In this second lesson, Robin Hunter reflects on Madeline Hunter’s thoughts about motivating students to learn. In my work with teachers, I hear a lot of conversation about students’ lack of focus, students’ interest in grades and not the learning, and/or need for teachers to manage the classroom behavior at the expense of teaching. These are just some of the daily concerns I hear that impact pacing, covering content or meeting objectives. Hunter writes:
Motivation, the student’s intent to learn, is one of the most important factors in successful accomplishment. (Page 13)
Given that opinion, which is backed up by lots of research (click here), teachers should spend time on understanding what motivates students to learn, both extrinsic and intrinsic factors. Madeline Hunter extends the thinking by suggesting that educators need to pay attention to:
- Motivation is not genetic, it is learned
- What is learned can be taught
- Teaching is our business
The implication in this sequence of statements is that it falls on us, educators, to take responsibility for creating an environment that motivates students to learn. Don’t blame them.
Madeline Hunter’s work offered six factors that teachers can design for to address student motivation.
- Level of concern
- Feeling tone
- Knowledge of results
- Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation
Level of concern
The teacher needs to understand, and respond to, the “level of concern” students express about learning. This means having tools, routines, and teacher behaviors that show students you’’re sincere and undivided attention to their “level of concern.” Use proximity to students to show them you care when their focus wanes. Extend learning time when students appear to be struggling, rather than merely moving on. Being visible and available to students when they are struggling. Distributing the questions we ask, as well as using wait time, so that all students are engaged.
Since the human brain is a feeling organ, teachers need to put significant effort into establishing a positive “feeling tone” in their classroom. Hunter writes:
If students believe they will be successful learners, they are more apt to try. (Page 18)
Madeline Hunter suggests: (1) make sure your students feel personally important; (2) use humor strategically and effectively; (3) celebrate when students are successful; and (3) balance and address the pleasant versus unpleasant feeling tones that surface in every classroom.
When students are successful, they come back to the learning environment eager to try new things and take risks. The implication for the teacher is to know students’ readiness to master the objectives set before them. With that data, adjust the achievement bar so that students have to stretch a reasonable amount. The challenge is that the achievement bar has to be set at heights that are unique to each student. The end result is that teachers must know how to differentiate their lessons. Click here for books, articles, and resources.
One way to enhance student motivation is for teachers to tap into student interests, designing lessons that make use of what we learn. Collecting and using data regarding students’ interests requires that teachers engage in a more creative lesson design process. Here are some ideas that Madeline Hunter suggests: (1) build more authenticity into lesson plans; (2) use a variety of instructional strategies tied to mastering objectives; and (3) build the element of surprise into a lesson (click here to look at the Mystery Box as an instructional strategy). Robin Hunter writes:
Use novelty and vividness to attract students’ attention to learning, not to distract from the learning. (Page 29)
Knowledge of Results
John Hattie writes about the importance of feedback to students about the trajectory they are on to master a learning objective (click here). Madeline Hunter was focused on the importance of this practice early on in her writing. She believes it is essential for teachers to have well-honed practices tied to giving students effective, timely, and focused feedback on their learning. The feedback needs to be strategic, well designed, and offer students a clear pathway to the learning objective.
Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation
While intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are on opposite ends of the spectrum regarding factors influencing achievement, each of them serves an important function or tool for teachers. A classroom of students are diverse with respect to their maturation level as it pertains to responding to their learning environment. So again, the responsibility is on the teacher to design with this diversity in mind. If we want students to willingly engage in learning, then we have to design learning experiences so that students experience small wins, which multiply into larger wins. Once a student experiences success, there is a positive feedback loop that kicks in and learning become fun and engaging. Their motivation to learn increases.
All six of these factors are interdependent. It is hard to increase student motivation through designing learning experiences according to only one or a few of the factors. The design process requires integration of all six factors. A complex but doable task.