Sometimes, it can be difficult to get students to participate in class. Being a middle school teacher, I see it year after year and day after day: students feeling self conscious and apprehensive when asked to participate in class discussions or answer questions. Students participate for one of two reasons: they are either intrinsically motivated or extrinsically motivated. For the students who are intrinsically motivated to participate in class (motivated by internal factors such as wanting to do well or participating merely because they enjoy the experience), there is little you need to get their hands raised–their intrinsic motivation is enough on its own. The students who struggle are the ones who need extrinsic motivation–motivation by external factors, such as rewards etc. Below are some fun ways I boost participation in my classroom by taking advantage of extrinsic motivators.
Much like with parenting, teachers are often the caring and supportive adult in students’ lives. However, we are also the judge, jury and executioner! It can be a tough role to juggle. In order to help strike that balanced chord of showing that you are there to support your students, building community should be your first step. Here are some approaches that I use in my classroom to help build community.
I think many of us have fond memories of our classrooms from our elementary years. The special reading nooks, the fancy floor rugs upon which we would sit as we happily listened to stories or discussed our classroom plans for the day during morning “meetings”, the colorful and thoughtful decor that conveyed a sense of creativity in our teacher as well as their personality. These days, it is very easy to look online and find so many wonderful ideas for primary classrooms, but it can be more difficult to find the same level of excitement for decorating a secondary classroom. Why is this? Why do secondary teachers not get as excited about their classroom “theme” or decor? Perhaps we feel that our students will not appreciate it. Maybe we are afraid that they will roll their eyes or poke-fun at our attempt? Although this may be true on the outside, I honestly feel that they do appreciate it– even if they don’t express it to you directly. Here are my ideas for things to consider when decorating your secondary classroom (some are more focused on fun and some are more focused on practicality):
Mistakes are a very, very important part of the learning process. However, I notice more and more that my students are afraid to make any kind of mistake. It appears to me that they are fearful of looking foolish in front of their peers (and even me, if we are working one-on-one). We know that teenagers can be extremely self conscious and do not want to ‘lose face’ in front of others. However, I find it valuable to teach them that there is no shame in being wrong or in making errors. In fact, I try to instill in them that these ‘faults’ are valuable and should be celebrated in the classroom.
We’ve all heard the words “If you do that one more time…” which are quickly followed by some kind of threat. Most of us may have heard our parents say that, probably followed by “you’ll be grounded for a week!” However, this phrase is not unfamiliar to teachers either. This old parenting “gem” is generally brought out in dire situations when we are at our wits’ end and don’t know what to do; we generally follow it up with “You’re going to the principle’s office” or “I’m writing you a referral” or “You’re going to have to spend the rest of the period in the corner wearing a dunce cap!” (oh wait, it’s not 1956. Never mind).
I have found that when trying to motivate students to do what is right (or what I want them to do in class), the carrot works much better than the stick.
Motivating students can be difficult, especially if you are asking them to do something they don’t want to do, like sit quietly at their desk and work on an assignment without distracting others (or themselves). However, it is at these times that we should try the carrot, rather than the stick. Threats rarely work, and if they do, the motivation you are giving your students is coming from the wrong place; students should not be working out of fear they will get into trouble. When students are fearful, this can lead to them feeling uncomfortable in your classroom because it has become an unsafe learning environment (not physically unsafe, but they may begin to fear getting into trouble everyday and thus dread coming to your classroom. None of us want that).
Here are some situations when I implement the carrot, rather than the stick: