Many educators ponder this question: “How do I get my students to want to learn?” Some students do not necessarily want to come to school every day and be challenged to achieve high standards. Traditionally, motivation has been applied with a simple input-output model. Teachers praise students for their hard work and support their motivation to persevere through difficult situations. This cause-and-effect model could very well work in many instances; however, educators and researchers alike need to understand that student motivation is more complex than that. Cause-and-effect may be easily replicated within a laboratory, but not necessarily in a classroom. Why? Because students come to schools with a host of social contexts, including religious backgrounds, family dynamics, race, socio-economic status, and other factors, which all affect motivation.
Good teachers know how important it is to give students regular opportunities to collaborate with each other. Small group discussions can be a fantastic way to challenge students to think critically, while giving them social support to work through their ideas in a circle of peers, instead of in front of the class as a whole. However, the first time I tried a small group discussion in class, I quickly realized most of my students were more interested in talking about the latest video game or weekend plans than their assigned discussion topic. Some teachers are wary of small group discussions for precisely that reason.
So how do you give students the opportunity to share their ideas with each other, while ensuring they are actually discussing the topic at hand? If a fail-safe way exists, I haven’t found it yet. However, I have found a number of strategies that help to keep students on-task.
We cannot expect to improve student achievement without addressing the issue of poverty head on, and this work has to include families and communities. In Washington State, 46.1% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch. In many school districts, this percentage is much higher. Poverty can impede children's ability to learn and can contribute to social, emotional, and behavioral problems. Poverty also can contribute to poor health and mental health. Risks are greatest for children who experience poverty when they are young and/or experience deep and persistent poverty. Research suggests family engagement promotes a range of benefits for students, including improved school readiness, higher student achievement, better social skills and behavior, and increased likelihood of high school graduation. Involving parents, integrating the teaching of social and academic skills, and creating continuity among settings that a child negotiates on a daily basis are all crucial for launching a successful academic career. Our goal has to be to work with families to enhance their children's education and ability to learn, working around the barriers poverty might present. One clear way to navigate around these barriers is to focus on families as partners.
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