Posted in Education, Teaching

The Ups and Downs of Motivating and Challenging Students

Each new day is a gift, I often say to people.  One day, we won’t wake up.  For today, let’s make it the best day of our lives.  Carpe Diem.  That’s why I have it tattooed on my left arm.  It’s the way I try to live my life.  Make the most of every moment.  However, some days are better than others.  Some days, things really work out for the best while on other days things seem to go poorly.  The collection of my days makes up my story.  You need both the good and the bad to appreciate what you have.

Similarly, my classroom wouldn’t be as amazing if every day went smoothly.  You need the hard times to grow and develop.  The pinnacle of learning and and growing comes through failure and challenges.  Some days and classes are better than others, but we need those difficult or blah classes to get to the awesome.

Yesterday, in Humanities class, the students worked on creating a scavenger hunt for artifacts in our town’s museum.  The goal was to create a scavenger hunt that would teach users about the history of Canaan.  The students, working in pairs, walked through the town museum yesterday in search of the most important items for which to identify and create clues.  For the most part, the students worked well.  At points, they disagreed and certainly did not effectively utilize the communication Habit of Learning.  However, they did handle themselves safely and appropriately in the museum.  In past years we’ve had to remind the students on several occasions to walk in the museum.  That was not the case this year.  As the students created their scavenger hunts, my co-teacher and I checked in with them to assess their progress.  While most of the groups were creating clues to identify objects in the museum, they were just alright.  The clues were simplistic and just asked users to find an item.  There were no questions regarding information or town history.  They seemed very basic.  Why?  We talked about the purpose of this scavenger hunt in class the day before and prior to leaving yesterday.  We even modelled how to create an effective scavenger hunt in class on Thursday.  So, why were the students creating such boring scavenger hunts?  None of the groups were creating questions demonstrating critical thinking or the need for problem solving.  What was happening?  Where was that phenomenal work ethic from the day before?  Why were they just meeting the objective of participating in a field experience?  Why weren’t they trying to exceed the objective?  Don’t they want to grow as learners and thinkers?  Is it that the museum was cold and their brains couldn’t functionally properly because of it?  Is it that they weren’t totally engaged with the activity?  Did they not like their partners?  What was it that caused this to happen yesterday?

Many variables were at play in the museum yesterday.  It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what lead to the result we saw.  The students weren’t misbehaving or completely confuddled by the assignment.  They were just doing it.  They weren’t giving it their all.  They weren’t doing it well.  They were just getting the job done.  Is that a bad thing?  Don’t we want people to finish what they start?  That’s what they did yesterday.  The students completed the task at hand.  Isn’t that an important life skill?  Yes, but what about dedication and care.  Rather than just get the job done, don’t we want our students to do it to the best of their ability?  Isn’t that what we want them to be able to do?  So, how do we teach our students do that consistently?

The moral of the story here is that it’s not possible for students to be at the top of their game every day.  Every day can’t be amazing.  It’s just not realistic.  Life is filled with ups and downs.  Maybe because they gave so much on Thursday, they had very little to give today.  Or maybe they weren’t super excited about being in the museum for a second time this week.  Who knows.  But, what I do know is that my students are like me, they have good days and not so good days.  That’s life.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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