10 Motivators to Promote Learning

By Laura Robb, Blog from Middleweb, March 2016

The Big Ten Student Motivators

    • Providing choice in independent reading, writing topics, and projects makes students feel invested in tasks and develops their responsibility and independence in learning.
    • Collaborating to learn invites students to work in pairs and small groups, share ideas, value diverse thinking, and become active listeners who respect one another’s thinking. Collaboration enables students to develop open-ended discussion questions, plan and execute projects, study for tests, evaluate websites and other sources, have literary conversations, and pool research. And, of course, collaboration invites play.
    • Integrating meaningful talk makes learning social for a communicating generation in which FaceTime, Twitter, and texting are commonplace. Meaningful talk can happen with partners, small groups and the whole class. During student-led talk, teachers become facilitators who enter a discussion to periodically summarize points or jump-start a stalled conversation by posing a question.
    • Problem solving asks students to be generative thinkers, coming up with a variety of possible solutions to school and community problems and problems related to topics they’re studying. For example, a fifth grade unit on friendship transforms into problem solving when students self-select and read a variety of texts and then collaborate in small group to compose a pamphlet on what makes friendships work and what derails them. Moreover, choice enables students to select materials from which they know they can learn.
    • Inquiry learning invites students to ask the questions they’ll discuss and/or research for a topic, project, or unit of study.  Inquiry learning is social because it requires students to collaborate and support one another. By sharing ideas, they learn to value the diverse thinking of peers. During an inquiry study, students gain control over their learning, develop opinions on topics, and gain a fluency and flexibility in analytical thinking.
    • Encouraging risk taking creates an environment in which students feel comfortable making mistakes and even failing. Students who can take risks without fear of criticism from their teacher and peers can become better problem solvers and creative thinkers. In a comfortable and safe space, they can learn from their mistakes.
    • Unlocking creativity occurs when students are put into a situation in which they can think about and create ideas in their own unique ways. Students who think creatively have multiple ways to solve a problem, or interpret a story, painting, or movie. At school student-centered approaches to learning such as collaboration, inquiry, and student-led discussions encourage creative and innovative thinking.
    • Developing empathy means that students can step into the shoes of others, understand life as they do, empathize with their problems, and share their joys. Social interactions, collaborations, and reading about and watching videos and movies about other cultures and ways of life other than their own develop and expand students’ ability to empathize. In a student-centered, culturally diverse classroom, empathy leads to understanding, respecting cultural differences, and developing social responsibility.
    • Teacher-student negotiating fosters independence in learning as students and teachers become co-decision makers for setting deadline dates and suggesting projects, test formats, test questions, and the amount of assigned homework.
    • Going out for recess, enjoying time to play outside, recharges elementary and middle school students’ learning batteries so they can concentrate. Yet many elementary and middle schools have reduced or eliminated recess in favor of more time for reading, writing, and math. In addition, five-minute brain breaks should occur after students have focused deeply for thirty minutes. Students can stretch, move around, chat with friends, and use their renewed energy to concentrate again.

Some playful closing thoughts

The Big 10 Student Motivators are skills for the 21st century and beyond—skills valued and used by government agencies, corporations, universities, small businesses, and school districts that depend on members to know how to collaborate as they solve problems, develop policy, generate an abundance of ideas, and respond to issues and events.

Learning begins with play. If students of today are to become the innovators and problem solvers of tomorrow, then schools need to respond to the call of play in all grades.


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