Friday, April 3, 2015

Motivating students - resources, tips, considerations

It is the week after spring break, the halfway mark for the spring semester, and campus is back in the swing of things.  Well, everyone is back, but the level of motivation might not be what is was at the beginning of the semester.

In looking around for some suggestions for instructors on motivating students in the middle of the semester, I first stumbled on a wealth of advice and thoughts on the "mid-semester slump" geared towards students.  So, instructors, the first thing to keep in mind is that the lower level of motivation and enthusiasm that you are sensing in the classroom midway through the semester may be much more general than it feels initially.  Don't take it personally!  The middle of the semester often coincides with a change in the weather and, in the case of the weeks following spring break, the challenge of transitioning back to a more regimented schedule when summer is just weeks away.  

There are a number of great suggestions out there for instructors who want to make adjustments in an effort to improve students' motivation.  However, much of this advice is best suited for the beginning of a new semester.  The Center for Teaching + Learning at University of Texas, for example, offers some excellent advice for motivating and engaging students; Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty by Elizabeth F. Barkley is another great resource.  Unless your class is facing a dire situation, however, modifying core, foundational details of the course (how grades are determined, learning objectives, etc.) is more likely to lead to frustrated rather than motivated students.

So what is an instructor to do when it is the middle of the semester?

Here are a couple of resources that may be helpful at any point during the semester:

"Solve a Teaching Problem" tool from the Eberly Center at Carnegie Mellon
In Step 1, a list of possible issues is presented; the top of the list focuses on issues related to attitudes and motivation.  Clicking on any one of the options will produce a list of possible reasons for what you are observing (Step 2) which then leads to some ways of addressing the problem (Step 3).  For example, does it seem like students lack interest or motivation?  One possible reason (out of six that are provided) is the variety of other priorities that compete for students' attention.  These selections lead to four possible strategies in Step 3; out of these strategies to explore, at least three, if not all four, can be reasonably implemented in the middle of the semester.
This list of FAQs includes a number of inquiries that coordinate with what we see in the classroom in the middle of the semester including some suggestions for working with groups are no longer collaborating successfully, elevating student interest in the material, and increasing the odds of students reading or preparing prior to class meetings.
Hopefully one of these tools will provide you with an idea worth implementing as you attempt to counteract that mid-semester slump!  
Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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