Monday, July 14, 2014

Unmotivated Students

"Loser! You're never going to get it, so why don't you just give up? You suck! You are so weak!"

These phrases popped around in my mind like popcorn seeds in a hot, greasy pan. After a very rough year, I had started slowly and eagerly, but each time I tried to exercise, I ended up in a pathetic pile of self-pity. I put forth my best effort again and again, but I never experienced success. So I became discouraged. I gave up.  I became unmotivated. When I was around others who spoke of their physical feats in the gym, I inwardly shrugged my shoulders and thought, "Well, la de da for them, but I'll never be able to do it anyway, so why even try?"

And then it hit me. This is the same thought process that our poor readers go through. They didn't start out being unmotivated, but after years of going to school and never experiencing success, they became discouraged. They gave up. They became unmotivated. When we have class discussions or take tests and the "good readers" always know the answers and get good grades, it's like rubbing their faces in their inability to comprehend what they read.

So then it becomes a question of what we can do to motivate our students. Yes, we get tired of the excuses and irritated with the lack of effort, but we must keep in mind that, at one point, years ago, our students were eager learners who put forth their best effort but didn't experience success. So what's the solution?

It is important to provide our unmotivated students with three things:

  1. Constant encouragement and positive reinforcement- These precious young people must know that others believe in them. They need to repeatedly receive verbal praise and acknowledgement of what they CAN do in order to quiet the negative, self-deprecating thoughts floating around  in their heads. This encouragement needs to come from adults and peers alike. Students think that teachers are supposed to believe in them, but it becomes very powerful when their own classmates believe in them and encourage them as well.  
  2. Examples of people who were struggling students but turned it around and experienced great levels of success- In order to believe that they can be successful, students must know that people who were previously in their shoes were successful. These examples can come from books, real-life encounters with older students, guest speakers, etc. Our students will start to think that if others could do it, then maybe, just maybe, they can too. 
  3. Opportunities to be successful- This most likely means NOT starting these students with reading material at their current grade level, and that's ok. I understand when some say that providing a 7th grader with reading material at his or her current reading level isn't getting him or her ready for the state test at the end of the year. However, I contend that it is. The unmotivated are getting nothing out of simply sitting in the classroom taking up good space. If they are provided with opportunities to experience success, their academic self-esteem will grow, and eventually, they will start to believing that they can learn.
This process may be slow and frustrating. It might take a week. It might take a month. It might take the entire school year, but over time, our unmotivated students will experience success and become inspired to learn.  Will they pass the state test that same year? There is no guarantee that they will. However, the students will eventually believe in their ability to learn, which will lead to the motivation to be successful. Success will build upon success, and the students WILL experience academic improvement and growth.

As far as my exercise is concerned, I joined a social network in which I received daily encouragement. I also heard stories of others who had been out of shape but were able to get back to healthy. Most importantly, I was able to start a simple exercise program at my current fitness level that allowed me to experience some success. It wasn't anywhere near what a former collegiate athlete should be able to do, but it was a start. It was slow. It was simple. But it worked! Over time, I started believing that I could be successful and I became motivated once again.  May the same hold true for our precious students.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Are iPads (and Other Electronic Devices) Bad?

I guiltily glanced over at my daughter as I read this fantastic blog post by Renee Robinson. In her letter to her boys, she explains why she says "No" to electronics. Her purpose in writing was not to point the finger at parents who allow their children to use electronics, and she wasn't pointing out the evils of electronic devices. She was simply sharing her reasons for making the choice she made. However, as I read, I jumped into comparison mode. I thought, "Goodness, she is such a good mom while I'm sitting here on the computer letting Naomi play on the iPad." 

Naomi spending time on the iPad
 Once I took a deep breath and really focused on Renee's words, I realized that she made some very valid points, specifically, wanting to " give [her sons] the gift of true human them discover the joys and wonders of the world...being comfortable with who they are...wanting their unique gifts from God to bloom...[and] being confident in themselves...". She treasures this short time that she has with them and doesn't want this time to be wasted with them plugged into electronic devices.

 When Naomi started talking, one of her first 30 words was iPad. (I thought it was adorable that she could express what she wanted at such an early age!) When she gets up in the morning or after a nap, she wants the iPad. Whenever she sees Mommy on the computer, she wants to sit next to me and use the iPad. The bottom line is that Naomi LOVES the iPad. Naomi uses the iPad while I work on lessons for school, clean the house, browse the internet, and work on my photography. (Most recently, it was editing the pictures I took for my sister's wedding.) All good things, yes? I have been thankful to carve out a few hours a day to do some things that I want to do while Naomi quietly occupies her time. This has been key in my summer survival at home!

It's so easy to fall into Mommy Comparison mode which is what happened when I was reading Renee's post, but I didn't want to do that. So after putting my reading aside and doing some thinking, I realized that I am NOT a bad mom who is messing up my child, but there is nothing wrong with being challenged by what I read and making changes in response to those challenges. (I don't want to make changes because it's what other moms are doing. I really just want to be the best mom that I can be and do what is in the best interest of my sweet Naomi.)

I thought about what Naomi does on the iPad. She easily goes to YouTube and enjoys watching Busy BeaverSesame StreetKids TV, and other age-appropriate videos. These videos provide good, educational lessons that are a great tool for learning. She watches videos that I recorded of her doing things, which the therapist at the hospital told me was a good thing for her to do. She enjoys browsing through pictures, naming the people in them, and discussing what they are doing. Naomi also has her own page of apps which she navigates with ease. I have enjoyed seeing the learning that has taken place as a result of her time on the iPad.

Naomi's page of apps

I thought about my beautiful mother who, as a stay-at-home mom, raised 12 children in a day in age before electronic devices were so prevalent. 

My beautiful mother-I bet you didn't guess that she's in her 60's. Doesn't she look great?!
In an effort to keep her sanity, she would send us outside for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon. She also took us to the library on a regular basis and made sure that we had plenty of books to read. We were required to have a certain amount of quiet time every day, and she taught us how to do crafts like cross-stitching and sewing. Brilliant!

I also thought about my sister-in-law over at Mountain Mama Teaching who uses media sticks with her boys so that they are limited in the amount of time they spend on their electronic devices. She still takes time to provide hands-on experiences for their young, developing minds and takes full responsibility for their learning. Limiting their use of media allows it to be a part of their lives, but not the all-consuming focus that it could easily become.

I thought about my sister Kim who was a kindergarten and first grade teacher but stopped teaching to be a stay-at-home mom and raise her three girls. She works on a tight budget and creates a TON of neat things for her children. She works hard to give them fun, educational experiences EVERY DAY, despite having recently returned to school to earn her Master's Degree.
My sister's three girls

I thought about my middle school students who need to know how to use electronic devices, but also need critical thinking and good communication skills. As electronic devices have become more prevalent, I have noticed that there seems to be something lacking in this area. (I am no scientist, have done no research, and don't know if one is the cause of the other, but there is definitely a positive correlation between the two.)

Based on these things, I decided that, for my daughter and me, the use of the  iPad (and other electronic devices) isn't bad, but it needs to be done in moderation and as a TOOL for learning. It is not to be the end-all, be-all, and it is not to take the place of spending time together. So this week, I greatly reduced Naomi's media time. Each day we went on some kind of outing. Naomi had some independent play time before our story time and quiet time, and then we completed activities TOGETHER in the afternoon and evening. (Thank you, Pinterest!) I must say that the following truths have become evident:

1. When we are engaged in our activities, Naomi doesn't ask for the iPad.
2. There are several apps for some of the activities we do, but by completing the activities together, with hands-on materials, the learning is taken even further.
3. Naomi and I have created priceless memories together, and we both have a LOT of fun!
4. Once I return to work in the fall, I will have only a few hours with Naomi each day, so I really want to do a better job of working with her to shape her mind and development.
5. Renee Robinson was right. I have seen Naomi develop human connections, and it's been my pleasure to observe her as she discovers the joys and wonders of the world. This time is short and precious, and I want to spend more of it together.

I kept a photo journal of our activities over the past week. Here are some of the highlights of our time together. Enjoy!

Climbing at the park-Look at the development
of those gross motor skills!
Driving at the park-Always fun
to pretend

Learning to balance while walking across the bridge-
Gross motor development
Naomi wanted to wear her red shoes to the park this day

Making a new friend at the Play Place in the Mall
Human interactions don't take place on the iPad
Playing in the Sandbox at Grandma and Grandpa's house
Regular visits to Grandma and Grandpa's house are a must.

Mommy and Naomi taking a pizza break
at Bellabos
Making pizza in the pretend pizzeria at Bellabos


Water play at home
I wasn't expecting this to happen!
Independent play with Puppy
Independent play with Puppy

Playing Baby Doctor
An adapted version of Memory-Naomi just matches
the cards with them already face up

Writing with sidewalk chalk
Making blue play dough
 (Naomi picked the color!)
Counting game with the play dough and skittles

Pretending the play dough is a cookie

Lining up for the shot

A scratch, but we'll get it next time!

Visiting a lady whose significant other
recently passed away
Naomi knows her name and asks to
go to her house almost every day that we
are outside.

Bursting bubbles

Thank you, Renee, for writing such a thoughtful letter to your boys. It really challenged me to change the way that I do some things with my daughter. The memories we have created are priceless, and so yes, like you, this has become more for me than for her!