When I was a classroom teacher, I loved teaching Seniors. They were driven, inquisitive, curious, creative, thoughtful, and articulate… Until about this time of year. That post Spring Break time could be dreadful.
I wish I knew then what I know now about student motivation.
Post Spring Break was dreadful because I kept plowing through content the way that I had throughout the year. And, even though the content got more and more interesting (from my perspective) and even though I had some of the top students in the school in my class, the students became less engaged, less motivated, and less interested.
What I didn’t do then, but would do now, is unleash the energy, motivations, creativity, and passions of my students.
Seniors think that they are finished with high school before high school is actually over. So how do we keep them motivated to learn down the home stretch? Here we rely on the psychology of adolescent development and growth mindset. Student motivation surfaces at the intersection of some of our favorite education researchers - Dweck, Ferlazzo, Hattie, Marzano - who collectively show that students want to learn when they are given the freedom to explore what’s important to them. Appropriately supported by teachers who give targeted and constructive feedback, autonomy not only empowers learning by motivating students to ask deep questions and solve real problems but also to stay engaged and finish what they’ve started.
That’s one of the reasons that we’re launching a new type of course for next year: fall semester courses with an option for a guided research project for the second semester. This fall, we will introduce six fall semester courses: Abnormal Psychology, Business and Entrepreneurship, Civics, Culture, and Intersectionality, Creating Tomorrow: Computer Science by Design, Gender and Sexual Identity in America, and Engineering, Design, and Robotics. All of these courses have an optional second semester guided research project.
What does that project look like? Students are expected to engage in sustained inquiry, authentic and iterative research, critical analysis, and rigorous reflection, revision, and assessment. They’re given choice in terms of what pathway to pursue, with options including:
This student experience builds on what we know about motivation and unleashes student creativity, in a flexible, asynchronous learning environment… banishing (as much as we can) the post Spring Break dread.
Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)