By Kim Miklusak
Motivation and work ethic are two common phrases uttered by teachers at times, usually in a negative way: Why don't students care about this? Why do they wait until the last minute? Why won't they get off their phones? And there are definitely so many reasons to discuss and improve intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation, learning targets, assessment practices for us as educators, and so on.
But one thing I've also been trying lately in my classes is to re-frame how I speak with students who aren't "on task." Instead of walking around and saying "get to work" and "why aren't you working," I'm asking them, "What can I do to help you be successful?" or sometimes "Under what conditions can I help you demonstrate what you are able to do?" I remember our principal using a similar question once in terms of working with staff, and I thought, this may work with students as well--not all the time, of course. Sometimes students just need to get to work.
However, sometimes we need to change the conditions under which they are working to make them more successful. That could mean letting them sit outside the classroom door or on the floor. That could mean letting them put headphones in to take away distractions--or whatever best fits your students, your environment, and your subject. Additionally, this re-phrasing makes the conversation less antagonistic, which can help to alleviate any tension or frustration. Students may be more willing to say they don't understand something or need a handout they are missing if we aren't coming off as aggressive and frustrated. I have found this with my group of seniors and our most recent essay.
In the end the outcome may be the same no matter how we phrase it, but I've found some more unwilling students actually open up and say what they need to work on--again, not always, and not all students--but perhaps more than I would have in the past.