Thursday, January 27, 2011

Not Even For Threeeeee Scooby Snacks?

I've been thinking about motivation lately. I used to think about curriculum and how I could change my class to make it more engaging, and I still do, but now that I have made a lot of changes toward making my class more student-centered and project/product based, I am left with motivation. You see, the amount of students really "getting into it" hasn't really changed even though my class looks drastically different than it did three years ago when I began. I spend very little time lecturing and try to leave all of my assignments open to student exploration and inquiry. I want them to find their own routes of learning. Yet, a majority of my students refuse to answer the challenge. I give them social media projects, and they complain, asking instead for worksheets. I give them the freedom to explore topics of their own choice, and they ask to be spoon-fed information. I'm told that they probably know more about technology than I do, but they need me to stand over their shoulder every time they attach something to an email. It flies in the face of everything I read about reaching these kids, and I can't help but come to the conclusion that it is all simply a matter of motivation.

The problem with motivation is that it is so darn hard to figure out. I looked up the definition on, and this is what they have:

1: a : the act or process of motivating
b : the condition of being motivated
2: a motivating force, stimulus, or influence : incentive, drive

Even the dictionary can't define motivation without using the word motivation. By rule, if a word can't be described without using itself, it is a tricky thing. Too often we get caught up in thinking about motivation in terms of external rewards. When my students aren't motivated to work in my class, I talk to them about their chance of graduating. I talk to them about their grades. I talk to them about their future job. I talk to them about a lot of things that are external. Not surprisingly, it never works.

I've come to realize that motivation is so internal that nobody outside of ourselves can see what it looks like for us. Nobody outside of ourselves can unlock it. The best example I can think of from my own life is basic training. I went to basic training simply to qualify for college money. I joined the military not out of some sense of patriotism or duty, but rather for the very selfish reason of cold hard cash- an external motivator. I quickly realized that money will not motivate you to low crawl through a cactus patch. Money will not motivate you to complete a twenty-five mile forced march on about an hour of sleep. I had to find something deeper within myself to accomplish those things. I found that motivation in a blue cord. The blue cord is awarded to soldiers upon completion of infantry school to be worn on the dress uniform. Our company commander in basic training clipped his on the back of his ruck sack and led every road march we went on. I wanted my blue cord. I was going to get that blue cord, but not because I valued it as an object. I wanted it for what it represented. It represented pride in accomplishing something that few people accomplish, something that most people in my life didn't think I could accomplish. I made up my mind early on that I wasn't leaving Fort Benning, Georgia, without that stinking blue cord, and it was a very proud moment in my life when my father was able to pin it to my uniform the day before graduation.

I understand motivation... but only for myself. The challenge we all face as educators is figuring out how to unlock something in others that we hold so deep within ourselves, and even if we find it, how do we know what to do with it? If someone had known how much that cord motivated me, they probably would've just bought me one online. Sometimes I think that is what we are trying to do with our students. We shouldn't be surprised that it doesn't work.

I don't have the answers. I think all I'm hoping to do at this point is get a better idea of the questions.