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All Posts. Young adolescents need to trust that teachers won't humiliate them or let them humiliate themselves. Think back to the stomach-turning fear you felt at age 13—fear that others might find you were out of your league in school and life.
Most middle schoolers feel that. Building relationships with students, proving daily that risk taking is safe in your class, can dissolve those fears and replace them with courage. So if JoJo says something incorrect, instead of pointing out his error, ask him to tell the class more about his point of view. It's possible that as he does so, he'll recognize the error of his thinking. Or declare that JoJo's answer is the answer to the question you were going to ask later in the lesson.
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Of course, you weren't going to, but now you will, because JoJo needs a win. Or tell him the answer is wrong but affirm his risk taking, thanking him for giving the class something to chew on. You might even change a student's reality by saying, "If you did know, what words would come out of your mouth? Young adolescents intensely value teachers' opinions of them. They'll move mountains for teachers who they sense respect them. And because middle schoolers aren't sure what to make of their growing awareness that heretofore-infallible adults can be wrong or hypocritical, they gravitate toward adults whose words match their actions.
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Teacher-student relationships shouldn't be left to chance, especially when students are struggling. When a middle-level student feels that we think of him as just one more paper to grade, he finds little incentive to do well beyond avoiding his parent's wrath. Even one stable relationship with an adult can make the difference. The single most motivating practice teachers can employ in the middle-level classroom is to teach in developmentally appropriate ways.
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The best middle-level teachers understand the unique nature of young adolescents. They can point to specific experiences in their lessons that are appropriate for to year-olds. The first stop in getting up to speed on developmentally appropriate learning experiences is the Association for Middle Level Education's list of 16 characteristics of successful schools.
The association offers resources on specific motivational techniques, such as ways to forge meaningful connections among subjects, create teacher advisory programs, and incorporate authentic assessments. I can't overemphasize the need to provide a path to learning that's sensitive to students' developmental stages. When asked which teachers motivate them, young adolescents immediately mention teachers who "get" them; who accept them unconditionally mistakes and all ; and who empathize with them as if remembering what it was like to experience certain concepts for the first time.
Teachers tuned to young adolescents' learning preferences also. Incorporate social interaction into any engagement with content; such interactions provide opportunities for content-related conversations, online class discussions, debates, or collaborative inquiry. Switch activities every 10 to 15 minutes to maintain momentum. Help students recover from bad decisions and failure. Teach each topic in more than one way. Show enthusiasm about their subject, even after teaching it for years. Offer regular opportunities for self-definition; encourage students to incorporate their own culture into assignments or to develop a unique voice for class presentations.
Middle school students are thinking, "Am I normal?
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How am I doing? How do I know when I know this stuff? So it's important that students have a clear picture of any academic goal and of where they are at any moment in relation to that goal. Only timely, descriptive feedback helps kids get that picture. Motivational teachers provide many exemplars, formative feedback, and opportunities for students to self-assess.
Many teachers falsely assume that judgment and evaluation spur students on. For a student to wrestle with a paper for weeks in full blood, sweat, and tears mode and not get at least a comment about her clever analogy between a basketball referee and the body's limbic system, or how well he incorporated the teacher's advice on this final draft, is very deflating.
If she's given zero feedback, a kid may not want to repeat in her next performance whatever it was that succeeded in this one—nor will she invest in the class. Feedback-focused teachers recognize the power of allowing students to redo their assessments and assignments in light of specific teacher feedback. Absent the option to redo an assessment, descriptive feedback is a frustrating exercise in what could have been. Teachers who hesitate to offer redos because they think their students won't learn responsibility or be motivated to do well in initial attempts are misguided.
If an F on a project really motivated students to work harder, we'd have a lot more motivated students. The perform—feedback—revise—perform—feedback—revise cycle is not only motivating to young adolescents, but it also prepares them better for high school, college, and the working world. As teachers, we have to cultivate expertise in how the mind learns.
Motivating Young Adolescents
This will elevate the content's importance and move it to long-term memory.
Young adolescents crave structure and patterns. Let's reveal patterns in texts and fields of study—for example, by teaching students Latin word roots so they can decode new words independently. Young adolescents respond well to thematic instruction and integrated curriculum. Making connections among fine and performing arts, with math, social studies, foreign languages, and so on makes these subjects come to life.
Motivation flourishes as students apply skills taught in one class to tasks done in another class. They will discover that scholars do quantitative and qualitative analysis in both science and poetry units and that people interpret data visually in every subject. The key to solid learning, though, is for students to make these connections themselves, not just be told about them.
Teaching young adolescents skills that build executive function is invaluable. So is teaching them about proper diet, exercise, and adequate sleep. Young adolescents are like first-time visitors to an esoteric sculpture museum who don't understand why everyone's so impressed with a particular piece of art. Without the backstory, learners are trapped behind walls of indifference.