> Mrs. O'Neill's Blog: Let's all help one another...

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Let's all help one another...


I've been inspired by this post from Shaun's blog to think a bit more about student motivation. Here in the USA, I see students dealing with the same issues as I saw students deal with in Scotland. To work or not to work, to study or not to study? Shaun muses on the different ways teachers help students to study or to get motivated.

I was especially interested in his comment about a teacher (good old Harry Keery!) who uses a bit of healthy competition to get students on board. This week I used a similar technique by having my two hons American lit classes swap essays and peer evaluate. They both wrote their essays on the same question and book, in preparation for their semester finals which come up next week.

I tried where possible to match up students in the two classes who would benefit from seeing one another's work. In some cases this meant swapping the work of two fairly ambitious and skilled writers , so that they could be spurred on by one another. But I also found myself carefully matching students who were balanced in ability but not effort to get one of them to see what they could achieve with more work. I hoped the student who made more of an effort could also see that they were achieving more.

The thing that impressed me was the zeal with which they attacked the task. In both classes students initially admitted that they were reluctant to criticize. Then after receiving and reading papers they quickly got into the swing of picking faults with them. I explained that they had to offer specific criticism, and that they had to include clear praise where it was due.
They were allowed to write their names on the evaluation or not. Many of them did.

I checked the critiques before I gave them back.

Some of the comments included things like: 'You had a good point here but I was disappointed that you didn't say more about it.' Don't think you have correct spelling for this word - I don't know how to spell it either, but feel sure it isn't this.' 'You use 'fantasy' and 'fantasize' too much -do you know another word for this? -I would like to know too as I used it too much in my paper.' There were few overly harsh comments. Thankfully I had instructed them not to write on the essays but to write their comments on a separate sheet of paper, just in case.

Most students said that they found the first part of the exercise, which was reading and criticizing another student's work, useful. The second part of the exercise will be receiving back their own essays and peer evaluation. I hope that when they read each other's comments they will find them of use too. I also hope that it will initiate a healthy competition.

Back to the subject of motivation. Can teachers actually motivate or are they just a catalyst for students motivating each other? Do students need to rely on their own motivation?

9 comments:

Jemma said...

Mini comment first: Great picture! :] Now, proper comment:

The competition technique appears to work quite well; I'm sure Mr Keery used it last year between his and Miss Dunn's class which, I think, resulted in his class getting more A’s. I guess that was down to the motivation of succeeding in not only passing their Int 2 for themselves, but being above everyone else- its always nice to know you’re good at something.

As for the swapping of essays between classes, I find that quite motivating because I'm conscious of the fact my writing is going to be read by other people -not just a teacher- and therefore I subconsciously make it better, well try to anyway. The added pressure of this seems to work, I hate people in my classes knowing how bad I am at things. [/inferior]

Saying that, I’m a bit useless at my own self-motivation, I don’t know about the likes of boy-genius Shaun mind you. (Luvs ya reli) I often find I need to be really interested in something before I’m motivated into writing an essay or report on it, (whether that be due to the teacher or my own interest) which I guess is good. Failing that I end up leaving things to the last minute and writing them out of necessity, which I guess is bad…

Mrs. O'Neill's Blog said...

That's interesting Jemma. Thanks for commenting on it. I think I am motivated in the same way as you - I usually need some sort of interest to be provoked. But I am also motivated by other people being encouraging about what I am doing.
What do you find de-motivating?

Jemma said...

Seating plans in classes. Teachers being patronising. Negative teachers. Others in the class disrupting lessons. Being out of a routine. Different weather/temperature conditions in class. No encouragement. Getting no praise for working hard or consistently. Lack of energy to interest myself in whatever it is I’m supposed to be learning about. Boring subjects that aren’t made any fun...

Numerous things de-motivate me, they seem to switch between what I do myself to what teachers do, hmm…

And something that not so much de-motivates me but distracts me greatly, is Keery's constant renditions of ELO, Carole King and The Turtles in class! Highly off-putting, even if they're hilarious.

I’m easily distracted y‘see. ;D

Mrs. O'Neill's Blog said...

Thanks Jemma - I knew I could rely on you for some decent ideas. The Keery is still exercising his tonsils then?

Shaun said...

Ooh! I inspired a blog post! Now that motivates me! :)

Mrs O'Neill, it's nice to see that your new students are responding well with exercises like that. We did something similar in Sociology but I found it rather socially awkward. (Luckily I didn't have to write a Marxist or Weberian evaluation about this.) Unlike Jemma, I guess I'm not terribly cut out to be a teacher.

And the Keery is indeed exercising his tonsils frequently! He managed to get "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" in my head on Friday, which was a nice change.

As for your last point, I'd say motivation could come from anywhere and everywhere. I've found both my teachers and peers to be motivating and demotivating at times.

P.S. I heard our - Miss Dunn's - class got more As than Keery's, but more of them passed? Mind you, my sources weren't very trustworthy...

Jemma said...

Oh I do apologise, I appear to have been misinformed. They were probably even or something after all. >_<

I'd have left school along time ago if it wasn't for motivational techniques..

P.S. With reference to me being cut out to be a teacher, according to my ‘favourite teacher of all time’ (so totally NOT!!) there’s no chance of me ever being a teacher. Ooft. Though, that has motivated me to prove him wrong. Its all good. Thinking of doing a post about this later on.

Mrs. O'Neill's Blog said...

Thanks Shaun - to be honest the peer evaluation thing is never popular first time round - but it gets a bit easier for students as they get used to it. The thing that surprises me is students who can see things wrong in other people's work which they seem totally unaware of in their own! Analyse that!

Jemma - I think you would be a great teacher. Think about it!

Chris said...

This is a fascinating exchange of views! Do you find students more forthcoming than in Scotland?

Mrs. O'Neill's Blog said...

Chris - These two (Jemma and Shaun) are pretty perspicacious aren't they?! Scots of course...

I miss them. My American students are still a little nervous of me I think, although they are beginning to talk to me about what they think...