Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Motivation Struggle

Today I did something I don't like doing... I forced kids to stay in for recess.  I said, "If you didn't understand the math homework from last night, and I can look at your work and tell that, you won't get to help with the lower elementary field day this afternoon."  Slowly, after rewording that a few times and the students figuring out I was serious, they trickled over from the "go out to recess line" to the "stay in line." 

I felt like I was holding them captive, against their will, (except for those few who decided to come in before I made the "threat") as we looked over the assignment again, I did some reteaching, and then students worked or reworked the problems.  See, I give the answers to the math homework so they can get feedback automatically as to if they are doing it correctly instead of waiting until it's checked by me.  They can see right away if they "get it" or not.

One might say that you shouldn't give students work outside of the classroom until you are sure they can do it on their own, and I agree with that.  But I get this response from many of them in class....I actually have this Baby Blues comic posted on my bulletin board.  We work problems on individual white boards in class, and they seem to get it.  Does it just fall out of their heads when they leave?  Retention is not the big question I'm struggling with here.

The big question I'm struggling with and have been for a while is: WHY DON'T STUDENTS CARE?  Why won't they come in to get help?  When is it my job to force them to come in so they get help?  When is it their turn to step up and take responsibility for their own learning?  

I know I'm dwelling on the negative here...I should celebrate the kids who came in on their own.  Today I did not do that, and that is something I regret and will learn from...but with 8 days of school left, I'm kind of at my wits' end. 


  1. I totally relate to this. I have a couple of students who really struggle and it is pulling teeth to get them to come see me before school for extra help. I have called home and that does not help either.

    I really struggle with this part of SBG and middle school. I offer students the chance to re-take tests that they do poorly on, but they rarely take advantage of it. Unlike high school there is no incentive of credit for the class and these kids are too young to think about the long term consequences of not understanding content that will be expected for them to know in the future.

    I definitely feel like I care about their education and math knowledge tons more than they do. Of course the end of the year only makes it worse :)

  2. I had a student ask me about extra credit today.

    "My mom wants to know if I can do some extra credit to get my grade up."
    "No. I don't give extra credit."
    "Well then how am I supposed to get a better grade?"
    "We've had the revision policy in place all year for you to revise your work and improve your scores."
    "So no extra credit?"


  3. @concretekax Any remedies? I do SBG with math and offer retakes, too. I've blogged about students not showing up for retakes...another frustration

    @my husband =) I plan to specifically state to parents next year that I do not give extra credit.

  4. My 2 cents: first, let the guilt go. I believe you acted in the students' best interest though they cannot see that because of their limited "live in the moment" perspective. I think part of what we do as teachers is help students recognize that their choices have consequences. Russ's policy certainly conveys that—help is available, you can choose to take advantage of it, but if you don't you live w/the consequences. This is especially important for middle school students to learn. We seem forget that learning is a form of work, and if given the choice, we humans will choose fun over work most of the time. (Know any adults, even, who would rather Wii than mow the lawn?!?) Motivated learners learn more easily (usually), but sometimes we have to just do the work. Don't get me wrong. I still design the most engaging instruction I can and hope my winning personality will pick up where my planning falls short :), but learning that sometimes we need to work to learn is not a bad lesson. I think you were trying to help students apprehend that lesson as much as your math content.

  5. @Kevin Thanks for your insight. I think all of this is just a pile up of what's been happening all year, plus what @kax said about the grades/gpa not "meaning" anything in elem. school. Agreed, also, that working on probability isn't on the top of their little list when summer is 8 days away....

  6. Re: extra credit & motivation. I don't have any answers to the motivation piece, but one strategy I found to be helpful related to standards-based grading and re-assessments is to 'advertise' verbally after every single assessment. We all know the students that don't catch on the first or second or third time we say something, but after hearing the same "if you want to improve your grade, there's no extra credit in this class, BUT, you can show me that you understand learning target 5 and improve your grade by {insert your revision/re-assessment policy here}". When I first started standards-based grading, I assumed that explaining the whole thing once was sufficient. Boy was I wrong. It takes time for the whole ordeal to sink in. Very few re-assess during the first two or three chapters. If a student was unaware of the re-assessment policy in my classroom right now (end of year), I'm taking zero responsibility, because I've repeated myself over a dozen times. I know I'm in a little bit different boat than Becky is because my high school students can drive themselves to school and basically drop in for re-takes. If I was teaching again next year, I think I'd move towards a more systematic in-class re-take system with purposeful grouped remediation and weekly looping (and more individualized) assessments. Again, doesn't really help the motivation piece, so this could be an unwarranted rant on my end.

  7. If you "apprehend" something, you understand it fully. Kevin said(ish).

    "The big question I'm struggling with and have been for a while is: WHY DON'T STUDENTS CARE? Why won't they come in to get help? When is it my job to force them to come in so they get help? When is it their turn to step up and take responsibility for their own learning? " You said.

    In both there is the language of control - so if they don't learn/pass/.. as the other Paul M said Let it Be

  8. @paulmartin42 It's hard to just let it be when student learning is my responsibility. I try to just "Let it Be," but sometimes parents aren't ok with that =)