As teachers we are often in a position of needing to teach a subject that students do not consider as being immediately valid to their current practices or necessary for their experience. Yet, (and they may not know this or be able to visualise this yet) it may be an area that they will come to rely on quite heavily in the years following their graduation. The massive difficulty that faces me as a teacher is to instill in the students the seeds (or one seed will do!) of interest in the topic, to plant a question in their minds, to raise their curiosity and inspire their motivation in some way. Nonetheless, it’s my job to help them understand why they might need to know this stuff that I’m teaching and how it might help them in their future careers. In my experience I find that rationalizing the subject matter and contextualising it for student goes a long way to make the subject more palatable if not easier to get enthused about.
Phil Race (2006) encourages a multivalent approach to achieving effective learning. In his words “learning would be very boring if all teachers used exactly the same approaches”.
Motivating a student to be inspired by what inspires us also requires us to take some time to find out exactly what it is that the student brings to the learning experience. How much do they know about the subject? What kind of ‘prior experiences’ have they already have in the area you will be teaching? Ascertaining this will help me plan a class, decide on relevant material and adapt the teaching on the spot and in response to what I perceive to be student needs. Race suggests that motivation is really the student ‘wanting’ to learn – sometime though, as he points out, when the going gets tough that “want can evaporate quickly”. So what can I do as a teacher to keep that ‘wanting’ burning and an integral part of the learning experience?
I find that understanding students’ lack of curiosity/interest/motivation is a key part of the teaching experience. In another post I thought about the way I think about myself in the dual role of learner/teacher. In situation where it’s necessary to understand a students’ point of view before being able to inspire curiosity, the need to remember ourselves as learners is paramount. Race identifies various symptoms of low motivation with which we are surely all familiar; these include turning up late for classes, talking to friends during lectures, not coming equipped or prepared for the class etc. He suggests some tactics to be deployed that might help address the issue of lack of motivation.
Race notes that we need to firstly ‘accept that motivation is a real problem’. In my view, it’s not just the lecturer or teacher who needs to accept this. The students need to be able to identify this lack of motivation and to articulate it. In the process, students are free to discuss why it is that they bring no motivation to the class, or why the material covered is not challenging/too challenging etc. I like to take the time to ‘check in’ with my students – I give them some time at the start of class to catch their breath, remember why they are actually here and think about how their day or week was. Naturally this is not something that you could do with lecture groups, although I have adopted a more general ‘check in’ for such large groups. The process of checking in with smaller groups helps establish the classroom or studio as a collaborative and safe space.