Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Mindset Vs Motivation

For a long time I've discussed how motivating students is a passion of mine. At the same time though, it can become incredibly draining if you're the only one helping to provide that motivation. Ensuring that all students are motivated all the time, five hours a day, five days a week, 9+ weeks a term, four terms a year (and that's excluding online learning and mentoring too). It's more difficult when they come to school with little to no motivation like my Y13 class a couple years ago.

For many of my students, the fact that they're at school, in uniform (no matter how many non-regulation or incorrect pieces there are), have their focus on me (no matter how little they're paying attention truly), and being somewhat patient while I drag on with the lesson, shows motivation. They're here. They're at school. Small blessings some would say. However, unless my students share with me what happened last night, last week, this morning, last period, as to why the lack of focus, or energy, let alone motivation, I can only assume that what I'm doing is boring or not relevant. I don't know what happened in the previous lesson nor what happened on the way to school let alone what happened at home. I can't fix that outside stuff no matter how much I try to help guide and support my students towards a safer and happier life. I can only focus on that lesson or really the 38 minutes by the time they're settled and focussed.

I'm a massive believer in the need for intrinsic motivation. However if there is no self-motivation, no outside motivation and no self-confidence to create that belief that they are capable, then it is damn difficult to help them along.

Regardless, I try. There are small triumphs along the way. When that student emailed me after the results came out and told me she had passed an English external. I wondered whether that last minute coaching on the canteen steps really had helped before she went to line up for her exam. When that student showed that other student how to use Google Docs to work collaboratively and share their work with me. When another student came back to school and apologised for her behaviour and attitude when she was in my class a couple years ago and now after her first year through university she understands why I was so hard on her to stay focussed and motivated. That hug and smile from her meant a lot because without these small signs of thanks and notions of understanding, the gratitude, it's difficult to find the motivation to motivate others.

At the end of the day though, I've learnt that no matter how much motivation and energy I push towards my students, there has to be some give and take.

It's harder with the senior students. Particularly with the targets set where we have to get 85% of the Y12 students passing Level Two. It's a national target. We all feel the pressure. The problem is though that the students have learnt how to hack the system. As they should really. They've found that in art you can get 24 credits for your portfolio board but that doesn't come in til the end of the year, but you can still count on those credits. Potentially that's a third of your required credits. They've seen that at Trades you can get credits for a six week course and in Health, PE, ORSP and SHWB despite there being lots of articles and reports that need to be written - they're easy enough to do because the information is there in your book or you can work collaboratively to complete projects. In Tourism you can get 14+ credits for a booklet and you can use the internet to find out the answers, despite the information being in the booklets themselves. In Maths and Science it's a bit harder but doable if you have a teacher that will help you. These are all things I've heard my students say as they figure out what subjects they'll take in the coming year. They're anecdotal things I heard when I was going through NCEA myself. My year was the second year through. Some of the speedbumps had been ironed out, but now we're dealing with this credit hunting issue.

Our students are incredibly smart. They've figured out that if you want to just pass English all you need to do is complete two pieces of writing for their writing portfolio and complete the two academic purposes reading assessment. Level Two English is hard. Don't get me wrong. There are students every year who try to get by with the very limited amount of effort compared to those who do amazingly well. It's frustrating when that effort is wasted when they leave halfway throughout the year to go work or move schools.

Our students know that if they do the bare minimum then they can coast for the rest of it. This is not an environment where learning journeys are praised. Only credits and endorsements.

I sound incredibly cynical especially with the fact that it's only a few more days until we start the new year, however I know that this is the reality and it is upsetting because there is only so much we can do as teachers to try get our students through. As much effort and motivation we send towards our students, at the end of the day, our students need to be motivated to move forward and try for themselves.

This is why this year I'll be focussing more on Mindset. Changing a mindset and a self perception that they can't do this or that because of X is a lot more manageable and has proven to work in my classroom.

In my classroom my students quickly learn that they get told off if they say they can't do something. I feel like that WWII 'We Can Do It' lady a lot of the time. My self-motivation, my self-belief that these students CAN achieve. That they CAN push themselves to their very very best. That ultimately it comes down to a perceived mindset that they need to flick the switch to in order for them to change their self-sabotaging habits and believe in themselves.

In our class for Y12 there is an expectation that they will try every damn thing. No matter how crazy, strange, frustrating or seemingly boring it is. If it helps to spark that motivation inside them, if it makes them think even for a millisecond that they can do it, then we'll try it.

Yes we will do the writing portfolio and the academic reading assessments because that is part of their literacy requirements. Their learning and understanding prior to these assessments is what I look for however. To see whether they truly understand the issues around shooting soundshots in the bush or the difference between emotive language used in an article to persuade the reader towards a certain perspective and a report that uses jargon in a more scientific style of writing to be clear and direct towards it's readers. To see whether they understand that a draft needs continuous re-writes to ensure that it becomes their best work. To see whether they can work collaboratively to understand genre while writing in whiteboard marker on the windows in a genre crunching timed game. To see whether they're able to focus themselves in order to complete their own work. To see whether they have time management skills.

Once these two assessments are well on their way, then we begin the learning of two (or one for the 'alternative' class) external texts - written and visual texts. This takes the most motivation on my part to ensure not only that we cover everything that they may possibly need to know but also to ensure that they understand how to write essays. This is the crux. The true learning of the entire year. Not because they learn how to write essays. But because they learn how to truly push themselves to not only TRY but to attempt writing in a structured style, to convey their point of view in a clear, understandable way that truly makes the reader believe that they know what they're talking about in regards to the given question about the text. This is hard. But again it is doable. But this time, it comes down to mindset. This is when I begin teaching about fixed and growth mindsets. To show them that they're only stopping themselves when they give up.

During this time when I'm teaching them my latest version of the essay style that helps to easily convey their ideas clearly (SEXIST at the moment), we discuss the need to have a growth mindset. Self-belief and an innate knowledge that they can GROW their brain, flex that brain like a muscle, that they can actually do it.

Hopefully during the learning and understanding of these two text studies, we will have completed another two pieces of writing at least to go towards their portfolios as well as the critical Party in the Car assessment which helps to ensure that their learning around safe driving is embedded in their brains when it comes towards their own driving safety.

The issue that our students have with Level Two English is that there are only four internal assessments and two externals. While it comes out with the same amount of credits as other subjects, there is a lot more work involved with each assessment. The ongoing need to be self-motivated, to have a mindset that pushes you to your very best is absolutely critical.

Our students are required to think critically in English and perhaps for a while they haven't needed to think too deeply and that brain isn't warmed up enough to do critical thinking exercises. There is no silver bullet. No way to completely ensure that EVERYONE achieves the same amount of credits. The same qualification. It comes back to the students and their mindset to achieve to the best of their ability. To keep trying and keep pursuing their goals. Unfortunately not every student has passing Level Two as one of their goals. For some students just surviving the day without X is a goal in and of itself. For some of our students a simple, "You've got this!" or a "I believe in you!" might be enough but then it might not be either.

As teachers we all see students who are just not motivated the way we want them to be or 'engaged' the way we want them to be. We forget to put ourselves in our student's shoes. For some of us teachers, we actually cannot understand some of the lives that our students are living. There is a disconnect. Being relevant, in touch with what our students are dealing with is critical. If we can understand their struggles, then perhaps at least at school we can make things a bit easier. We can be understanding and compassionate.

Encouraging a positive mindset, encouraging success (no matter how little the outside perception may be), believing that each student is capable of achieving their goals - this is what I'm hopeful for every day.

I can't be each student's motivation. But I can become a spark of self-motivation for them to build a fire inside themselves, to create a thirst for learning and more importantly to inspire them to flick that switch towards creating a positive growth mindset and encouragement to build a beautiful array of goals for their future.

Be the change that you wish to see in the world. 
-Mahatma Gandhi