How do you motivate the unmotivated?
Do you have unmotivated students? Do you have a student like my Mary, who I’ve got to stay on top of to keep her focused? And sometimes, even that doesn’t work. There always seems to be another squishy toy hidden somewhere to distract herself with.
But if I’m being honest (and I am!) I have to admit that even with her group pushing her, plus the promise of extrinsic rewards, AND the question for discussion right there on the board, Mary usually doesn’t know the question, and wasn’t listening or following along during read aloud, nor does she listen to other students.
Ugh. Frustration City! I’ve been at a loss with Mary to say the least. Despite instilling a growth mindset culture all year AND offering extrinsic rewards that work for 99% of my students, there are always Mary’s.
For students like her, fun lessons aren’t fun, and applying the growth mindset, my best instructional strategies, and extrinsic rewards. . .still not enough. Like I said, with some kids, you feel like you must stay on top of them all the time.
I have good news.
Through my experience with Mary and others like her, I know there’s always something to unearth that will motivate them.
You have to be an archaeologist of sorts to uncover the hidden treasure. (Of course, as good teachers, we always keep developmental and learning impairments in mind, and a student’s home environment.)
Drawing upon my background in archaeology, I’ve discovered three key sources to help you find those hidden motivators to unlock any student’s potential.
1) Ask: other teachers. I’ve found gold in the wisdom of a student’s previous teacher. Often by the end of the year, they have hit the sweet spot with the student. Ask and it is given—by other teachers. This approach worked at the beginning of the year for one of my students, and it’s been smooth sailing with him since.
2) Ask: parents. When we talk to parents, we learn all the intricacies of home life. Sometimes, parents can provide valuable information you can use. We can discover that a student might need a little extra love because their parents just divorced, or they’re in foster care, or there’s any number of other disruptive events behind the scenes.
Talking with Mary’s parents, I discovered they had the same problem at home: a lack of motivation and zero follow-through with schoolwork. However, her parents and I worked out a reward system. If she turned in all her work for the next 9 weeks, she would receive a special reward at home.
And another thing. . .I already knew that Mary loved animals, but her parents told me of her newfound passion for horses. Eureka! I could incorporate horses into her reading lessons.
3) Learn thy student. I’ve learned what Mary really enjoys and we’ve developed a great relationship. She’s even called me her best friend. But even so, she won’t work for me. However, I do know now that she loves horses and, through observation, scented markers. As of this semester, if she finishes her work in small group and centers, I let her use one scented marker of her choice for the rest of the day. It’s working miracles for her effort.
Sometimes, I forget to get the right lesson (no horses!) or provide the smelly incentive. But often, Mary reminds me of the marker and everything just works.
Discovering the secret sweet spot of our students can be a joyful process, just like excavating a lost city. No one has been there before, and we’re the first to discover the buried riches.
Be the archaeologist you were always meant to be. Unearth the unseen wealth waiting for you in your student!