We know that each student is different, which makes each student unique, but this also makes it challenging to meet their needs. How can you know what and how to adjust instruction if you don’t have a complete picture of each of your students? To create a portrait to help you fully understand all aspects of each student, you’ll want to use a mix of formal and informal strategies to gather detailed information related to a variety of areas.
For our purposes, let’s look at one area: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Before we finish our discussion of overall motivational characteristics, there is another framework to consider. Abraham Maslow (1943) identified a hierarchy of needs that people experience.
He proposed that before a person can focus on the need for knowledge or understanding (self-actualization), the lower-level needs, such as esteem, belonging, security and survival must be met. For example, if I’m a student attending a new school, I care more about finding my classroom than I do about today’s lesson. As you see, his work applies to student learning. Let’s adapt his material a bit to consider how this might look in a classroom. Our goal is self-actualization, in which students focus on learning first. But notice all the other learning needs that must be met.
Meeting Maslow’s Needs: Student Success
Students are motivated when they believe they can be successful. Much of this is based on their perception of their ability to complete an activity successfully and the task itself. Imagine that you enjoy playing soccer, and you have the chance to compete in a local game. You will be playing against Serena Williams. How do you feel? In that situation, there’s plenty of opportunity for challenge, probably too much challenge! Or perhaps you love reading novels, but the only language you can read is French. How motivated will you be in a literature class? For optimal motivation, the activity should be challenging but in balance with your ability to perform. That’s a struggle for many teachers; but that is the foundation of our jobs—starting where a student is and moving him or her up to increasing levels of difficulty and providing appropriate scaffolding for learning at increasing levels. Let’s look at two specific scaffolding strategies that can help improve student success.
When I was a young girl, I wanted to ride a bike. However, I had to start with a tricycle. I needed to be close to the ground, and I needed the support of extra wheels.After a couple of years, I was ready to ride a children’s bicycle. It had training wheels, because I still needed the balance of two additional wheels at the back. After some practice, I remember the day my father took off the extra wheels. Dad still held on to the back of the seat, to make sure I learned how to keep my balance without the extra wheels. When he was sure I was ready, he let go and I began to ride by myself—one of the proudest days of my young life. That’s one way to think of scaffolding. At the beginning of a new concept, students may need strong, consistent support so they don’t falter. Then we lessen the support a bit, but still ensure that we’ve built in the scaffolding strategies. Next, we pull back a bit, but still stay close by to make sure they are successful. When they’re ready, we let them try it by themselves and show they understand the concept and can do the work without the extra help. Consider this three-step process: “I do it, we do it, you do it.” First, you complete the task, process or assignment as a model for the students. Second, you and the students work together through the process. After students are successful, then they try it independently. That’s the gradual release model.
Even when we don’t plan to model what to do and why, students are observing, asking questions, and mimicking our behavior and habits of learning. From social behavior, to reading with inflection, to conducting scientific investigations, young adolescents depend on adult models to learn how to do things. When we don’t provide clear models, young adolescents even use each other. There are key ways you can model for your students. First, you can model expected instructional behaviors. For example, if your students are not paying attention, you can teach them the SLANT model . By following the SLANT model, students learn how to appear like they are paying attention and, ultimately, may improve their actual academic engagement.
You can also model expected assignments. For example, if students are expected to write a paragraph or an extended response, it’s critical that they see samples of what you expect. We’ve found that showing two or three samples, highlighting what is “good work,” helps students more effectively complete the assignment.
A Final Note: Register for My Upcoming Webinar
To best meet our students’ needs, we must learn as much as possible about them, then match scaffolding strategies that meet those needs. For more information, attend Barbara Blackburn’s free, for-credit webinar “Addressing Students’ Needs: Strategies for Success in K-12.”
As a teacher, a leader and a university professor responsible for graduate training for educators, Barbara Blackburn has used her knowledge and experiences to write over 25 best-selling books.