Sunday, October 3, 2010

Motivating Students

Motivating students to work and motivating students to behave appropriately go hand in hand.  I wanted to make a few comments about my philosophy of teaching and learning.  Much of what I will say applies also to classroom management.

My basic philosophy for teaching is to bank on human nature.  Despite frequent examples to the contrary, I believe that people have an inherent instinct to do things that are in their self-interest.  There is an instinct to improve and educate one’s self.

I think that this inherent force is much more powerful than any sort of external motivator, be it stickers, report cards, or detentions.

If a teacher does not consider this inherent curiosity and find a way to allow it, then the learning will never be full potential.

As they say, you can lead a horse to water.  The mind, to use a botanical metaphor, is like a flower.  You cannot force it open.  It must open on its own accord.

As a teacher, I try not to insist dictatorially that students must complete their work.  I present the work and allow them to come to it.  Try to present topics interesting to the students.  Try to present open-ended, problem-solving activities. 

It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it is magical, watching human nature take over.  It’s that moment teachers live for, when a student learns something or tries to learn something, because they want to, not because they are being forced to.

I notice the same attitude in myself.  If someone tells me to do a job, say, my wife tells me to clean the yard, then I will begrudgingly complete my task, all the while thinking what is the minimum amount of work I can do to appease my task-master.  Contrarily, if I notice that the yard needs cleaning and decide to clean it on my own accord, then I can work tirelessly and actually enjoy the labour.  Human nature.  Funny.

The first few classes of this year, my students were quite loud and off-task.  I knew that they were testing me.  I bit my tongue and refused to react.  I just sat back, allowed them to talk and make noise and not do their work.  A few classes later, the students, for the most part, are now monitoring themselves.  They’re not angels, to be sure, but they do their work without me nagging them, and they behave respectfully.  The results are hard to believe.  It is somewhat awing to observe the self-improving instinct of human nature.

Some of the more mature students now even tell other students to behave.  What can be a more powerful ally than that?  I think the students see and understand that I treat them respectfully as mature, intelligent individuals and they rise to the occasion.


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