Wow...this certainly is the million dollar question every single teacher faces daily. This one question sparked in me a passion so all consuming and deep, nearly 12 years ago that it lead me on a journey I still travel daily and will until I die. No exaggeration. I teach something called Foundations for Success a class I created to battle apathy and failure in the freshmen of my district. I only share because I actually listened to kids and my experiences of life combined with as much research as I could consume and created something, not a magic bullet but SOMETHING that has shown great hope and results in hundreds of students so far. Personally I'm tired of all the TALK and no action.
Obviously it depends on the age and since I teach high school, I am only able to really comment there.
As a mom of 3, I began teaching when they were small so teenage years seemed so far away and those concerns something I could 'wait to figure out'.
Suddenly, I realized mine were racing that direction and the wall of overwhelming apathy in my own classroom terrified me. One day I stopped trying to drag seniors through Hamlet, and just started asking questions. Their pain was intense, all consuming and SO easy to address (for most) AND the answer for many of them was within and I could help them discover it and find the will and skills to address it.
I realized almsot immediately two things that I'd been very angry and resentful of the adults in my life at their age and into college:
1. No one ever tried to show me the connections between high school and real life. No one made any attempt that I recall of showing me all the employability skills, for example, or thinking patterns I was getting chances to practice and refine in every single class I took. Skills that would FEED me or not one day. No one talked to me concretely, or gave me real life information about what it was going to take to become what I wanted, or so I could value the chances I got there to build the power of my brain (which ultimately is all we take with us to create our future life) Like most of us, I spent many hours, dazing out windows, copying things that seemed 'stupid' and bored out of my mind, because I wasn't engaged in real learning. I got good enough grades to get into CAL, but I saw no value for example, for science because I KNEW I wasn't going to be a doctor. I went to college where I hit a wall of inability to perform at that level. I had two choices, pony up and teach myself how to do it or give up. 55% of college freshmen hit that wall and give up. That is NOT ok. Especially in a world where middle-class no college required jobs are evaporating faster than we can calculate. There is no need for it either...all someone would have had to do is talk to me about what learning REALLY is and what it will mean for me. Make it real for me and then show me tools to help me grow in that direction.
2. NO WHERE in high school was I given time, (paid time with credits) to think and learn about me, what I think and want out of life, or the expectations of adult life. I just followed the crowd out into the world, went blindly into college and graduated with no real goals in mind. I picked English major just because I like reading! I got lucky, found a pathway I wasn't thrilled about at first (teaching) that could feed my children and I when the unexpected happened and I was suddenly widowed at 40.
Well...I could go on for pages and pages of my 12 year journey, that began that day with my seniors, when one told me not to worry about his failing my class. He was going to make 'bank' with a cousin whether he graduated or not. His idea of bank ($15.00 per hour) was what started my cruisade, that ended with my project Get Real! a reality project for teenagers that is now a centerpiece for the Foundations for Success class. www.getreallearning.com
It takes kids on a journey of self-discovery first while teaching them indepenent learning tools, then they walk through the major decisions and areas that create successful adult lives. It's highly academic yet doesn't feel like it to them. They read, talk, think deeply and write on topics that truly do begin to create pictures of excitement for them about what they can go out and DO for themselves. It brings them a sense of urgency and points out for them MANY of the things parents/teachers assume they're understanding or that we do NOT seem to find time these days to explain. It also brings to them information that NO parent would ever have the time or energy to go find to help their kids see how complex and different their futures are going to be because of the effects of technology on them as humans and on the world as a whole.
Like I said, I could stand on my soap box and scream about this with all the passion I have, but none of us have time for that. If any of this made any sense and you have any interest in knowing more, please check out my website www.getreallearning.com
I have to add that many people have tried to make me feel guilty for promoting my work. I guess teachers are supposed to give away everything they are and have. It worked for a few years, until my students convinced me that EVERY kid should have the opportunity to take this journey. They know if I could afford to give it away to millions, I would but...alas I have my own 3 to put through college!
It makes me think we need to take challenge to another level for a whole new reason!
I agree that it is frustrating when students are unmotivated, have no support from home, and do not appear to have any particular interest in learning. For these students, especially in elementary school, we have to help them find a positive educational path that they can feel successful. In my experience, these students are often functioning well below grade level, and have low self esteem. I try to make it my mission to show these kids that they do matter, and that they can be successful. I think scaffolding what is expected helps them feel successful and less intimidated. Motivating the unmotivated in one of the toughest jobs educators have. Good luck!
I read this awhile ago and it keeps haunting me. I don't think that I can come up with a specific set of actions. Each child that is unmotivated is unmotivated for a specific reason or reasons. There is no cookie cutter response. What tactics that you come up to deal with the child depends a variety of variables including the children's age, grade, etc. Often, I think that it could be caused by depression. It is a difficult situation for all involved. Bottom line, unmotivated students require a tremendous amount of patience and a willingness to keep trying different things until something works.
Many good comments here about motivation. Perhaps the real question we should be answering is this, "Is motivation inherent or not inherent? People can and do motivate others, no argument here. But the true learning that occurs in our classrooms has to come from with-in the student. (my opinion) A great article came out this morning in the LA Times online paper http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-robot-genius-20110429%2C0%2C736972.story?page=1 . This article speaks to the motivation of the teacher as well as the students. No Child Left Behind was a failure because it was unrealistic to think that every teacher would be able to motivate every student to do better in a system that wasn't designed to help students learn. The goal of NCLB was to get students to pass exams. The system we teach in currently is one of the biggest obstacles to motivating anyone to do anything.
In the classroom and with my own children, I battled the issue of intrinsic versus extrinsic rewards to motivate. Would extrinsic rewards ever move toward intrinsic rewards as a motivator?
Don't you love to teach the child who has a love of learning? But our real job, for us as teachers, is to teach all of our students to love learning. My favorite teachers have the skills for doing this. Perhaps they are just sharing their own love of learning.
Did they? Did the extrinsic motivators work? Are the extrinsic motivators the "skills" that teachers need to get students to love learning? My favorite teachers are the ones that make me think. The problem is that we work in a system which does the exact opposite. Seth Godin (http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/) puts it like this:
Two kinds of schooling
Type 1. You can take a class where you learn technique, facts and procedures.
Type 2. You can take a class where you learn to see, learn to lead and learn to solve interesting problems.
The first type of teaching isn't particularly difficult to do, and it's something most of us are trained to absorb. The first type of schooling can even be accomplished with self-discipline and a Dummies book. The first type of class is important but not scarce. The second kind, on the other hand, is where all real success comes from. It's really tricky to find and train people to do this sort of teaching, and anytime you can find some of it, you should grab it.
The sad thing is that we often conflate the two. We think we're hiring someone to do the second type, a once in a lifetime teacher, someone who will change the outlook of stellar students. But then we give them rules and procedures and feedback that turn them into a type 1 teacher.
I can't say that extrinsic motivators work, however, many adults work for the $$. I was very fortunate. My children grew up with intrinsic movitations that pushed them to excellence and to find their passion in life, and I don't think I did anything but maybe model this. Now I watch a second generation and remember how we all have that intrinsic motivation to learn when we are very young. Maybe it is just figuring out how to hold on to it.
To be clear, I think we both have a strong desire to motivate all of our students. My comments are more about the frustration of having to deal with curiculum that makes motivating students more difficult than it should be. As a new teacher, I thought I could motivate everyone to do their best. But then it became obvious that there were factors that were beyond my control, and if students were going to learn, they would have to do their part as well. These are the types of discussions that make me appreciate the Thinkfinity Community. They make me think.
I think it is inherent in all of us as teachers that we want to motivate every student to be the best he or she can be. Never give up on a student because we are in this for the long run, and you don't always know who you are really movtivating.
I had a student many years ago who was periodically sent to my lab because other teachers found him disruptive. I had that student installing software, learning to fix computers, running to another teachers rooms to fix their printer, all duties of my Mouse Squad. Many years later I ran into that same student who is now the IT person for that same school district. And he said, "Thank you, I'm doing this because of you."
I get your point about the curriculum holding you down and your students back. That is what is so wonderful about Thinfkinity resources. You can find a video, a podcast, an interactive to add to your curriculum and enhance your students learning.
I'm currently investigating more on Project-Based Learning. I watch other teachers for what works. As teachers we are always learning new ideas.
I always find it helpful to use the students' interests and learning styles and abilities to motivate the unmotivated. While I homebound instructor, an unmotivated eighth grader read a book she found interesting. It was the Time Reader Rosa Parks Book. Before this book, I had to do most of the reading when I worked with her.
Project-Based Learning is one of the latest trends in education. I have had some students do powerpoint presentations with a poster and a presentation. Project-Based Learning seems pretty interesting so far! It is more exciting for the students and the teachers rather than the more normal book reports.
As a teacher, I find that many of my most unmotivated students are very low level students. As I am sure we all do, I work to fill in the holes in their 'Swiss cheese', but something interesting happens in my classroom when I frontload these students. By frontloading, I mean I give them a basic understanding of the upcoming concepts a week early. If I am teaching theme, when I work with them in small groups, we hear the vocabulary, and discuss how it works with that lesson. When the concept is presented to the entire class, they are not lost, but they are able to say, Hey, I've heard of that. I have had some of my most unmotivated students who became leaders in discussion, because they had time to process the information. When they realize they are 'in the know', a whole different light appears. Some, not all, become a little self-motivated.