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?