Strategies for Motivating Students
When I talk with teachers during my workshops, they regularly tell me that their students don’t really care about learning, and then ask: “What is going to happen when I raise the level of rigor, particularly during remote learning?” As a part of increasing rigor in the online classroom, we must activate student motivation. Sometimes we try to use extrinsic motivators, such as rewards or grades. They can help, but typically only with rote tasks, and they only last a short time. Intrinsic motivation comes from within a student and builds over time for a long-lasting impact. Students are more motivated when they value what they are doing and when they believe they have a chance for success. Those are the two keys: value and success. Do students see value in the lesson? Do they believe they can be successful?
We typically think of value as the real-life relevance of learning. However, there are three ways students see value in learning: relevance, activities and relationship.
First, relevance is important. Although many students see the relevance of technology, we must move beyond that. Ideally, your students will make their own connections about the relevance of content, and you should provide them opportunities to make those connections independently, which may occur based on an exploration of internet resources. But there are also times you will need to facilitate that understanding. I observed a science teacher who was very effective in helping his students see value in lessons. At the beginning of the year, he asked his students to write about their goals for life after high school. During a lesson on chemical mixtures, he realized that Shaquandra was struggling. He asked her, “Why is an understanding of chemical mixtures important to you?” Puzzled, she replied, “I don’t know. I don’t think it is.” He then guided her to a realization that, since she wanted to own a beauty shop, she would need to know about mixtures when using chemical treatments on a customer’s hair. Her motivation to participate in the lesson increased tremendously.
The second way students see value is through activities. Students are more motivated when they are actively engaged in learning. It’s important for us to weave purposeful, engaging activities for all students throughout our instruction. Video presentations are important, but you may want to do small groups rather than large groups. My webinars regularly include activities to complete prior to our session, open-ended and closed-ended chat responses, polls and follow-up activities. My goal is for teachers to be involved throughout the webinar, which strengthens their learning.
Finally, students see value through their relationship with you. No matter their age, students want you to like them. They want to know you care. If you have a positive relationship with your students, they will do their absolute best for you. And if you have a negative relationship, the student will typically withdraw or act out, and likely not learn as much. Building a relationship remotely presents unique challenges and requires teachers to adjust how to connect with students. Strategies to consider are creating a personal profile for yourself and students—a “virtual show and tell” that can be regularly updated, scheduling video time with a small group of students for a “morning meeting” or advisory time or sending electronic messages. One of the easiest ways to connect is to share stories about yourself, whether during a video presentation or in writing.
Another alternative when you are presenting via video is to use a background that contains something personal. I recently watched a guest on a news show who was appearing via video. He had a painting on his wall that was in the background which showed a scene from North Carolina. Because I am from that state, I felt an immediate connection.
During a recent webinar, my kitten jumped up in front of my computer. I was embarrassed, but the group thought it was funny. They immediately posted comments in the chats about their own animals. For them, it made me more “real.” The same is true for you. Be sure anything personal is appropriate and is not distracting, but it is one way to build a shared relationship.
Another strategy is to position yourself appropriately on video chats. For example, if you are sitting back from your camera, students see you as being distant from them. Try to sit closer to the camera so you fill more of the screen.
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Rigor in the Remote Learning Classroom
Success is the second key to student motivation. Students are more motivated when they feel like they are successful or that they have a chance to be successful. If Dustin thinks an assignment is too hard, and that he must complete it on his own, he is likely to give up. But, if he is given a challenge, as well as assurances from you that you will be there, even from a distance, to guide and support him, he will try to accomplish the task, and he will likely succeed.
Success is a particular challenge with remote learning. Students who normally struggle, even when you are providing on-site help, are particularly susceptible to failure in a remote setting. Strategies such as providing daily and weekly schedules, step-by-step instructions and frequent check-ins are critical.
A Final Note on Motivating Students
Building students’ intrinsic motivations is important for long-term learning. As we use remote learning, it becomes even more important. Guiding students to see value and success will help them learn at higher levels.