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Learning Over Performance

posted Jun 6, 2013, 1:14 PM by Kate Petty   [ updated Jun 6, 2013, 1:21 PM ]
    
Lately I've been doing a lot of research on intrinsic motivation.  Why?  I guess I'm sick of assigning a reading and then competing with the SparkNotes answers I get the next day.  I know what you're thinking- if I was an EFFECTIVE teacher I'd be able to ENGAGE those students right into reading.  You're wrong.  I've done everything.  Yes some do read- maybe 3 of 112 students will read the whole book.  We can bump that number to 30 who will actually have read more than one chapter.  Really?  Determined my seniors would read just one book (some for the first time in their high school lives), we read the ENTIRE last book of the year aloud in class.  It was Brave New World, and yes it was awkward at times.  Reading a whole novel in class wasn't exactly torture but it wasn't a very effective use of class time.

I'm a reader.  I love books.  I breathe words.  Yes, it is hard for me to see students who don't like to read.  So that is why I decided to look into motivation.  I tweeted, I researched, I #CoffeeCue'ed, and  I reread Daniel Pink's Drive.  

    This time through the idea of Learning Goals vs. Performance Goals caught my eye.  I was immediately struck by the "Aha!" uttered by my brain when I realized that the unsuccessful 20 Time projects this year were performance-related.  Those students who decided to shave time off their mile, get better at snowboarding, cook one meal per week, etc were the students who didn't have much to do in class.  THE STUDENTS WHO DIDN'T WANT TO LEARN ANYTHING AND ONLY WANTED TO ACCOMPLISH SOMETHING, sat around the classroom during 20 Time and didn't do a thing.  They were doing it OUTSIDE of class.  While a goal like that is commendable, it is hard for a classroom teacher to swallow while she watches her class period get wasted away.
    So I read and then I reread and then I reflected on the concept of learning goals.  Simply put, learning goals are goals in which you learn about something.  Learning goals have no end.  The goal is to learn.  Period.  I believe it is impossible to know EVERYTHING about one thing.  If those same students above had decided to learn what makes a body perform better, what are the optimum conditions necessary for improved performance in sports, or what makes food good, they would have had a lot to learn about in class.

20 Time Impact:

    Thanks to an epiphany by Jillane Baros, next year my students will spend a quarter in a Genius Hour model.  I will ask them to 10 write "I wonder..." statements at the beginning of the year.  They will spend one hour a week researching those statements and presenting their findings to the class.  My hope is that they learn how to create learning goals AND they learn how to spend a solid hour researching a topic that they will be held accountable for.  I will assign the 20% Projects during the second quarter of the year.

Reading Impact:

    Way harder.  How do we motivate students to WANT to read a chapter or ten chapters?  Is it manipulation?  Reverse psychology? Harry Potter magic?  If we simply ask students to create a reading goal and they do, will they follow through?  Do we ask them to create a learning goal for the year?  They'll create the goal...we all know they'll say anything.  It is the follow-through that doesn't happen.  Teachers have always forced the follow-through with threatening grades.  Threats don't work well, especially with high school students.  They've "learned" how to call a bluff and/or many of them just don't care.  
    So then we focus on why we read.  Why do we read the classics?   Why are there approved book lists for high school students?  Why do we read Oedipus, Romeo and Juliet, and To Kill a Mockingbird in high school?  Is it because we need to know universal themes later in life?  Is it because we want to make sure we get the random, obscure references to "The horror!  The horror!"?  I know why I want my students to understand the concept of Big Brother and I know that they won't come close to understanding the concept unless they read 1984.  But I am in my 30s and I've read the novel three times a year for ten years.  I still don't understand all of the ambiguities and straightforward warnings Orwell was trying to convey but I sure have fun trying.  My students can too, but they have to read it to get it.  What a crazy circle we've just come around to.
    My friend and colleague, Andrea, suggests a reader-response challenge.  When they read, ask them what they "got" out of the reading before we cram the accepted response down their throats.  Ask them to evaluate and analyze the differences.  Will they appreciate their differences or will they strive to become more like the mainstream?  Is either of those responses right or wrong?  Ultimately, if I assign a chapter at home, will they stop relying on SparkNotes as a substitute for actually reading the chapter?  Must we read the first book in class aloud and model the process before I can ask them to try it at home?
    So many questions and so much frustration.  I will keep trying next year.  However next year I will lean toward learning-based goals.  I will work on getting them to read because they want to read, not because they are expected to.  I will let the concept swirl in my brain for the summer.  I will try Andrea's idea.  I will go to Florida and buy a Harry Potter wand at Universal Studios if I have to.  I will try your idea too if you tweet me @techclassroom.

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