Lately I’ve been struggling with something in my classroom. I’d like to think there’s a magical answer out there that will somehow make its way into my brain, but in reality I’m not sure there is a black-and-white solution to this problem.
My question: How do you make a student care? You know, that genuine, intrinsic desire to do well — just to do well, not get something extra out of it? Is it even possible to make someone else care?
Most of my students do what is assigned, turn it in on time, and make corrections when asked. They care about doing a good job and getting a good grade. If they need more time than what was given for a particular assignment, no problem, as long as they have been working on it.
My students have a great range of writing speeds. One could write a novel over a weekend (in fact, he has), while others struggle to turn thoughts into words. You need an extra day or two? I’m cool with that. I care more that they are truly learning and can demonstrate that somehow (I’m pretty flexible with the “how”). But you gotta give me . . . something.
I’ve been a bit more experimental in my approach this year, trying to discover ways to motivate certain students. But at what point do I switch from accommodating needs to enabling apathy?
Let’s take one student who doesn’t seem to care. We’ll call him Pierre. (If you haven’t read the Maurice Sendak book Pierre: A Cautionary Tale, go get it right now — it’s fabulous!). Pierre doesn’t care if he fails a test or even an entire class. He doesn’t care if his work gets turned in. Pierre will write down random numbers as answers for a math assignment so it looks done — until I correct it.
In the first quarter, my policy was that if you turn an assignment in or make corrections to it before the end of the quarter, I’ll take it. If students fell behind, they lost some classroom privileges until work was complete. Second quarter, I tried more specific due dates, also hoping to gently ease them into the world of high school expectations. Language arts due dates were listed on the board, and daily math assignments were due two days after they were given. My if-you-need-longer-to-finish-just-let-me-know policy was still in place.
Not much changed. The students who always got their work in continued to do so. Pierre just stopped working on math after the day it was assigned. His grade went from not good to downright stinky.
So now we’re in the third quarter. I’m open to suggestions. Instruction is small-group (just him and one other student), and he answers questions during the lesson so I know he’s understanding it, at least somewhat. The assignment length has been modified to meet his needs. He has one-on-one help whenever he wants it. We also help with scribing any time he doesn’t want to write. He’s on a behavior plan (a new one that is working very well so far — for most things!) that includes incentives for getting his work done.
Do I heap on more incentives in an attempt to find something “big” enough for him to work toward? Do I take away stuff he likes to do until the work is done, and done well? Do I just say the heck with it? (Okay, I know that isn’t the right answer.)
I do know I’ll keep experimenting with new ideas to motivate him. Why? Because even if no one else does, I CARE!