One of the research-informed strategies from the book, Classroom Instruction that Works, is Reinforcing Effort. Many students don’t make the connection between success and effort. Often they think that other students achieve because of luck, who they know, or born-in abilities. If children don’t think that they have any of these factors in their favor, they may assume that they have no effect on their chances for success. It is up to the community, parents, and educators to make sure children do understand that effort can result is achievement. It’s at the core of the American Dream.
McREL is often called to struggling communities where motivation is a big issue. Many of these communities have the most difficult of circumstances such as high poverty, unemployment, teen pregnancy, drug use, and violence. Yet, once in a while we come upon a community that despite the odds, is succeeding in motivating their students to succeed. Some of the schools in these communities were documented in McREL’s Schools that “Beat the Odds” report. When we look closely, we find school leaders that look for ways to motivate students. Sometimes it’s simply finding a way to reward good behavior. For instance, a high school principal in Poplar, Montana makes a small difference by realizing that students want a safe place to socialize with friends. So she provides a supervised common area for students in order to motivate them to try harder in school. They can play the Wii video game, socialize with friends, or just relax with a book as reward for their efforts in school.
Increasing student effort boils down to finding out what is important to them and finding ways to use it for motivation. A large example of this is Project Citizen (http://www.civiced.org/index.php?page=introduction). As you can see from the embedded movie below, Project Citizen Educators from around the world help students find an interesting community problem. Then they work together to find solutions. Not all problems get fixed, but enough do to teach the lesson that effort does pay off in success.
Having positive role models also improves intrinsic motivation to succeed. If students see successful people like themselves, they believe that they can do it too. One of the best ways to provide genuine role models is by using the ones already found in your schools. For instance, a school counselor could start a peer-partner program that connects screened and trained role models from upper classmen at the high school with struggling students in the middle school. Or, educators could put together a summer camp to motivate urban boys or girls using young successful students from their own community. An example of this is shown in the video below.
Sometimes you may need to find mentors from higher education to motivate students. In the video below, the Expanding Your Horizons program is shown to motivate girls to pursue STEM fields.
McREL is also doing work in this area. We have begun work on a three-year project to design and study the effects of a two-week, summer science program designed to encourage high school students to enroll in high school chemistry call “Cosmic Chemistry”. In what ways have you seen schools in struggling communities beat the odds and motivate students to put forth a strong effort?
by Matt Kuhn