One of a series on the real “cor,” or heart, of all good teaching.
This “Standard of the Heart” is about creating the conditions for students to become self-motivated rather than just relying on your external expectations for how many sentences to write, how many problems to complete. (For a sense of what children are capable of at various grade levels, look into the chapter for your grade/age level in Yardsticks.)
When students start asking, “How long does this have to be?” they will keep asking right through high school and college. For a wonderful resource on the role of teacher scaffolding to create intrinsic motivation, read Tools of the Mind: The Vygotskian Approach to Early Childhood Education (2nd Edition) by Elena Bodrova and Deborah J. Leong. This is one of the better sources for understanding how to get students to reach up rather than settle for “that’s all she said we had to do.” Another is No More “I’m Done!”: Fostering Independent Writers in the Primary Grades by Jennifer Jacobson. Both of these books contain pedagogy that extends well beyond the primary grades and will give teachers of upper grades plenty of ideas to extrapolate from.
Many teachers create rubrics to help students know what is expected for work completion with examples of meager, ok, pretty good, and excellent work or lists of what would be contained in work turned in at various levels. I think such rubrics work well for high achievers but actually help unmotivated students settle for less, because they do not yet aspire for themselves. I have known very bright students who will say, “If I get an ok, I’m not going to flunk.”
Some children do need “contracts” to “kick start” learning motivation. Such children may be “reluctant” learners or special education students. If you struggle to keep up with such contracts, see Ruth Charney’s Chapter 15 in Teaching Children to Care: Classroom Management for Ethical and Academic Growth, K–8.
In the end, critical thinking requires heartfelt motivation that comes from the choices and mistakes students make and our capacity as teachers to help them learn from those choices and mistakes. That both takes courage and builds courage.
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