Thursday, July 4, 2013

Student Motivation and TED Talks Education

I teach high school biology and AVID.  AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination and it is a course that prepares students in the academic middle to be eligible and ready for a four year college.  Many times the students come from families where no one has gone to a four year college or the student may come from a disadvantaged background.  AVID helps prepare these students for college by providing study skills, mentoring, tutoring, and support.  Here is some great info and an overview of the AVID program.

I just finished up my 9th year teaching AVID. It is fun to teach, I can be a little more creative in this class because there aren't state standards like their are in biology.   I can create fun lessons, such as incorporate games to learn vocab or come up with exciting team building activities.   Another benefit of AVID is I get to really know my students well, as I am their AVID teacher for their entire high school career.  I get to see them come in as freshmen, many times shy and uncertain of who they are, and watch them grow to be confident seniors, heading off to college.

Even though I enjoy teaching AVID, AVID is a tough class to teach.  Students must choose to be in the program, but many times they are in AVID, not because they want to, but because their parents want them in it.  If a student does not have that motivation and desire to be in AVID, they are not going to do the work.  AVID is not a magic wand - just because a student is in the program, does not mean they will be successful in their classes.  The students have to have that determination, and be willing to follow through with the assignments I give them, to be successful.  If a student is failing a core class, with a grade of a D or an F, I require them to attend study halls.  The purpose of the study halls is for students to spend time working with their teachers improving their grades.  However, many times the students believe that this is a punishment.  They do not see this as way to get the help and support they need.  It is really hard to get the AVID students, especially when they are freshmen, to see and understand that the curriculum and requirements I provide them will actually benefit them.  The future is so far away to them, that they don't always listen to the advice I give.     

Principal talking to students about importance
of AVID and ending with a group hug.
This year it has been tough with the freshmen.  Many students have been failing some of their core classes.  They haven't been taking their Cornell Notes (an AVID requirement), turning in their Progress reports (another requirement) or completing their study halls.  I have brought in older AVID students, AVID graduates who are now in college, their guidance counselor, and even our principal to talk to them and hopefully motivate them and see that what they are required to do in AVID is actually a benefit and a privilege.  It seems to help motivate the freshmen for a day or two, but then there isn't a change in their behaviors.   I know that my freshmen class sounds very unmotivated to you, the reader, right about now.  I do have some amazing students in my class.  Most of them are actually doing very well and I am so proud of their accomplishments.  But when there are more than a few students that aren't doing well, it seems like the WHOLE class isn't.  I want to find ways to help them.

In May, the TED Talks Education special aired.  I was immediately inspired, and knew that it might help give some perspective to my AVID students.  There were nine presenters, including educators, students, and others with a strong interest in education.  They spoke about the problem of students dropping out of school, and ideas of how to keep students interested in school.  I think the program was aimed at educators as the viewing audience, not necessarily students.  But I knew that I wanted my students to watch this.

As part of my AVID freshmen's final exam, they participated in a Socratic Seminar.  (A socratic seminar is a type of discussion where students ask higher level questions and try to get a deeper level of understanding about a topic.)  I provided my students with a packet to take notes, and showed them the hour long show in class.  Students took notes, wrote a reflection, and came up with leveled questions that they could ask during the seminar.

This was the most amazing seminar I have seen during my nine years of teaching AVID.  I hated having to stop the students, but we just didn't have enough time.  The students were engaged and came up with some really great thoughts about education.  Many are ideas that I have been thinking about over the last semester, and it was amazing to hear the students really reflect on how they learn, the importance of learning as opposed to just getting a grade, etc.  Here are some key thoughts that they shared.  The student thoughts from the seminar are in blue, my reflections on this are in green.

  • Students should take the time to reflect on their learning.  It will help you plan for the future.  And that is what will bring you the motivation.  My thoughts:  I always have students write a reflection at the end of the unit.  However, many times it seems forced and the students don't really think about their learning.  I need to find a way to really have them reflect.  Maybe give more class time, or have them write it in a blog.  I had my students start blogging at the end of the year, and with others reading their blogs, their work was better.  I think I will have students start blogging and reflecting about their learning starting at the beginning of the year.
  • Grades should represent what you know and have learned.  You can get an A two ways, you can cheat/copy or you actually can learn.  Grades should be more than just a letter, it should represent what you have actually learned.  Students want/prefer feedback because it can help you improve, not just a letter grade.  My thoughts:  It was amazing to hear that the students preferred feedback, and letter grades didn't always show what they had learned.  I have been contemplating switching over to a standards based grading system.  I think that many students might have a hard time with this, but I think it would benefit the students.  Many students and parents, still want to see that A.  But I want my students to really think about what they are learning and mastering, as opposed to just getting a grade.
  • Parents intend to motivate their students, but a lot of times it causes too much stress.  My thoughts:  parents want their children to succeed and go to a four year college.  But in the 12 years I have been teaching, I have seen a huge increase in the number of students taking multiple AP classes.  Not because they are interested in the subject, but because it looks good on college applications.  Parents are pushing their students to do so much, and students are not being kids anymore.  I don't know if there is anything that I can do about this in my class.... I try not to give too much homework, or any at all.  I try to make my curriculum engaging, so students have fun in my class, and want to learn.  
  • Students need to want to do well.  The student needs to take control and responsibility of their learning.  My thoughts:  This is where I am having a hard time.  How do I get my few students who aren't engaged, who aren't intrinsically motivated, to take control?   I can assign study halls, call home, have conversations with the students, etc.  But I can't force them to take control.  The student tells me that they want to succeed, that they want to go to college.  I tell them the steps they need to take.  But how do I get them to take those steps?  I think spending more time reflecting on their learning might help.  We'll see how this school year goes! :)
I think that providing the time for students to really look at the importance of education and think about what their goals are is key.  I have my students reflect on their grades and learning often in class, and they don't always take it seriously.  This time they did.  The difference seems to be the time to discuss it with their peers.  I think I will plan activities like this more often, and I hope it helps.  I look forward to starting sophomore year with my AVID students and also incorporating more discussions about learning in both my AVID and biology classes next year.

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