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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Motivation

The most important part of any math intervention is finding a way to motivate students so they want to try.

Intuitively, we know that most math teachers were good at math as students, and sometimes it's hard for us to understand how very difficult math can be for many students. Teachers feel frustrated, because they know these struggling students are bright and capable of learning, if they would only try.

What we fail to understand as teachers, is that ALL students have tried, at some point in their life. Most students have tried very, very hard, but after years of faliure, they have given up.

It is human nature to quit things that are hard for us, and it takes a significant amount of perseverance to continue to try and fail, and try and fail. Think about it: When was the last time you spent hours a week doing something you hated? Something that frustrated you to tears? Something that, when you put all your effort into, you still failed?

My students know that I am good at math - but they also know how terrible I am at sports, how little I know about football, what an awful singer I am, and that my moves are nothing like Jagger. They know this, because I show them. I tell them about it. They know the only class I ever failed was 8th grade PE.

I want my students to know that I understand how difficult it is; how hard it is to keep trying; how it feels when people laugh at you.

Here is a story I share with my students:

When I was in elementary school, somewhere in 3rd or 4th grade, we were measured on a set of PE skills: running a lap, hanging from a pole, etc. When it came time to see how far we could throw a ball, I became physically sick to my stomach. I decided, in my great 9-year-old wisdom, to wait at the end of the line, so nobody would see me. As my bad luck would have it, when it was my turn, ALL the students were watching the kids throw the ball. And when I say all, I mean, not just my class, but the whole grade. It took every ounce of courage I had to throw the ball, and I threw it as hard as I could. And, just as in a children's movie, everybody laughed....at me! Of course I don't remember the actual distance of the throw, but I can say with certainty, that it didn't even come close to approaching the other balls. The teacher decided to give me another try, telling me she knows I could do better. So, I tried again, but with a lot more fear and a lot less determination. Over and over, the teacher had me throw this ball, first with words of encouragement, then with frustation, then with yelling. Over and over, I threw that ball, until the teacher, too, gave up. I never came even close to hitting the mark.

What I've learned over the years: there is no amount of yelling, humiliating, understanding "how important this was to my future", or even words of encouragement that would've shown me HOW to throw the ball.


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