Unit 4 Student Motivation "How?"

How do I begin making a change? How do I lead my students, colleagues and my school in the right direction? How do we begin Teaching from Within?

Unit Outcomes

Participants will

  • explore and analyze their own practices in relation to motivational practices involving External Rewards, Fear and Coercion
  • identify specific and appropriate steps to begin eliminating External Rewards and Fear and minimizing Coercion in their classrooms

Before proceeding, take a bit of time to read chapters 1 through 3 of The Motivated Student, by Bob Sullo.

Eliminating External Rewards


ELIMINATING EXTERNAL REWARDS from Bob Sullo’s The Motivated Student Chapter 3

  1. Immediately give up as many external rewards for learning as possible.
  2. Move from rewarding to affirming. Have students identify the positive feelings they experience when they are successful. The natural desire to learn will be strengthened when students realize how good they feel when they succeed. Once students identify that achievement feels good, affirm their success. Never dilute this powerful discovery with the presentation of a tangible external reward.
  3. Talk with students about the kind of learners they want to be. When they discover that they want to be successful students who work hard, learning will become its own reward.
  4. Distinguish between rewards and celebrations. I supervised teachers who created a reward program that required students to read a certain number of pages in two weeks in order to earn the right to watch a movie. The students grudgingly complied, but reading was reduced to a “hoop” that needed to be jumped through. With my encouragement, the following year the teachers abandoned the reward program. They told the students they were going to chart how much reading they completed during a two-week period because they were curious how much the students read. At the conclusion of the two weeks, the students watched a movie, but it was not something they earned based on how much reading they had done. The results? Students read as much the second year and made more positive comments about the reading they had completed instead of complaining that they “had to read.” Maintain your celebrations, but give up reward programs that diminish the joy and value of learning.
  5. If you insist on giving rewards to your students, don’t give things like a “homework pass” which communicates to them that it is desirable to avoid working hard and learning.

Activity / Assignment 1:

Click HERE to analyze and reflect on your current use of External Rewards

Eliminating Fear


ELIMINATING FEAR from Bob Sullo’s The Motivated Student Chapter 1

  1. Examine the language you use with students. “If you don’t do well on the upcoming test, you are in danger of failing” can be switched to “By doing well on the upcoming test, you can earn a better grade.” Both statements are true, but one deflates students by utilizing the language of fear, while the second statement encourages students by emphasizing the possibility of a positive outcome.
  2. Rather than cultivating and environment of fear, build a culture of success. Adopt the following three key messages, articulated by Saphier and Gower: “This is important,” “You can do it,” and “I won’t give up on you.”
  3. Student behavior and performance mirror our expectations. Messages that induce fear communicate to students that we expect them to do poorly. “You can do it” and “I won’t give up on you” communicate our belief that students will succeed.
  4. Many of our fear-driven practices are so habitual that we are unaware of them. Make it a practice to observe and be observed by a trusted colleague. Look for instances in which you unintentionally engage in behavior that creates fear in the learning environment. Together, you can discuss ways to change these destructive practices by replacing them with more positive messages that support learning.
  5. Don’t confuse fear with a healthy respect for authority. It’s crucial that students respect you and your authority, but they don’t need to be afraid of you.
  6. Put yourself in your students’ shoes by regularly learning new things. Learn to play a musical instrument. Study a foreign language. Intentionally put yourself in a situation where you are less skilled and you must meet externally imposed standards. When teachers find themselves being judged by others under circumstances in which they feel less than fully competent, they can better appreciate how vulnerable we feel when asked to learn something new and how destructive fear is to the learning process.
  7. Above all, remember that all new learning requires that students become vulnerable and take a risk as they move out of their comfort zones. When students are afraid, they focus on self-preservation rather than the acquisition of new knowledge and the development of new skills. By removing fear from the classroom, you encourage your students to take risks and learn more.

Activity / Assignment 2:

Click HERE to analyze and reflect on your current use of Fear

Minimizing Coercion


Minimizing Coercion from Bob Sullo’s The Motivated Student Chapter 2

  1. Because coercion will always be a part of the educational landscape, balance it with as much choice as possible. Choice in the classroom can be as simple as giving your students the option of doing two equally valid assignments. Remember that every choice you offer acts as a counterweight to the requirements and nonnegotiable that exist in every classroom.
  2. There is a fine line between being structured and organized and being coercive. Effective teachers are organized and provide sufficient structure for their students to be successful in an environment that minimizes coercion and allows for student choice.
  3. Give your students as much freedom as they can responsibly manage. Be honest with your students, telling them that you will give them as many choices and as much freedom as you can while maintaining the educational integrity of the classroom. Let them know that there will be times when there will be no options provided and you will ask them to do it “your way.” Students who have sufficient freedom and choice rarely grumble when they are occasionally unavailable.
  4. Engage students when developing class rules and routines. Giving them a sense of control over this part of their school day will result in fewer discipline problems and greater acceptance of the rules you develop.
  5. Provide as much choice as you can without sacrificing your authority or the educational objective of your lesson. In one school I know, students can create their own alternative to any assignment as long as the alternative they create addresses the same educational objective as the assignment created by the teacher. The teachers in this school report to me that the vast majority of students complete the teacher-created assignments. The simple fact that the students have an option removes the coercion from the situation. Those few divergent thinkers who create alternative assignments simply help teachers expand their repertoires for subsequent classes.
  6. Be certain that your students are conscious of the choices you offer. When students perceive the classroom as providing adequate freedom, it immediately feels less coercive. The result will be fewer power struggles and more on-task behavior.

Activity / Assignment 3:

Click HERE to analyze and reflect on your current use of Coercion