Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Keeping them Motivated

From the student feedback last week, I've made a couple of small modifications to the infrastructure of the course which seem to have a positive impact. We continue to use the tracking chart for the new unit (the tablet tracking system has been put aside, as it was really only a digital version of the tracking chart for me), a fancy new binder helps keep the unit materials sorted and easy-to-find for both myself and the students, and there's now a big line on the master list indicating where students should be to consider themselves on-pace with the unit.

A month in to the semester, the class routine has settled nicely. At the bell,
  • we quiet down for announcements (changes, reminders,  etc.),
  • I hand back and give personal feedback on any exit slips that indicated the student wasn't quite ready to move on,
  • I check in with individuals as I work my way around the room returning the slips, get everyone working and focussed (some days more focussed than others...),
  • students figure out what they need to do by consulting the chart or the master list and get whatever resources they need,
  • students request mini-lectures and I begin teaching them once the slips are all returned.

Everyone then continues to work - more or less productively - for the remainder of class.

I am beginning to get a little concerned, however, as a good number of students seem to be losing their motivation. Upon prompting, they'll get up to find a particular resource, or re-open their book, or ask for some help, but I find myself reminding them more and more that class is a time to work on the course, not just socialize. 

Some students are taking 40+ minutes to complete a single exit slip (the longest of which, really, should only take 5 minutes at most), as they get distracted by their friends. The chatter is getting louder and louder - to the point where I actually projected a continually-running deciBel meter app from my iPad onto the board so they could see just how loud things were getting (and it did quiet them down, somewhat).

I'm sure part of this is that the class has grown - I've gone from 22 students at the beginning of the semester to 30. They certainly fill the room, and a little bit of talking among 30 students goes a long way.

How can I get them re-focussed and motivated? What is it that actually motivates my students? Grades? Future goals? Comparing themselves to the rest of the class? External rewards provided by parents? And once I know, how can I tie this motivation into the course?

I'll be giving them a survey tomorrow to assess what motivates them, as well as determining what their primary motivation style is. Results to follow...


  1. I've recently been discussing leaderboards (i.e. method of comparing) with a colleague. In a first year UG module of around 100 students, they will be taking weekly quizzes based on the lecture material. Of course the main point of this is to assess learning, figure out areas where majority are struggling etc. However she decided to produce a leaderboard to be updated each week. (It's theoretically anonymous as student number, not name is used). Apparently within an hour of the first leaderboard being shared 20 people had logged in to check out where they stood. not bad at all! I think that competition can definitely be motivating, but I guess you need to consider whether or not intrinsic or extrinsic motivations will be most effective. And of course you would also need to consider how it could de-motivate some students too. I'd recommend reading the Kevin Werbach book 'for the win'. Even if you're not particularly interested in the concept of gamification there is some good work on motivation in there that I found interesting.

  2. This is the fear of every teacher who is afraid of student directed learning. The students are not getting the work finished, at least in class. Do we introduce competition as Hayley suggests, or my first thought was to scare them with a quiz or something. However, I see you have the line suggesting the students should know where they should be in their studies.

    I wonder though, are they motivated to learn the course material. Being required to take a course is not the same as choosing to learn about a subject. Can you somehow make the material personally motivating for the students?