Wednesday, September 28, 2011
I subscribe to the belief that student enthusiasm for learning is as important as learning the prescribed curriculum. Why? Learning can't stop at graduation. The world changes too quickly. Learning must be lifelong, which means that the enthusiasm for learning must be lifelong.
Can we teach enthusiasm for learning? Probably not directly. But here's the good news: everyone starts life with an inate enthusiasm for learning. It's easiest to see in little kids. They're fascinated by learning. Unfortunately, the enthusiasm for learning is worn down in many students after years of schooling. How ironic, and what a shame!
What can be done about enthusiasm for learning?
One approach is to try to mask learning as games or other fun activities. That can help as long as the learning stays paramount and doesn't become overwhelmed by the game.
Learning is often hard work. It often is not entertaining. The ideal is for that hard work to be enjoyable. But is that possible?
Yes. Hard work in which we are fully engaged, called flow, is intrinsically motivating. We like doing it. So, how do we get to that point where students are engaged and intrinsically motivated by learning the prescribed curriculum?
In business, the most common motivation is extrinsic: carrots and sticks. Give rewards for desired performance and threaten consequences for undesired performance. It works to a certain extent. It works well enough to have been the basis for motivating workers for at least thousands of years.
A new book, The Progress Principle, is based on extensive research in the motivation of workers. The findings are that the strongest motivator for work is making progress on meaningful tasks. It's not the carrots and sticks. It's people feeling good about what they spend a lot of the time of their lives doing.
This translates to enthusiasm for learning. First, it's important to make schoolwork meaningful. Let students know how the curriculum fits into a desireable image of their futures. Take the time for field trips or classroom visitors who can relate lessons to life. Second, emphasize that progress is being made. Rather than just attending class day after day, make it clear to students how they are improving, how their knowledge and skills are growing.
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