Just Listen: Students Tell What Makes Them Care

“It was cooler than a regular document that you’ll see in a textbook,” Amanda told me about a historical document she handled during her museum internship. “This is something I really wanna do and learn more about.”


In fact, kids usually care more about learning when they have some kind of stake in what they’re doing. Where does that stake come from? Just listen to the variety among these students’ answers!

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2 thoughts on “Just Listen: Students Tell What Makes Them Care

  1. I am a Masters Candidate and Teaching Fellow in the teachers’ education program at the University of Michigan. I am currently completing my student teaching in a chemistry classroom at a high need urban school. I assist my mentor teacher with 4 chemistry classes that average about 30-35 students per class. Some of the classes seem much more motivated to learn about chemistry and follow the norms of the class. In other periods, it is extremely difficult to focus the class and get them on task. I recognize that contextualizing the mundane chemistry topics by applying the concepts to real life will improve motivation, but for some students, there seems to be a general disdain for any type of learning. My mentor teacher has said that one class period in particular is the worse she’s had in 17 years of teaching.

    Over the past few months, we have been brain storming ways to motivate the students to behave so that we can create a safe-learning environment. We’ve tried a variety of approaches including having the students generate they’re own norms, contacting parents, bringing in administrators, holding students after school and sending disruptive students out in the hallway. All of these methods seem to temporarily pasify the situation until the next outburst occurs.

    I feel that for this troublesome hour in particular, there needs to be a shift in the motivating force for the student. I like what I read about competition driving students to achieve and I’m tempted to incorporate some competition into the classroom when I teach. My thought is to make a contest between the tables of the classroom. There are about 8 tables with up to 5 students at each table. As a baseball fan, I have created a baseball game where the students score runs by answering tough questions, behaving and doing work in a timely fashion. In my game, there are also penalties (outs and strikes) for misbehavior. The runs will count as extra credit and the team with the most runs at the end of the week will win a small prize.

    I have a few concerns about implementing this contest, but at this point, we’re pretty much willing to try anything. Here are some of my concerns:
    – Will the 10th grade students perceive this game as childish?
    – Will the students be so absorbed in winning the baseball game that they won’t focus on understanding the chemistry?
    – For some students, no amount of extra credit would be enough. Will they still be motivated to play if for no other reason than to beat their classmates?

    To those that have read this, please share your thoughts and concerns with me. I have developed more precise rules, but in the interest of brevity, I have not posted them.

  2. Interesting questions, Nick! Have you tried asking the kids what they think? Just the act of including them in the decision may well boost their motivation. And they may have some suggestions that would work even better? Don’t be afraid to lay it all out and get their ideas and critique–they will respect you for it, in my experience.

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