As the school year is coming to a close, I find myself reflecting upon the year. I think about how my sweet first graders have grown in so many ways and how I influenced those changes.
When children enter the classroom during those first days of school, they are so eager to learn and excited for the many possibilities of the year. Children are excited about meeting their teachers, talking with friends, and exploring new subjects. Recognizing a child’s innate motivation and discovering the tools to reinforce motivation is key to a successful school year.
During the beginning weeks of school I learn a great deal about my students by simply talking to them during lunch and recess. I take time to read stories from their writing journals and allow multiple opportunities for group discussions. As I get to know my students a little more each day, I recognize students strengths, how the students work in different situations and many other aspects of their personalities. Each child is motivated slightly different but giving students purpose and positive encouragement is part of an effective approach.
Establish learning objectives.
Students need to believe what they are doing has purpose and meaning. At the beginning of the school year, rules and routines are established. Telling students why we follow those rules and routines provides more understanding and motivates children to do what is expected. You need to distinguish what students should be able to do by the end of the lesson and or unit. The goal is not just to learn how to add multiple numbers, but how these skills will also be used in everyday life.
Make activities meaningful.
When creating an activity, think about how your students will find the assignment beneficial. Students may be answering discussion questions as a group and offering an incentive can provide more motivation. During most of my lessons, my groups will have an opportunity to work together. Once groups complete their task together, the table leader will share the responses and students can earn “tickets” for participation. Additional tickets are provided to groups with more significant responses. You also should keep in mind that an activity that worked for a class before may not be a useful method with your current students. Your students are not just completing a worksheet for practice, tell them why and give the assignment more value.
Use the instinctive motivation of students.
All students have motivation within them. Exploit their motivations and discover what make your students tick. Most children enjoy coming to school because they want to be with friends and talking about their favorite topics. Keeping up to date with current trends and pop culture can help you relate more to your students. Including students interests during lessons will grant additional meaning. I try to make a connection with all my students throughout the week, whether I read a book selected by a student, including students names in word problems, or having students help act out part of a lesson. Making your students feel included in your lessons will bring out their inherent motivation.
Give students a choice.
Allow students the opportunity to choose how an assignment can be completed. Students could work in groups, with a partner, or individually. Provide a choice board or have a variety of stations set up for students to select. I often do what I call a “math gallery walk”. This is a quick activity to get student out of their seats and practicing previously learned math skills. All students earn “tickets” for completing the gallery walk. The assignment also presents choice, as students can work on any problem in any order. I also offer choice boards during center activities, such as word work tic-tac-toe or phonemic skills tubs. You want your students to feel they have some input in their learning.
Create a sense of progress.
Model what is expected during a particular lesson or unit. Provide timely feedback to students to help them recognize their progress. A wonderful, visual tool is a student portfolio. Each child is responsible for his/her portfolio and can record data as given by the teacher. For example, a child will practice math facts and may be assessed weekly. The student can graph the score each week and recognize his/her growth. Students will feel more responsible for their grades if they can visually see the goal and notice their progress.
As an educator, you know what techniques work best for your students. Understanding those cheerful, smiling faces from the very beginning and latching onto that knowledge will institute a connection and encourage student motivation for the remainder of the year.