I read a post by @edtechchic last Week entitled “What Motivates You?”. In the post she talks about how we should be giving our students more time to be self-motivated and creative. In the business world they argue that doing this is more powerful than any monetary bonus. Google practices this with their employees. Has anyone looked at their numbers lately?
In the article she suggests giving a day for students to “work with whoever they wanted on whatever they wanted.” The only stipulation was they had to be able to produce a product at the end. This got me to thinking back to my classroom days and the School-wide Enrichment Model from Renzulli and the University of Connecticut. In a nutshell (at least my interpretation), Renzulli pushed for all students to be enriched by finding a passion they have and expanding upon it. Let the students decide what is important and a problem that arises from it. From that they can develop a solution to the problem and see it through to completion.
I love the idea of allowing the students time to be self-motivated and creative. I struggle with setting aside a day for it to happen though. Shouldn’t this be happening all the time? I understand not every activity can based this way, but why not look at shaping it into the schedule? We are allowing 15-20 minutes in most cases every day to exercise the body through recess. We should be able to allow 15-20 minutes two or three times a week at least to truly exercise the mind.
The first thing out of every person’s mouth is, “We don’t have enough time right now…how are we going to find more?” I contend that we can’t afford not to move in this direction. I hear and see time being lost every day in the classroom for redirection and motivation. I guarantee 15-20 minutes is lost A DAY motivating. For whatever reason, it seems many of our youth have lost motivation. We need to find a way to bring that motivation back.
Set aside a time frame…15-20 minutes a day or 3 times a week to start…where students will be able to work on some project or problem they find important. If it is a younger grade, you may need to do class projects instead of individuals or teams. Make the time sacred to start with. Don’t ever let that time be lost. Spend the first few sessions in discussion, determining what the students want to learn about and develop. Set some guidelines/timelines and let them go. Become the facilitator and let them take the lead. If they find what they are passionate about, what will that lead to? You will see them researching (willingly), problem solving, creating, accessing the higher order thinking skills to develop a product or solution they will be proud of.
Once they have gotten used to their precious time, you now have a bargaining chip to work with. Have the discussion that you find this time as precious as they do, but there are many other things that need to be addressed during school as well. As long as they are keeping up with the rest of the curriculum “their time” will remain sacred. If they are not motivated during the rest of the day, however, time will need to be taken from here to compensate. I practiced this method right before I left the classroom and it was very successful. The students (4th grade) monitored themselves, making sure everyone was ready to go throughout the day. NOBODY wanted to miss “their time”. I did not have a GT classroom…I didn’t need one. Everyone was involved and motivated.
The best project I remember was a group of “architects” who developed blueprints for a new school. This school had everything! There were fish tanks in the bathroom walls and the gym had a floor that retracted to reveal a swimming pool underneath it. They designed down to the student desks, incorporating computers into them. I would often stop to look at the plan and ‘throw a wrench” into their ideas. They would then research and decide whether my issue was valid and re-design or call my bluff and move forward. Those kids probably learned more from this project than what I taught them the rest of the year. They became note-takers, researchers, designers, PROBLEM SOLVERS!
Would this be easy? Of course not! Nothing worth doing ever is. Think about where this could take our students. Shouldn’t our goal be to create self-motivated, creative, problem solvers? With these skills what couldn’t they accomplish?