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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

"The Motivated Student: Unlocking the Enthusiasm for Learning"

"The Motivated Student: Unlocking the Enthusiasm for Learning"

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Do you think that we have lost something valuable because of our fascination with test scores and AYP? Do you think that there may be a link between our overwhelming reverence with academic achievement and an increase in school bullying? Do you think it's important for us to create schools where kids feel safe and valued? If so, you may be interested in a book study group I am facilitating based on my ASCD book "The Motivated Student: Unlocking the Enthusiasm for Learning." It starts in 2 weeks and is free. For details, visit: http://edge.ascd.org/_The-Motivated-Student/BLOG/2273392/127586.html My goal is to gather as many educators as possible from around the world (literally) and discuss how to engage and inspire kids to value learning and succeed academically. If you're interested in student motivation and creating schools that broaden the vision of what it means to be "well-educated," I hope you'll join me and be part of this exciting conversation!

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

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Comments (17)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Shelly Michalak's picture

Wonderful topic with interesting points. My youngest child is a highly motivated learner, if motivation was a gift, she would be considered gifted. This year there has been particular emphasis on performance on the statewide criterion referenced assessment. She is a fifth grader, and for the first time, has been dreading school. It is very disturbing to my husband and I. We have been trying hard to support her in her stress, and point out the things in school that are not related to the testing that keep her coming back for more, while down palying to her the impact the test will have on her future. The educational system needs a complete makeover!!! As a special ed teacher of kids on the autism spectrum, I have to say, motivation is my life, if it is not motivating to work with me, there is no point even being here in school, so I take it very seriously. Unfortunately, my kids tend to not perform on the standardized tests in any way near their actually capability, since the test items are not relevant, interesting or motivating to many of my students. Thanks for addressing this and I look forward to the blog!

Bob Sullo's picture
Bob Sullo
author, educational consultant

Shelly, you are absolutely right. If the kids don't have a strong relationship with you, they will not do their best. (The exception is those few students who have a strong relationship with what you are teaching. But those kids are the minority in most classes. That's why we have to build a strong personal connection - with relevance - in order to inspire kids.) The only thing I would add is that I don't think your comments should be limited to the special education students you work with. Your comments are equally valid with ALL students.
As the parent of 3 kids, I know what you are saying regarding your daughter and how state testing has negatively impacted her enthusiasm for school. I still remember my younger daughter coming home and announcing, "If I hear one more teacher mention that this is going to be on the MCAS (the Massachusetts state tests),I'm going to scream!" As a parent, my job was to help my daughter switch from focusing on what she couldn't control - the tests - to focusing on what kind of student she wanted to be.

Carol Parker's picture
Carol Parker
7/8 Drama, Film, Honors & Regular Language Arts

How fascinating. Sorry, I missed all of this. But, as a teacher of the Arts, I feel there is nothing more motivating than teaching the ARTS and FILM to keep our children wondering and thinking about all subjects in very different and beautiful ways. PLUS, they have FUN with the arts and for many it is a reason to get up and go to school. Every child must be given the opportunity to play a musical instrument and listen to the classics. Every child must learn about colors, draw and paint and create a story about what they are reading in Language Arts with the arts. There are many films they deserve to see as part of their development. Charlie Chaplin's The Tramp and The Kid is a visual experience never to be forgotten and a huge part of history. It paints a picture of poverty, strength, kindness, comedy and pathos.

We are loosing our culture by not teaching film to children within the Language Arts. Behind every subject there is a story and with each story there is a painting and/or a film. Science, Math, History all have a story and there is a film/documentary to bring our children the CREATIVITY their right brain needs to connect and stimulate their deepest need to learn MORE.

Learning must be a JOY. I do not know if you covered this in your book or not. I am interested in more conversation with you. I am not able to have "live chats" as I have ART & FILM after school. But look forward to buying your book.


Bob Sullo's picture
Bob Sullo
author, educational consultant

Hi Carol. Thanks for sharing your passionate love of the arts. I am confident you find all kinds of ways to inspire your students! I hope you enjoy reading "The Motivated Student." I'll be interested in your feedback. Currently in Jefferson City, MO where I'll offer a keynote presentation based on "The Motivated Student." One of the essential points is to be enthusiastic about what you teach. You are a perfect example of that! By the way, if you are interested in more information, I encourage you to visit my website: www.internalmotivation.net All the best.....bob

Eric H. Roth's picture
Eric H. Roth
university lecturer and English teacher

Sustaining natural curiosity, it seems to me, is more important than unlocking it. Compare and contrast the number of excited 4th graders who want to read, learn, and explore with the number of 10th graders.
Likewise, far too many university students seem to have replaced intrinsic motivations with external ones as they move through education.

Bob Sullo's picture
Bob Sullo
author, educational consultant

Thanks for your comment, Eric. I would agree that "sustaining" enthusiasm is as essential as "unlocking" it. But until it has been unlocked, it's hard to sustain. It's not an "either/or." Rather, I see it as a "both/and." As for university students replacing intrinsic motivation with external, who can blame them? We continually bombard them with extrinsic motivators and continually suggest that learning is a hoop we jump through to get something, rather than suggesting that learning is inherently valuable. We create the mess then complain that kids are externally motivated. A classic case of blaming the victim.

Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher

I have to agree with Eric, enthusiasm for learning is as natural for a child as babbling or cooing. We only need to unlock it if something has interfered with natural development. Unfortunately, many of our well-meaning practices are responsible for lack of enthusiasm because they do interfere with normal development.

Children learn all the time just by doing the things they do each day. It's up to us to help them find things to do which will be enriching and allow them to nurture their natural love of learning.

I have seen this at work among homeschooled students and Montessori students who have been allowed to remain connected to their love of learning. Learning seems joyful, enthusiastic. As they were lining up for music, I watched one little girl jump up and down as she said to another: "The math is fun today!" (She was studying algebra properties)

People are surprised that students can be motivated without grades, but it makes perfect sense to me. The truth is, they really want to know!


Bob Sullo's picture
Bob Sullo
author, educational consultant

Thanks for the comment. I'm sorry that you see a disagreement where none exists. I merely wanted to extend Eric's comment about "sustaining." There is no argument. In fact, all of my books affirm exactly what you say! Just check out these titles: "Activating the Desire to Learn" and "The Motivated Student: Unlocking the Desire to Learn." I practice, teach, and write about internal control psychology, a psychology that states we are internally driven to learn. It is compatible with Montessori methodology you practice. In fact, I have been invited to present for parents at Montessori schools so they can appreciate that Montessori methods are based upon sound psychological theory. I hope you'll take the time to read my books. (In the paperback edition of "Drive" that comes out today, Dan Pink identifies "The Motivated Student" as a "recommended reading." Then you'll see there really is no side to take. All the best....bob

Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher

Hi Bob,

It sounds as if we're all really in agreement about the importance of a child's internal desire to learn. I wasn't seeing it as a disagreement, but wanted to reinforce an important distinction that I think Eric is drawing.

Whatever it is that causes kids to lose interest in learning happens in schools, and because of choices we adults make about how school will be conducted. The argument that extrinsic rewards reset a child's value structure is fairly well documented, probably most famously by Alfie Kohn in his classic Punished by Rewards. If anything, we are using extrinsic rewards even more pervasively today than we did at the time of that book's publication.

Exploring the reasons why our policy makers continue to ignore the research findings which pertain to education might be a more fruitful avenue toward understanding why changes haven't been made. In the Montessori world, basing curriculum decisions on research findings is a founding principle. So integrating new strategies, topics and materials is a part of our ongoing process of professional development.


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