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Failing Grades and Frisbee Golf: Motivating Kids to Learn


Laurie Stenehjem, a graduate of North Dakota State University and a teacher with more than 25 years experience, is a mentor in the Grand Forks Middle School Resident Teacher Program. Laurie and first-year teacher Kimberly Johnson share their journal entries with Education World readers in alternating weeks.

The Interstate New Teachers Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC) identified ten core standards that many states and universities use in the development of teacher candidates. At the University of North Dakota (UND), we introduce the standards at the beginning of the first education course, and they are the basis on which advanced studies and program portfolios are built. My Exploring Teaching students seem to easily understand and accept the standards and to understand and accept how their training will revolve around them.

I find that INTASC Standard 5 is the one that scares new teacher candidates most. Briefly, the standard addresses classroom motivation and management skills. That standard is the one Kim was struggling with in last week's journal entry and the one that takes up so much time in our secondary program's Teaching and Learning faculty sessions at UND. It is clear that we haven't yet figured out how to motivate people to learn ... if in fact, it is even possible to motivate someone else to want to learn.

I've realized one thing over the years, and I think Kim is recognizing the truth in this: Grades motivate only a small number of students. Grades do serve some purposes, as demonstrated by the fact that, despite much attention in the academic world, they're still around in almost all schools. For many students, however, they just don't work as a motivational force!

This past Friday was one of our Royal Activity Days at Valley. RAD is an exploratory afternoon, during which students choose from a variety of activities. The group I worked with spent the afternoon picking up litter in a neighborhood park; then they learned to play Frisbee golf there. It was a wonderful afternoon -- the first sunshine we'd seen in days. The kids gathered lots of trash and got to try a new leisure activity as well. All 16 students in my group participated eagerly. Several of the participants were students who don't turn in their English assignments -- providing a great example of the adage that "it takes all kinds to make the world"!

Kim ended her last journal entry by saying that she is not going to compromise her standards and allow students to earn good grades without learning much. I say "Good for her!" I hope she never does; that would be cheating her students of what they deserve. The challenge I want her to take with her to her new job (Yes, she's accepted one ... I'm sure she'll tell you about it in her next entry!) is to learn what motivates those kids who aren't motivated by grades and to build that into her classes as well. How can she make learning English as interesting as picking up trash to some kids? Now there's an interesting challenge!

Click here for biographical information and previous entries.

Article by Laurie Stenehjem
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