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Here’s A New Strategy I’m Trying To Help Students Develop Intrinsic Motivation

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Image by Marilyn Judson, modified from Rex Norton’s tweet here, which came from Zero Dean

It’s that time of the year — standardized tests,  students are tired, teachers are tired.

At the same time,  relationships are solidified and teachers probably have a pretty good idea of student potential compared/contrasted with actual student performance.

I figured it was time to do something different in my Intermediate English Language Learner class.

I recently read a blog post by Doug Lemov where he suggests posting a Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 rubric (of a sort) on a classroom wall — with examples — for students to use when looking for evidence in a text.   In some ways, it reminded me of Marvin Marshall’s Raise Responsibility discipline system.

Both ideas, though good (I’ve learned a lot from Marvin Marshall, in particular), didn’t completely resonate with me —  they seemed either too teacher-driven or too complicated for my taste.

So, here’s what I’ve done over the past couple of days — and it seems to be working well (but we’ll see how it works as time progresses).

I wanted something very simple, more student-driven, and built on intrinsic motivation.

I first decided on Two levels — level one, which is getting by with what students are doing now; level two, stretching themselves to a higher level.   It’s a good class, with bright and relatively-engaged students.  However, except for a couple of exceptions, most lean towards Level One — in other words, they will generally do a decent job at most things, but will seldom go beyond that without extreme encouragement.

I wrote the number “1” on a piece of paper, and “2” on another, and then proceeded to have a series of individual or small group meetings (mainly individual) with all the students.

These short conversations — and they were genuine two-way conversations – – typically followed this agenda:

  1. I revisited what they had told me in the past about their hopes for their future (advanced high school classes, college, career, stay in the U.S., etc. )to see if there had been any changes.
  1. We discussed their age, how many more years they could stay in high school, the challenges of learning another language and, particular, academic English, and how long that could take. And how important it will be for them to acquire the language in order to realize their dreams.
  1. I told each student they were very intelligent and gave specific examples of things they had done that made me believe it.  I told each of them they would obviously get a very good grade in the class if they continued to do what they had been doing.  However,  they’ve got a lot of ground to cover in a short period of time here in high school, and I wasn’t sure if just doing what they had been doing was really going to get them where they wanted to be ( one big challenge is that California has an unfair high school exit exam, which is being administered next week and is very difficult for ELLs to pass).
  1. I introduced the idea of Level One and Level Two, holding up each sheet. I explained that Level One was what they had been doing, and re-emphasized that they were doing fine. I then explained that Level Two would be stretching themselves —  not necessarily having to spend more time doing classwork, but working harder and thinking harder during the same amount of time.  For example,  showing more self-control;  not just picking easy books to read; if they got done early with an assignment, asking for more work and/or helping others.   I then asked each student to share other ideas of what they thought might be “Level Two” for them, and each came up with great ideas that were particularly relevant to challenges they specifically faced.
  1. I then told them it was up to them about what Level they wanted to choose – they should think about it and let me know. I said that I would not hold it against them if they wanted to stay on Level One most of the time. I did say that I planned to begin to regularly ask students to reflect on what Level they had been exhibiting, how, and why.

Later that day, all the students told me they wanted to be more on Level Two and, at least for the first two days, they all have demonstrated seriousness in doing just that.  At the end of today, I asked them to write if they had been more of a Level Two or a Level One and, if it was Level Two, give at least one supporting example.  Students shared, and I’m going to start keeping a public list of those examples (I’m thinking that we’ll do that kind of reflection a couple of times each week).

My mother-in-law has modified a saying that I recently saw on Twitter and made a sign (see the top of this post) that I’ll be putting up tomorrow that should reinforce these changes.  I’ve also begun calling their families to let them know that their child/ward has decided he/she wants to go beyond what they had been doing (so far, that has generated a very positive response from student and family alike)

We’ll see how it goes.   I figure this can’t hurt, should be sustainable for a while, at least, and might have some long-term positive results.

I’ll keep readers posted.  Reactions and suggestions to improve it to increase student reflection and intrinsic motivation are appreciated….

I’m adding this post to The Best Posts & Articles On “Motivating” Students.

And, if you’re interested in other ideas on how to help students motivate themselves, the third book in my student motivation series will be published later this month, with excerpts appearing in various publications next week. I’ll also be sharing quotations from it on Twitter over the next few days.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

One Comment

  1. I absolutely love this idea! I love the simplicity of level one and level two. I have been trying to figure out a simple way to guide conferencing and goal setting with my students and I think this is a fabulous start. I teach 7th grade math, which historically is a subject where students are satisfied with just “getting by”.

    I also like the idea of the students providing work samples to prove the level of their work. That is fantastic. We are going to be creating portfolios now because we are throwing out gradespecially so finding work to support their level of motivation should be pretty straightforward.

    Thank you for sharing!

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