What is Motivation?

According to Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers, motivation comes from doing work that is complex, when you have autonomy, and there is a clear relationship between effort and reward (150).

How can I provide that in an English classroom?

If I adopted the five point rubric suggested in one of the articles I was reading recently, I might could do that. I need to consider it. Can I name the five without looking them up?

sentence structure

That’s not terrible, four of the five. I think identifying it as ideas, rather than content, which is what I do now, might be an improvement. I am far more likely to mark reasonable ideas as acceptable without thinking perhaps I should give it a superior. Content, on the other hand, is so general to me that I think if they put in only what applies and they did a decent job, perhaps it should receive more than acceptable.

Becoming a Genius

In the section of Outliers dealing with KIPP and math, Gladwell says several things which, while they may seem unrelated here, seem to me to imply a quilting of implications.

Willingness to keep working?
First he said that being good at math is a function of success and willingness to keep working (246).

Students who are willing to keep working, trying to figure out what it is that needs to be done, are more likely to succeed. That success makes them more likely to be willing to work on a problem even longer the next time.

Math geniuses, like my eldest son, are folks who are willing to sit and fiddle with a math question for twenty or thirty minutes, trying to figure out how it should work. I know that my eldest does this. I have seen him do it.

Tell me why…

When I was a girl, my mother would sing a song that started with those words. “Tell me why the stars do shine. Tell me why the ivy twines. Tell me why the ocean’s blue–and I will tell you just why I love you.”

Nothing except the first three words are relevant to this post.

Our students do not understand why they need our classes. They don’t know why we are assigning particular things. Two years ago (or so) I attended a colleague’s class and he started every class by explaining how this assignment fit the learning goals of the course. I didn’t ask him how he introduced the whole course, but I have tried (with more or less success) to explain to students why we are doing x and how x fits into the picture of xXXx that the course is designed for. Sometimes there are goofy rules and sometimes there are good reasons. I confess that I explain them both.

Here is a CHE post on the idea that we need to explain to our students why we do things.

I’m going to play devil’s advocate for a minute (although I agree with a lot of what OAP said).  So, because they want a vending-machine education we should give them one?  My son doesn’t like/want to clean his room but that doesn’t mean that I allow him to not clean it.  Students (in general) have never like to learn without some kind of external or internal motivation.  It hurts their brains too much and it takes time away from things that they’d rather be doing.  As much as I loved college as an undergrad, if given a choice between taking and passing Intro. to Chem. or sitting in my room reading something that I chose/wanted to read, I would have opted for the latter (and still would). 

I think that the answer is not so much giving them what they want but teaching them why what they want is less than what they deserve or what they should truly want or what will help them to become better people (or whatever motivation works).  We in academia assume that others see the academy through the same lens that we do and understand it in the same way that we do.  But they don’t.  They don’t understand the values  that we hold dear.  Perhaps instead of dismissing these students as hopeless and/or helpless, we should try to show them what’s so great about it and how it can add value to their lives as well.  When one of my students gave a persuasive speech on why colleges should do away with electives and the liberal studies core curriculum, instead of exploding in anger or shaking my head in silent disbelief and disgust, I tried to explain to them and the rest of the class the reasoning behind the system and the values that it adds to their education.    I make an effort to teach my freshman comp. students not only what we do but why we do it.  They seem to appreciate it.

changinggears. “Re: Posting Hall of Fame–Reply 2374.” chronicle.com, 29 January 2011, www.chronicle.com/forums/index.php/topic,30991.2370.html

Email Etiquette: Results

I teach email etiquette to all my first-year students. I also teach it to my upper division students, just in case they didn’t get it when they were the young ‘uns. Many, I would guess even most students, take the ideas to heart and use them when they create emails they intend to send to profs. If they did not, the strange and extreme lack-of-email-etiquette pieces we receive would not be afforded so much attention.

Since there are some students who cannot imagine anyone doing such a thing as forgetting to use the email etiquette–and both the ones least and most likely to are those who would fit this category–I like to collect these little nuggets as real-life examples.

from the CHE forums:

“Entire e-mail (no greeting, no signature):

I having trouble remebering what the assignment was for 2mor so please get back at me with sum details.

Clearly someone skipped the e-mail etiquette portion of the syllabus.”

dr_know. “Re: Posting Hall of Fame–Reply 2371.” chronicle.com, 26 January 2011, www.chronicle.com/forums/index.php/topic,30991.2370.html. Accessed 31 December 2018.

Why, yes, I did know I am probably spending too much time on the fora… But they are so enlightening!

D = Deliberative Practice

“Deliberative practice is characterized by a high degree of focused effort to develop specific skills and concepts beyond one’s current abilities” (Schwartz, Tsang, and Blair 39).

Students (and perhaps faculty too) often mistake practice for deliberative practice.

Our memories have limited capacity, so we can’t learn too much at one time. Therefore we need to chunk information–for ourselves and for our students.

“Over time, engaging in deliberative practice changes people’s knowledge organization, making it more specialized for the tasks they regularly face” (43).

That is an interesting aspect of the idea of deliberative practice and may help students understand why they have to have another writing class when they have been writing for the last 12 years in school.

Deliberative practice, however, doesn’t take place during the meaningful activity itself. This means if we want students to practice changing their sentences for style (a fairly basic point), they should be practicing BEFORE they write their next essay. How do we add that to the curriculum?

Obviously exercises, where we provide the sentences and they change them, would work. But then they aren’t their writings.

Maybe start there. Then have students find a paragraph they have already written and have them change it. Then perhaps incorporate the exercise into a standard class exercise, like the four-minute writing at the beginning of each class session.

The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use Them by Daniel L. Schwartz, Jessica M. Tsang, and Kristen P. Blair.

C = Contrasting Cases

Showing things that are similar to each other help us understand what a thing is.
Showing things that are different also help us understand.

I find it odd that these were presented in the chapter in the opposite order. When I came to write down notes, that order seemed problematic, so I changed the order (book had contrasting/contrasting, then showing/showing ideas).

Contrasting things that are very different show fundamentals.

Contrasting things that are similar to each other highlight the things that are different. These can be very subtle and they are usually more important than the differences highlighted with very different examples.

When giving contrasting examples, make them specific to individual things. If you wanted to learn how to tell other flowers from daisies, you might get individual “not daisies” that have a single difference and have multiple “not daisies” which have differences in color, petals, stems, and leaves.

Compare/contrast alone does not allow the students to see what they need to be looking for.

Instead compare/contrast with a specific function or feature in mind.

I am trying to imagine what this would look like if I were having students c/c emails during the section where I teach email etiquette.

Could we have multiple examples of subject lines and have students identify whether or not those are appropriate? Or rank them according to how specific they are? (Specificity increases readability in the emails.)

I could make these up or I could go back through my emails and use actual examples (though removed from the actual emails) to give contrasting cases.

Okay. I can see that working.

How would I do this with introduction options–ways of writing introductions? Do I make up my own? Have to think on this more.

The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use Them by Daniel L. Schwartz, Jessica M. Tsang, and Kristen P. Blair

B = Belonging

I want people to like me. I want to be seen as being worth listening to. I want people to miss me when I’m not there. That means I want to belong.

My students want to belong, too.

“Learning is social” (Schwartz, Tsang, and Blair 13) and the classroom particularly shows the social aspects of learning.

Students are placed into a class and we then say they belong there. BUT if they don’t feel they belong there, they will not work optimally.

They might feel they don’t belong because this is too easy for them. How can we get them to feel they belong? They are the leaders? They can offer others their expertise?

They might feel they don’t belong because they perceive the work as too hard for them. If that is their feeling, can we talk about placement and how we can support each other?

Changing Feelings of Belonging:
For at-risk students
There was a study (Walton and Cohen 2011) that had students read essays written by college seniors saying that as freshmen they felt like they did not belong, but that as they engaged with the learning environment they came to see that they did, in fact, belong in college. Students then wrote about their own feelings and recorded them on video.

The study found that some students who did this was were more successful than those who did not. AND that students who had been at-risk (in this study African American students who generally had a lower GPA than the European Americans, but I can see where it would matter for first gen folks too and probably other at-risk groups that I am not thinking of) closed the GPA gap between themselves and the non-at-risk by 79%–which is a significant improvement in GPA.

This particular study did NOT find an impact on the European Americans.

For all students
Facilitate discussions about classroom norms and values. What is most important? Turning in homework on time or checking understanding and asking for help? Students might think that turning in homework on time is most important because that is what I grade. BUT if they check understanding and ask for help, their homework will be easier and will be done correctly and they will see the reflection of understanding and getting help reflected in the grade.

Students can see themselves as belonging to the group through collaborative activities and discussions.

The first few days are probably particularly important for creating a feeling of belonging. Having students meet each other in groups right away might be useful. Or having everyone in the class introduce themselves, using Vicki’s toilet paper idea, might be better. After that perhaps have groups discuss ideas about some other aspect of the class or classroom. I definitely need to think about this before school starts in the fall.

Belonging increases persistence, so feelings of belonging challenged when the work gets harder needs to be countered so that students persist in the course (19). This is relevant right now as well as at the start of next semester.

Being part of a group within the class increases persistence. For FYC-semester2 the casebook essay groups would increase persistence. Perhaps also dividing the research paper groups into categories (like social science research or health research) might increase persistence. That is worth thinking about.

For middle school students
Middle school students who were asked to do a self-affirmation where they wrote about their most cherished values reduced negative issues and had improved performance in both the course they did the self-affirmation in and their other courses.

While I don’t know if this would translate to college, I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t and having students write about their most cherished values could easily be a second-day exercise. It would introduce me to their writing and it might give them a stronger sense of connection to the course.

Would it be worthwhile to discuss these in small groups? Would it be counter-productive to ask how the values apply to the class?

Reframing Beliefs:
A student may seem feedback as the teacher saying “where they aren’t any good” OR as “a place they can improve.” How do we get students to see feedback as something they can improve?

RIGHT NOW: I have no idea if it will, in fact, make a difference, but if I go change the titles on the rubric from Excellent, Good, Needs Work to Done Exceptionally Well, Done Well, Can be Improved maybe that would make a difference. Need to do this.

The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use Them by Daniel L. Schwartz, Jessica M. Tsang, and Kristen P. Blair

A = Analogies

Analogies are useful for learning because, once we disregard the surface similarities, the shared structures can be illuminating.

Providing two analogies rather than one improves learning (Schwartz, Tsang, and Blair 3). Basically it creates a Venn diagram of the shared ideas that can elucidate the idea/theory/practice we are attempting to focus on.

When I first heard of this, I thought it was a simple and fascinating concept. Just give students random things and they could try and figure out how those things “were like” the topic.

I have done that for a single random item (a bunch of small toys) in an FYC course during the introduction of students, asking them to explain how the toy was like their chosen major. It worked really well and was interesting.

However, for focused learning, I probably can’t throw random physical objects around the room for them to work with/on.

Random Practice Example:
Looking at the table in front of me, how is a bowl like writing? You fill it up with something significant. It is not particularly useful empty. It is designed to hold and transport things (or ideas).

Looking at the table in front of me, how is a cheese stick like writing? It needs to be wrapped up. It needs a particular level of wrapping to be useful. The cheese/writing can go bad if the wrapping/words are less than optimal. You consume it in small bites. You can put it up and eat/read it later.

Looking at those two objects, the ideas/food are what are wrapped/carried in the package or bowl and if the bowl or package is inappropriate (by type or size or whatever), the food/ideas go bad or do not get properly delivered.

That means that how we present our ideas really matters. Certain key concepts (like a thesis, topic sentence, and transitions) help create the correct carrying case for our ideas.

Can the students make that big of a connection? Or could they make better connections?

What if we had two or three students working together? Synergy and collaboration could lead to the sum being greater than its parts.

The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use Them by Daniel L. Schwartz, Jessica M. Tsang, and Kristen P. Blair


Karen Svendsen Werner, McLennan CC
“Seeking Retention Improvement in FYC 1”

first semester taught at CC, shocked at # of empty seats
sick children
parole judge
chronic CC problem = low retention rates
grad rate, after 3 years, 21%
grad rate, after 6 years, 39%

complex of issues could place more responsibility on FYC profs
–political promises
–WSJ “prehire assessments” 26% in 2001 to 57% in 2015
–Ft Worth Star Telegram “to improve bottom line” tests given often contain language competency

orientation activities/approaches
spending time on certain activities increases retention (time)
behavioral expectations explained
college technology access practiced (email, Canvas, type up and print)
1-2 students in class of 25 always seem to be trying to catch up
usually help retain students during 1st month
evaluate resources and access student resources
tutoring, counseling, veterans
originally NOT successful—worksheet, scavenger hunt, reps talk
choice over efficiency –I preferred efficiency. Students want choice. Choices and consequences. “If you choose, x… experience has shown, y…”
Direct approach (efficiency) did not work for students from generational poverty.
“continuity of care” needed, too—walk the student from class to the person they need to talk to –LOWEST level students need a hand off, feel too overwhelmed by system and expectations
Orientation document—
KEY is developing choices ahead of time (tell them what the obstacles will be and possible helps)
Lack of time available outside of class—include a description and schedule
Transportation—main way, options if not working
Other responsibilities—
Lack of goals
Why are they in English 111, English 112, English 326? Ask the students that first day.
Make sure students have a degree plan and know why they are here.

Lack of connections/relationships
Be a part of an organization.
Academic difficulties
Emotional stress
Scavenger hunt—so they know WHERE the things are (5-7 things have to get sigs)
Then they can choose from a list of options, so that they go to the one they are most likely to need.

Tasks on technology
Including drop by my office

Writing Center Visit
The very lowest students, the ones you wonder how they got in… I require every person to go to the Writing Center for the first essay.
This helps them feel less overwhelmed. –This is the handoff “continuation of care.”
Had to actually be tutored to stick.

from CCTE 2016: Teaching Strategies