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.