Motivating students to choose their own studies

Education is an interesting phenomenon. Parents buy a good education for their children and teachers are paid to teach. But while children receive an education, they don’t really have much say in the education they receive.

Right now, students are “motivated” by good grades, good report cards, and eventually a diploma. All of this is in preparation for what most students want – a job or college admission. But wait… It may be what they need, but it’s not necessarily something that students want. It doesn’t motivate them to do well.

Some schools reward students for their efforts, whether it’s ice cream socials, prizes, awards, or scholarships. It’s fun, but it doesn’t have a lot of meaning in their daily lives, and it mainly motivates the students that are already working hard in school.

I think that one of best ways to motivate students is to give them more choice and control in their schoolwork – even it’s not something that will be on a standard exam. Here are a few examples:

* Bring back show and tell. Schools can start a “Hobby Week” in which students can present or demonstrate their favorite hobbies, sports, and inspirations; or allow time for Club expos. How about student fashion shows or art exhibits? It’s a great way to let kids share the things that really interest them, and they’ll probably work hard at it.

* Give kids more choice in their studies. For one week during the semester, teachers could let students vote on a topic to study it. The class could come up with their own lesson plans, created by teams of students, and help to arrange field trips, experiments, or special speakers.

* Let kids help write their own tests. Students could submit questions and answers for weekly or final exams; if their question is selected, they might receive extra credit. Teachers could even challenge students to come up with difficult (but answerable) questions, motivating students to study and think.

And it’s not just in the classroom. Parents can turn anything into (don’t tell) an educational experience. When kids ask, “Why?” don’t be too quick to answer – ask them what they think. At home, talk about TV or Internet shows – do you think it could really happen? do you agree with what a character did? what would you do? At restaurants, talk about different ingredients and cultures. On vacations, challenge each other to history and trivia facts.

What made you enthusiastic about school, or what turned you off? Who were your favorite teachers and how did they motivate you? How can we motivate students today?

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