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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Motivation: The Overlooked Sixth Component of Reading

Trina is an eighth grader trapped in her own prison. She has every excuse in the book and is often referred to as just unmotivated. But I don't buy that story. Not at all.

To a five-year-old, learning is exciting. While some are academic naturals, others lag. Well-meaning educators intervene, and praise, rewards, and external incentives surface. Thus, we can see the sixth component of reading -- motivation. But what of the adolescents who deflect their inability to keep up by throwing a pencil when you aren't looking, or by bullying others? Enter the "unmotivated" adolescent.

Learners are motivated by three factors: desire to learn, incentives, or fear of failure. As we grow, most of the early curiosity is tested away, and school becomes work. Obstacles increase, desire to learn decreases, and incentives and/or fear of failure move to the forefront. Jack Canfield, self-esteem expert, reports that 80 percent of first graders posses high self-esteem, but by high school graduation, this drops to a staggering five percent.

But certainly you aren't reading this blog for that bleak truth. So now what?

University of Minnesota instructor Martha Farrell Erickson, PhD, (2003) identifies the "critical ingredients for healthy child and youth development" as the Three C's. In my opinion, they are critical for educating any child, and most importantly, for reversing the earlier damage done to self-esteem, which can cause blocks in motivation.

Connection

Brain research reveals that if students feel happy and comfortable, they are more apt to retain learning. Connecting with our kiddos helps us to build trust and to educate the entire child. Dr. Ross Greene, psychology professor at Harvard University, wrote in 2007 that all children would perform if each possessed the necessary skills to complete the task. If we can pinpoint and support students with skill deficits, they will succeed. It is our job to know them, and to empower them to know themselves.  Here's how:

  • Reader Self-Perception Scale: Determine which students need more encouragement and how to approach each one individually.
  • Learning Styles Assessments: Learning your students' preferences and making them aware will empower them to learn and produce.
  • Multiple Intelligences Assessments: Show your students their strengths and then allow them to reflect, gain power, and proceed carefully.
  • Skill Deficit Assessments: The problem usually lies in the fact that we never seem to dig deep enough. Answers are most often not the most obvious. Assess formally and informally to be thorough.
  • Inventories: Getting to know your students' interests allows you to pair them with good-fit reading material. You could quite possibly find a book that not only matches what a student is capable of managing, but is also on a topic that he or she enjoys!
  • Types of Learner Questionnaire: A U.S. Army study by Dr. Valerie Rice divides learners into four different types, depending on their approach (or non-approach) to learning new material.

Contribution

In the book Bridging Cultures Between Home and School, Elise Trumbull et al. discuss collectivist cultures. Adolescents of families from all over the world grow up with a sense of collectivity, and parents emphasize cooperation and community. Our job is to support each student individually while honoring those who also need to feel like they are contributing.

This is just as much an engagement philosophy as it is one of esteem building. The more you use a variety of discussion strategies, the more engaged your students become.

Competence

Erickson's third C is the heart of intrinsic motivation. Many of these kiddos have faced so much failure that success seems unattainable. To rebuild, give your students a feeling of mastery, even on little things. Clear routines allow transitioning from activity to activity with confidence until strugglers feel classroom-savvy.

Providing specific and constructive feedback is another way to build competence. Rick Wormeli, educational author and speaker, says that to give our kiddos a true feeling of success, we must observe, honor, and reflect on their work, and help them to set goals to improve on it. For example: "Trina, I noticed that when we read the first few chapters of your novel, you asked questions on your sticky notes. This shows me that you are really wondering about your reading. Have you found answers to any of these questions? As you read the next chapter, let's make a goal." Suggest a few ideas if she's stuck, and let her choose an attainable goal, promising to reconnect in a few days to monitor her success.

And succeed she will. If even one of Trina's teachers meets her with the attitude of, "I'm going to get to know you, kid. I'm going to give you a chance to be a part of this community and to feel successful," she will respond. The biggest challenge is changing our mindset so that she can change hers. There are no kids who are "just not motivated." They do not exist. Each one of them has a story. It's our job to read it, learn it, and help them to use it as power, not as a prison.

What success stories about building intrinsic motivation in resistant learners can you share?

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Comments (28)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

ChristineOnofrey's picture

What a powerful post. I will be assigning a great deal of independent reading to my 12 graders in the upcoming year, and I'll admit to a certain degree of trepidation at the thought. Many of my students in the past have boasted that they have never read a whole book. Ugh!
With your words, I am newly motivated to help students find that intrinsic motivation. Thank you this and for the helpful links!

Heather Lambert's picture
Heather Lambert
Reading Specialist, Blogger, and Professional Developer

Hi Xiaofang - Figuring out your learning style is only part of it. The biggest piece is self-reflection. Have students reflect upon how this looks in their own lives and how it impacts their learning. Knowledge of self makes learning more natural. I can tell you that in my work with adults this has made a big difference. Its tricky to get kids to reflect on their own lives, but once they do, it's like a light bulb goes on! Kids will tell me that they now understand why they love certain activities or why they dread others. When a kid finds out that her intelligences lie with mathematical/logical, she is thrilled to be able to explain why her favorite subject is math.

This also helps students feel like they're more in control. When a student struggles with reading or writing and finds out that he is highly kinesthetic and musical, he can now explain that struggle. There's also a better chance of finding ways to make it easier because he knows his strengths. I'm going to hit it hard myself this year with the three classes I'm teaching, and I'm excited to see the results. The keys are to teach them about themselves, reflect, and return to the information constantly. Good luck! I'm interested to hear how this ends up for you, so feel free to keep in touch with me.

Heather Lambert's picture
Heather Lambert
Reading Specialist, Blogger, and Professional Developer

Good luck this year with it, Christine! It's amazing when I hear students tell me that they've never read a book. I had a colleague once who told me he read his first book when he was 30, but that was after it was discovered that he was dyslexic. Once the discovery was made, he was able to acquire skills he needed to do something he'd never done before! Keep at it! Let me know how it works out!

DeKaylaM's picture

Being a fairly new teacher, I often struggle with unmotivated students in reading. This has really helped me become more motivated, and placed a new desire to help my students become more motivated. Our school is big on discussions, and I found a few more strategies that I would like to implement in my classroom! Great Post!

sophia71's picture

I truly enjoyed reading this blog of how to get students motivated in reading, an area that so many educators grapple with. I have gained a wealth of information and strategies that I will be definitely implementing in the upcoming school year. Thanks a million!

Heather Lambert's picture
Heather Lambert
Reading Specialist, Blogger, and Professional Developer

Thanks for your feedback, DeKayla! I hope that the information gives you some ideas for discussion points, but most importantly, I hope that you see results! I'd love to hear how things are going mid-year if you think about it!

Heather Lambert's picture
Heather Lambert
Reading Specialist, Blogger, and Professional Developer

I'm glad that you were able to glean so much from this blog, Sophia! It means a lot to hear that my words were motivating to edutopia readers. What is most important, however, is that the words, in practice, actually make an impact. Please keep in touch and let me know how things are going this year.

Stella Hastings's picture

Dr. Greene has been a lifeline for my family as we have a young learner that is very much 'outside the box' as far as multiple areas of learning. I was excited to see a link to his article (which is a preview of his "Lost at School" book - the educator's version of Dr. Greene's "The Explosive Child"). However, the link that you provide goes to a dead page. Here is the URL that is supposed to be there:
http://www.plaea.org/media/cms/kids_do_well_if_they_can_ross_green_B3CC3...

Both this link and the @readingisswagg link aren't working. This is such a good intro into Dr. Greene's approach that I would hate for someone to miss it.

Be sure to check out his not-for-profit site - www.livesinthebalance.org - for access to Dr. Greene's weekly online call-in radio show (one for parents, one for educators). Great resources, absolutely free!!

Thank you.

Heather Lambert's picture
Heather Lambert
Reading Specialist, Blogger, and Professional Developer

Hi Stella! Thank you so much for those updated links. I can't believe I missed that! I apologize to those of you who have tried to get that link. I'm loving his work, and I'm glad that a reader recognizes it. Thanks again!!!

Stella Hastings's picture

You bet! Dr. Greene's book has literally changed not only the way I parent, but also the way I approach my University students, many of whom enter college with a variety of 'lagging skills.'

If you've not yet spent time on his site - www.livesinthebalance.org - please do so! There is such a plethora of info there, including videos of Dr. Greene's presentations at various conferences, as well as testimonials by teachers and administrators who have turned behavior issues around by implementing his CPS model (now called Collaborative, Proactive Solutions). Best of all, it is all free!

And, you can't get any better than knowing that Dr. Greene is a phone call away via his online radio show! You get immediate responses to your questions and concerns. There is also a Contact page on his site where you can send him an email - he answers them!!!

For any educator dealing with a student like my son - behavior issues interrupt the classroom and easily turn aggressive - I highly recommend Dr. Greene's work. Thank you, Heather, for highlighting this important topic and for updating the link!

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Stella Hastings's picture

You bet! Dr. Greene's book has literally changed not only the way I parent, but also the way I approach my University students, many of whom enter college with a variety of 'lagging skills.'

If you've not yet spent time on his site - www.livesinthebalance.org - please do so! There is such a plethora of info there, including videos of Dr. Greene's presentations at various conferences, as well as testimonials by teachers and administrators who have turned behavior issues around by implementing his CPS model (now called Collaborative, Proactive Solutions). Best of all, it is all free!

And, you can't get any better than knowing that Dr. Greene is a phone call away via his online radio show! You get immediate responses to your questions and concerns. There is also a Contact page on his site where you can send him an email - he answers them!!!

For any educator dealing with a student like my son - behavior issues interrupt the classroom and easily turn aggressive - I highly recommend Dr. Greene's work. Thank you, Heather, for highlighting this important topic and for updating the link!

(1)

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