Recalling my first year at university, I’m reminded of the buzz words surrounding student motivation. ‘Intrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’ motivation were terms that we bandied around, but I’m not sure I really understood it. As teachers, we are generally really good at extrinsic motivation. Entrepreneurs have built countless businesses upon educational stickers, stamps and prizes and I am guilty of stocking up a huge selection of these forms of motivation. I even have the really special ones that say, “Miss H says great work!”
I realised this week that all of these stickers and stamps are neatly organised into rows in my top drawer.
This led me to wonder, what motivates my students? They’re obviously motivated to learn because they arrive at school happy and confident to enter my classroom. They are making huge achievements, both academically and socially, but I’m at a loss as to what motivates them. It’s obvious they’re not motivated by stickers because I still have a drawer full, and they’re not asking for them or wondering why there is no sticker on their work.
I taught a literacy lesson on noun groups recently, and my question was answered. My students were directed to use a formula to create a noun group that describes a character they would like to write about. I was surprised when one of my students raised his hand and offered, “crusty old grandpa”. My surprise was because this student is not one who usually raises his hand and offers suggestions. It was my response to this suggestion that answered my question. I made a huge fuss of his suggestion with comments like, “Yes! I love it. That’s a great noun group!” I asked him to repeat it for those who didn’t hear and offered a hi-5. It was this reaction that motivated the rest of my students to move beyond the standard answers they had been previously offering and challenge themselves to create more sophisticated noun groups. Their subsequent writing was brilliant and I was suitably impressed.
I realised that my students all thrive on being able to please me and work tirelessly for such a reaction. They are all craving the hi-5 that I offer when one of them has a ‘lightbulb moment’.
My next question for reflection is, how did I manage to set up such a culture in my classroom. I assure you, it was a complete fluke this year! I also wonder whether it is this exceptional group of students that I teach, or whether it applies to all students… a question that I’ll have to wait until next year to answer.
The one thing that I have learned is that I do have the ability to motivate my students in such a way that my wallet is happy as well!