Monday, April 16, 2012

A Case of the Mondays

As teachers, we know this scene all too well. It’s Monday morning. You’re on your second third cup of coffee, when in come your students, rebounding from the weekend. There are the sleep deprived, the oversleepers, sugar withdrawled, and alarm clock loathers. And today’s lesson? Reviewing nonfiction note taking strategies. Congratulations – you’ve got "A Case of the Mondays," and better pour yourself a fourth cup of coffee. Now what will you do next?

Whether it’s Monday morning or Friday afternoon, keeping students motivated and engaged will always be a challenge, which is why it must always be your priority. And while you can’t control every aspect of a child’s life, the good news is you can always control two things:

Your Classroom & Your Instruction 

In a series of upcoming posts, I’ll outline my personal “5 Pillars of Motivation,” compiled from my own experiences and perspectives of both being a student, and teaching students. You can consider these 5 Pillars to be the essential ingredients behind student motivation. My posts of the future will all, in some way or another, reflect these 5 Pillars, so let’s begin with Pillar 1!

 ---> Pillar 1: Create a Healthy Classroom Environment  

A Healthy Classroom Environment fuels content, hardworking students, who are motivated to learn and do well. We’ve all discussed the importance of this element in countless education classes, but what does it mean? Better yet, what does it look like?

1.     Structure and Consistency are Key
Key to receiving desired student behavior, and key to your own sanity. Structure and consistency should be everywhere and in everything. Particularly, in your routine and your rules. Children cannot be expected to behave accordingly when the standards are constantly changing. So create a plan, and stick to it. A structured and consistent environment will decrease student anxiety and make children feel safe in their environment. Not to mention, if children know what is coming first, next, and later, you will save yourself the time of answering countless repetitive questions and deterring “free for all” bad behaviors. Sanity? Check!

2.     Define Purpose, Set Expectations, and Hold Students Accountable
This applies to both work and behavior. Students need to know there is a purpose in what they are being asked, there is a reason in which you are asking, and an expectation for how it can be achieved. Give students a purpose and an expectation, and you give students a reason to work for you. It is much easier to hold students accountable for their behavior and the quality of their work when the goals and expectations are explicitly defined in the beginning. Consequences then become clearer, if not fairer when given. And again, consistency is key!

3.     Provide Positive Feedback
Who doesn’t like to receive a compliment, be praised for their hard work, or recognized for their strengths?  Children generally want to be accepted and want to please. To a child, praise is an acknowledgement and affirmation that what he or she is doing is correct, and that it is appreciated. This is not only rewarding but encouraging. Provide positive feedback, and begin fostering confident learners who will increase their positive behaviors.  

4.      Live by the Word “Visual”   
A healthy classroom environment should look and feel fun, engaging, and thought provoking. Whenever possible, create and incorporate color, images, and pictures into your classroom design and instruction. Whether it be graphic organizers, charts, manipulatives; the sky is the limit. Those visual learners who learn best by associating meaning with what they see will thank you, while every student will benefit from your stimulating and engaging environment and ideas.

5.     Allow for Interaction
I can’t help but think of my own college course experience here. Nothing made me more excited to attend a class than a monotone professor who required nothing of his students but physical presence and a pulse. Don’t be this person! Give your students the opportunity to engage, inquire, and interact with the content as well as each other. Students often learn best from each other, so do not deny them these opportunities. Worried students will get out of control with so much stimulation? Thankfully for you, you’ll already have points 1-4 of your healthy classroom environment in place!  This is getting easier already…

Be sure to check back for Pillars 2-5!

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