I have worked with hundreds of kids. I have seen the ill-effects of behaviorism flourish in far too many ways.
One of my pet peeves has always been this.
‘When you get done with this, then you can do that’
‘Finish your work and you can have free time.’
‘When you are done with this assignment you can have free time’
Why? This sounds reasonable enough. We all know that in life you have to get the work done so you can do the fun stuff.
Well, not really. I often do fun stuff before I do the unpleasant stuff. I often indulge my whims before buckling down to do my work.
But we impose this on our students thinking we are preparing them for the ‘real world’. (Don’t get me started on that whole premise.)
Well, guess what? We are creating people that take no pride in quality of work. They look at work as just something to get done, cross off a list so they can do what they want.
When we do this, we set our students up to not care, to not appreciate the process, to not learn in any meaningful sense. The focus is on getting it done, getting it out of the way so they can do other things. It pits the process and experience of learning against doing something ‘better’. It allows our students to view work and learning as opposite of fun. It actually encourages our students to plow through assignments and learning activities at a fast pace, giving no attention to quality or mastery.
So, how do we motivate students to get to the task at hand? I mean we need to get through the curriculum! High stakes testing plays into this and I appreciate the rock and hard place teachers are between. I do.
Reset your focus to what YOU bring to the table. What YOU bring to each and every moment you are with your students. Model quality. Model taking joy in the process. Develop and maintain healthy and caring relationships with your students. Show them you hear them, trust them, believe in them. And make sure your lessons are all about the learning process and not the end of the lesson worksheet. Do some fun and relaxing stuff before you hit a difficult concept within the content. Reverse the order of activities so that your students are available to learn. It’s OK to watch the movie before you read the book. It’s OK to do some extra recess time before math. It’s OK to play before work.
This doesn’t have to be more work for you. This will be fun and enjoying work for you because you will find you teacher zen in teaching this way. You will facilitate real learning. And when you do it this way, your students carry the bulk of the weight and you are freer to encourage students to stick with the hard stuff, to enjoy the process.
Just stop telling your students they get a reward of free time or game day or pizza party when the work is done. Because the quality you will get is far less than if you make the learning equally fulfilling as the free time activities.
I promise. This works.