Last week (actually a few weeks ago as it has taken me awhile to post this) I was visited by a parent after school who had come to inquire as to how her daughter was doing in my English and Social Studies classes. For those of you who are not aware, due to teacher job action in British Columbia we are not handing out formal reports but are still reporting students progress to parents through e-mail or direct communication.
I explained to this parent that her daughter was doing well in my class, that she had attained B's in the first term and was doing comparatively well in the second term though it was quite early. I have only assessed students performance on a few tasks to this point in the second term. Not enough to convey a mark, but well enough for me to know that this student is in the same range as she was in the first term. Basically, as I informed the parent, overall she was meeting expectations for her grade level.
I also informed this parent that one or two of her daughter's earlier assignments had not met the criteria with which they were assigned, and had consequently received an assessment of minimally meeting expectations. I informed this parent that her daughter had not taken advantage of the policy that I have in my class of allowing students who submit their work on time, as this student does, to re-do her assignments as many times as she likes in order to improve her grade.
Re-doing assignments. This is something that I have allowed my students to do this year. Provided that their work is submitted on-time the students are allowed to re-do their assignments as many times as they like, or until their work is worthy of 'exceeding expectations' status. Those who do not submit their work on time are allowed to take their time (within reason) to get their work done as they have only one-shot to get it right. Basically those students who do not grasp a concept yet are responsible in their work habits and time management they are afforded additional opportunities to improve that skill. As long as they take them that is.
And that is where my issue arrives, or rather my question. Because I don't think that I have done sufficient research or exploration to understand how it is that, despite leaving feedback for students designed to help them improve their understanding, only a handful of students have taken the opportunity to re-do their assignments.
Some of them have the best of intentions. They talk about how they will re-do their work, but few of them get around to it. Is this because we are moving too rapidly through the curriculum? Should I be pausing for these students to improve their skills, whilst others who have achieved mastery work on ahead? Difficult to do when you are teaching history or reading a class novel.
Is it the type of assignments? Are they not engaging? I try, as much as possible to give students freedom of choice in their assignments, and if they come up with a creative idea that I have not thought of I let them 'run' with it after explaining to me how it will achieve the outcomes of the assignment, albeit in a different way.
I often hear some students say that they would do their work again, after receiving feedback, if the project wasn't so onerous. Perhaps I should be having them do more of their projects in steps and receive feedback on each step. However, I make it a point to circulate throughout my class when they are working in order to do just that; pausing to offer insight into how they are doing or what they could improve on.
Is it motivation and the world around them? To be quite honest this is what I think lies at the heart of the matter. I think it involves a lack of intrinsic motivation in some of the students. The particular student from the above example did re-do one of her more recent assignments, after I met with her mother. It was again of relatively poor quality and I can only assume that the mother forced her child to re-do the assignment.
But that is not the kind of motivation I want the students to have. They are not learning when they are being forced into doing something. Students learn when they are valued and when they value what they are doing. I just wonder how much we, as teachers can do to direct students to activities where they are intrinsically motivated to improve when there may be pressures coming from home to achieve high grades at any cost.
And this is where self-directed learning comes into the equation. My self-directed learning class is now in its third incarnation. I continue to get better and better ideas from the students for their projects. Although some of the topics are the same, the ideas of how to go about researching and demonstrating their ideas get better and better.
Still, motivation for some is an issue. In particular it is an issue for boys as opposed to girls. I have found that the interest level of the girls is high, their projects are well thought out and fully developed for the most part. The boys on the other hand have a harder time motivating themselves without a concrete reward. It is more difficult for them to maintain their interest in the project beyond a couple of weeks.
There is the example of the boy who has built his own remote-controlled car from scratch. Powered by a battery connected to a propeller blade mounted on a chassis he was test driving it around the school and videoing his progress to put onto his website. After testing his conclusion was that he needed to add breaks to his design. He has been fully engaged in designing and building the remote controlled car and it is great to see as from my perspective this is what I had in mind when putting this seven week course together.
But how to transfer that kind of motivation to other students, and can it be done? With the new British Columbia Education Plan (@bcedplan on Twitter) focusing on personalized learning and similar methods of learning I think that the development of intrinsic motivation in some of our students will be crucial as we move forward. Not that it already isn't.
What I am continuing to learn from all of this is that I need to look for ways to motivate my students to want to do better for themselves. Not to be concerned with grades, not to be disappointed and downhearted if they do not succeed in their first attempt at something. After all Rome wasn't built in a day, and our students won't always grasp a concept in one either.