Top 10 Keys to Unlocking Student Motivation

Below are notes from the Student Motivation Workshop I facilitated today. I can't post the Powerpoints, but if you're interested in them, just send me an email, and I'll be happy to shoot them your way.

10. Limit/Manage Stress

This is the topic of the 2/22 workshop. Please attend! :)

9. Promote Active Learning

• Use in-class activities to reinforce newly presented material. After a new concept or subject has been presented via text reading, lecture, or class discussion, allow the students to put the concept into action by completing an in-class assignment. These assignments can be short, but they must be developed to ensure that the students understand the critical concepts underlying the new material.
• Typically, the most learning takes place when the students are permitted to work in small groups, to refer to their text and notes, and to ask questions of the instructor while completing the assignment. If these in-class assignments are part of the course grading scheme, class attendance also improves.

8. Make Intentional, Explicit Connections

Help students create a “link” when teaching something new. If the student can “link” the new material to something already learned, the odds of learning the new material are greatly increased. Examples of possible “links” include: prior material learned in this course, material learned in prerequisite courses, and “real-life” experiences of the students outside the classroom.

7. Recognize Learning Styles

Provide students with a "visual aid" when possible to explain abstract concepts. A significant proportion of today's’ students are visual learners. For these students, a simple diagram or flowchart truly can be more valuable than a thousand words in a text or a lecture.

6. Be “Mistake Friendly”

• Tell your students: “The next time you feel confused or awkward, instead of telling yourself ‘I can’t do this. I’m no good at it,’ affirm to yourself simply: ‘I’m learning.’”
• We’re all learning. As young children, we didn’t worry about falling down when we learned to walk or making mistakes when we colored outside the lines. These feeling came later.
• Learning is what life (and college) is all about, not grades.

5. Listen (Develop Inclusiveness)

• Inclusiveness creates new possibilities and greater understanding.
• Students want to be included. Don’t give people a fait accompli, but include them in the planning process. A fait accompli makes people feel that they have no choice or power, that their needs and opinions don’t matter.
• On the first day of class, ask students about their goals and expectations to help set the tone for the rest of the course. At the beginning of each class, write the goal for the day on the board. Make time throughout the semester to ask the students to assess how the class is going (Classroom Assessment Techniques).
• Take time to listen, observe, and discover the spark of greatness in your students. Inspire them by making that spark come alive.

4. Provide Vision (Serve as Role Model)

• Role models are powerful motivators.
• “Most people look at things the way they are and ask ‘Why?’ I dream of things that never were and say ‘Why not?’” – John F. Kennedy

3. Focus/Aim

• Do you notice that your students talk about how late they stay up, how many hours they work writing a paper or studying of a test? Do they talk about how long they’ve worked more than about what they’ve learned?
• Do you and your colleagues talk about how many hours you spend grading papers or working on projects?
• Success is more than keeping score. To be effective we must be focused. Our intention, like an arrow, must be aimed at one target, one goal at a time.
• Emphasize the most critical concepts continuously. Reiterate these concepts in lectures and assignments throughout the course. Include questions relating to these critical subjects on every exam, thus rewarding students for learning, retaining, and, hopefully, applying this knowledge in a variety of contexts.

2. Smile

• The energy of joy differs greatly from the energy of compulsiveness, anxiety, and fear that motivates so many people.
• Research has shown that a smile not only results from positive emotions, but it can cause them. Smiles sends a message to our brains to stimulate positive emotions. When people smile, they naturally feel better.
• Smiles are contagious. When you smile at someone, chances are that person will smile back, beginning a whole new cycle of positive emotions, which reduces stress and improves his or her outlook on life as well.

1. Respect

• Put the word respect where you can see it. Tape it to your office door, a wall in your classrooms, your bathroom mirror at home.
• Treat students with respect. Patronizing behavior may be expected in primary school teachers, and “drill sergeant” strategies may be effective in military book camps. However, most college student will not respond well to these techniques. Give students their dignity, and they will give you their best efforts.

*** These are my notes (reorganized into a Top 10 list) of Diane Dreher’s The Tao of Personal Leadership (1996). This is one of the better books I’ve read on leadership, and I would encourage you to read it. ***


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