When students have autonomy over their education they will be motivated to work.
One of my biggest frustrations with my job is when my managers try to tell me how to do my job. I know how to do my job and yet I am constantly under scrutiny because for some reason I am not trusted. This is how we treat students. We are constantly assessing, correcting and breathing over their shoulder (sometimes quite literally) because we don’t trust that they are actually learning. Why is that? It could be a combination of things: lack of interest in what they are learning, they have more pressing matters on their mind than school, or they simply don’t think education/learning is important. They’ve never been given autonomy over their learning. They have never been asked to learn on their own and instead teachers spoon feed them what they want them to know. We then test them telling them they are either smart or dumb because we can’t reach every student, right? Wrong. It is possible to reach every student and if we can’t we aren’t doing our job as educators. Every student that walks in the door has a right to an education and it is our job to give it to them.
If students don’t think what they are learning is important they aren’t going to care. They may try for the “A” because in their eyes that is important but they aren’t going to actually try to learn. I was never very good at math and as the years went on I just kept getting left behind because we had to make it through the textbook by the end of the year and I was the “acceptable loss”. At first I really did try to understand but by the time I got to Algebra II I just tried to learn enough to get a B and move on. I didn’t care about learning anymore just as long as I could the B.
I learned a lot about intrinsic motivation in a communications course I took and the research is there but no one will listen to it. It comes down to trust because we, as a society don’t think we can live in a utopian society. We don’t think people or students are intrinsically motivated. Clearly they have to be motivated by something else to learn but then are they really learning anymore? Students are doing what the teacher wants to see but that isn’t learning. They are regurgitating what they have been told and moving on. They are not engaging in their own learning. Some kids are great at faking it and I was one of those kids. There were very few courses in high school I was actually interested in. I worked hard in those but in the other courses I just did what I knew would get me the “A”.
One of my old high school teachers runs a flipped classroom. His students teach the lesson everyday because that involves them in their own learning. He doesn’t stand up in front of the class and lecture. He has them involved in their own learning. This is what we need to be doing as teachers. We need to involve students in their own learning. It starts with trust and time. In the world today of instant results which are only a click away we expect that from students. We are so focused on the now and not the end of the year. Parents, administration and the school board want to see instant results because learning should be instant shouldn’t it? Real learning takes time. It takes time and dedication and not teachers who are struggling to get to the end of the book by the end of the year because that is what is required of them.
For real learning to take place students need time and they need autonomy.