Thursday, December 12, 2013

To Motivate, or Not to Motivate: That is the Question

We believe that motivation is a major factor in having a successful school.  Motivation enables your students to --

stay on task and finish their work on time,
strive to make good grades,
achieve more than they thought they could,
and stay on grade level and not drag behind.

Motivation enables your school to stay upbeat, unpredictable, and interesting instead of boring.  There should be an element of occasional surprise, spontaneity, excitement, and fun that makes school a fun place to be, and we believe that these things are also a part of motivating students. (See the posts on spontaneity HERE for more information on this topic.)

Methods of Motivating

Here are some ideas to keep things moving positively forward at your school.  Many of them we have gleaned from other teachers.

*Set a goal to have the more serious or difficult subjects finished by noon, leaving the afternoon for science (including experiments), history or social studies, and recess.  Include a short time period in the afternoon for a study hall for those who may not have finished, or silent reading for those who have.

*Hold honor roll parties for all the students who have obtained an 85% or above in all of their classes.  These are very much looked forward to by all of our students.  They try hard to get above an 85% daily, and will put sticky notes on my desk asking what their average is because they really want to be at these special parties.  Usually between 90-97% of our students achieve this goal. 

*Have a “1,000 Club” for the students.  Put small cut-outs up with every students’ name on one.  Then put a small sticker on their paper for every 100% they get on a quiz or test.  When they have ten stickers, they have earned their reward.  At our school the reward is their favorite candy bar and $2,000 fake dollars.  Then they get the next cut-out design and try to fill that one up.   Some of my favorites have been bears with paw print stickers, jars with butterfly or ant stickers, fish bowls with fish stickers, trees with apple stickers, or ships with navigational stickers.  When they get all ten stickers, we announce it during morning devotions and they are awarded their favorite candy bar. 

This great idea I got from Esther Raber, teacher at Osceola Christian School in Osceola, Texas.   First of all I brought in the Christian Aid Ministries booklet and picked out affordable projects we could fund, like a Bible for China, a chicken, a onesie for a baby, etc.  Then I let them vote on which ones they liked the best and wanted to fund.  Next, I pay them.  Now, I was shocked when Esther told me that, but here is how it works.
They each bring in a little bank made from a can or whatever and we keep them in the room.  
They get 25 cents for a 97-100,
10 cents for a 94-96,
5 cents for a 90-93,
  and 1 cent for an 85-89.
Not a lot, but it does add up.  I keep track of only their daily English grades and their spelling test grades.  By the end of the week some of them have earned a whole dollar.  The totals have only been around $5.00 a week-- not too much really, since it is motivating them to make good grades, and it does go to a good cause.  (Esther and I both fund this ourselves.)
Friday is Pay Day.  I have a bag of coins and pay them what they’ve earned.  Then comes the really fun part.  If they have a total of four quarters, or any combination of coins to equal one dollar they count out their coins and I give them a one dollar bill in exchange.   Then we do the same with quarters, dimes, and nickels.  They are learning to count money, practicing their math skills, and having fun all at the same time.
Next we total up everyone’s money for the week and figure out how many Bibles or onesies or chickens we can purchase for others in need.
Their grades go up, and they are not getting stuff for themselves; they are meeting the needs of others.  Esther has some great ideas.  

*Use fake money.  We print our very own fake money.  The students apply for jobs (the bathroom cleaning and teachers' assistants pay the highest) and then earn a weekly “salary”.  They can also get fake money for being on the mopping crew, saying their Bible verses, singing a geography song, doing a book report, or making the 1,000 Club.  We have auctions two times a year in which the students can bid on art supplies, globes, books, jump ropes, pens, fabric etc. 
*Have a “donut day”.  If everyone in the class gets an “A” on his or her spelling test, or social studies test, or whatever test, get up early, head to the nearest donut shop (or beg a talented mom), and bring in donuts the next day to celebrate.  Our students love this.

*Have a pizza day.  It took months for this one to happen, but in less than two minutes, the entire elementary class said all their times tables.  We heard the elation loudly in the next room and knew what had finally happened.  Three moms brought in pizza for lunch the next day.

*Give students stickers, points, or fake money for bringing in morning “science”. Each morning during devotions our students get fake money if they bring in something from nature.  This has really increased our students’ love and awareness of God’s creation, and it has also greatly increased our science collection. 

*Give small rewards for “A”s on a test.  I don’t say anything if my students don’t get an “A”, but when I pass out the tests, I announce if they have earned an “A”.  Again, I feel like because of the way the material is presented, all of them are capable of earning an “A”, and most of them usually do.  Then I throw a mini candy bar or chocolate kiss across the room for them to catch.  They love it, it is fun and yummy, and when the next test comes around they are all motivated to get an “A”.  We learned this one when my husband was teaching a large band class.  One evening he stated, “They’ll do anything for a Jolly Rancher” :-). 

*Put stickers on their papers-- same idea as above only on a smaller scale.  I will never forget getting my paper back in first grade and it having a large foil star sticker on it.  Oh, how I loved those stickers.  I keep a sheet of stickers on my desk and try to stick one on every “A” a student earns on a test or daily grade.  My students love to collect them and put them on their desk name tags or vocabulary books.  I routinely change them so there is always something new and different.  It is a small thing, but small things do matter.

*Reward the highest GPA (grade point average) at the end of year.  This motivates your top students.  Two years ago we had a young man and a young lady, both in the same grade, taking Algebra I, literature, biology, and world history-- not your easiest classes.  Yet, in a friendly battle, they both ended up with a 96% average.  One had a 96.485, and the other a 96.489.  Seriously.  They both won highest GPA that year. 

*Give a positive response whenever a student has a good answer or makes a good grade.  I had a student who had transferred from another school and was struggling to figure everything out at our school.  When she made her first “A” on a test I announced it and the whole class clapped for her.  I rarely say “no” when a student answers a question incorrectly.  I’ll say “sorta, but not exactly”, or “yes, but there is a better answer”, or “good try”, or “yes, that happened later” or just make a funny face, but never a stern “no”.  I had a Sunday School teacher that did that, and it got to where no one in the class wanted to answer him-- including me. 

*Tell stories about yourself when you struggled and worked hard at a goal and then achieved it.  Tell stories about students you have had who did the same.  Stories like this help students realize that they are not the only ones who struggle, and as they hear about others who have overcome and achieved, they discern that they can too.

Please note that all of the above activities are done on purpose for a reason, not just for goofy fun, although we also do that occasionally.  These are all done for the purpose of motivation.  They worked hard, they earned it, they achieved a goal, and they get rewarded for it. 

We do many things that everyone is a part of, so no one is ever left out, but these are for a different purpose.

Now, some people say that it is bad to give rewards, and that the students should all be treated exactly the same.  I would disagree for two reasons.  First of all, they are all placed at a level where they can achieve if they try.  If they don’t, they are just choosing not to, despite all our efforts to motivate them.  Secondly, to remove all motivation and rewards leaves us teachers with a deplorable level of student mediocrity and apathy, both of which make us sick. 

The same thing was said about the Waldensians when they memorized scripture in their schools.  Some of the parents had children who didn’t memorize as much or as well as others.  These parents requested that the students not memorize scripture in school, because it would make the students who were working hard at memorizing scripture proud.  The elders wisely decided that that was a poor reason to stop memorizing scripture.  If the parents sincerely cared they would have helped their students at home, not whined and complained and punished everyone for their own lack of motivation, vision, and appreciation for what good was going on. 

Student motivation is a huge factor, a great tool that we teachers can have if we care enough and are motivated enough to figure out ways to motivate our students.  And how much fun learning can be when our students are indeed motivated.