Category Archives: motivation

Creating Inviting Learning Spaces on a Budget

building1I had the pleasure of touring a K-9 elementary school in Victoria, Australia two weeks ago. The story behind this school coming together is an amazing testament to dealing with construction delays, the enthusiasm of faculty, and dedication to creating an inviting place to learn.

Due to construction delays, the school used portables that had been stored in Australia’s desert. According to others, they arrived bearing a frightful green hue. The staff also had concerns about students having to walk through mud and without shelter during Victoria’s rainy winters.

Therefore, the portables were painted a lovely slate gray hue, a deck was built to connect the buildings and to provide a raised platform for walking. Sailcloth was attached to poles to create shelter. The result is absolutely beautiful. I arrived as students and parents were just getting to school and I watched people – young and old – literally bounce with enthusiasm as they entered the space.

I have long been a fan of Apartment Therapy’s blog, fascinated by the existence of an entire industry that uses know-how, paint, and hardware to transform mundane walls and furniture into gorgeous, one-of-a-kind treasures. (See this Before & After post as an example.)

Which gets me to thinking…what if there were sort of an “Apartment Therapy” for learning environments? What if we took this type of know-how and applied it to run-down school buildings that have seen better days? Or to those mass-produced, uninspiring cinderblock cells that were de rigueur in the 1970s? Provided more natural light and plants? What if we created spaces that were so beautiful and inspiring, people couldn’t wait to walk through our doors?

building2

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Research on Student Motivation

When I talk with educators about the importance of using modern tools in the classroom, student motivation is often one of my top reasons for implementing 21st century tools. I stress that school should be at least as exciting for students as their “other” world in which they constantly communicate with peers, have access to multimedia-rich games and movies, and can quickly look up information they need. When students walk into buildings that have changed little since the 1990s, they must at times feel as though they are entering a museum of historical relics rather than a place where exciting discoveries and conversations can happen.

In What Works in Schools , Marzano (2003) outlines five lines of research on student motivation. As I read, I began wondering how this research aligns with 21st century learning skills and environments as outlined by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.

Five lines of research on student motivation:

  1. Drive theory – Students are either driven by striving for success or fear of failure. As students move through their K-12 years, they develop a strong tendencies to be either success oriented or failure avoidant. Those who are success oriented are motivated to conquer new tasks. Students who are failure avoidant may develop self-handicapping strategies.
  2. Attribution theory – Students attribute success to ability, luck, effort, and task difficulty. Since the only one of these that a student truly has control over is effort, it is paramount that teachers help students to understand the importance of effort and its affect on achievement. Students are capable of developing “learned helplessness,” yet they are equally capable of developing “learned optimism.”
  3. Self-worth theory is based on the premise that self-acceptance is one of our highest priorities as humans. In this theory, accomplishments  play a large part in determining self-worth. Those students who put forth much effort but gain little accomplishment can quickly have diminished self-worth if their effort is not rewarded.
  4. Emotions play a large role in human motivation. They can sometimes override our rational and/or cognitive thought.
  5. Self-system – Here, Marzano cited the work of Csikszentmihalyi and Maslow, in that for students to reach self-actualization (Maslow’s highest level) or “flow experiences” (Csikszentmihalyi), students need:
    1. freedom to set clear, meaningful, individual goals
    2. resources so that student can become immersed in the work necessary to carry out goals
    3. self-awareness in the student of how well he or she is progressing and making adjustments as necessary
    4. enjoying short-term successes while keeping the overarching long-term goals in mind

#2 under self-system caught my attention: “resources so that the student can become immersed.” For me, this includes books and encyclopedias as well as real-time access to information, tools that allow students to collaborate, and interactive tools to help students learn and master basic skills. Let’s face it; when was the last time you became immersed in an overhead or PowerPoint presentation?

Based on these five ideas on student motivation, Marzano outlines action steps for educators that can positively impact student motivation: (Italics are my own)

  1. Provide students with feedback on their knowledge gain.
  2. Provide students with tasks and activities that are inherently engaging.
  3. Provide opportunities for students to construct and work on long-term projects of their own design.
  4. Teach students about the dynamics of motivation and how those dynamics affect them.

As I read this chapter on student motivation, I was struck by how some of these ideas echo some of the standards by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, particularly regarding Learning Environments, Life and Career Skills, and Creativity and Innovation.

21st century learning environments include games and activities that give students real-time feedback on their progress. These could be in the form of online tutorials, quizzes, and games or as a whole-class activity using clickers.

21st century learning environments, when equipped with multimedia-rich resources and opportunities for students to collaborate with peers and experts in the classroom and beyond, are inherently engaging to students, tapping into their own comfort in these settings and using tools they use in their social or home life (or would like to).

Finally, I find that when teachers create 21st century learning environments and truly integrate technology, their teaching style changes. They are no longer the experts who disseminate the information, but the guides for long-term projects, often designed by the students themselves.

Several months ago, I blogged about my observations while conducting a technology audit. It was amazing to me how obvious it was how technology impacted student engagement. I found myself wondering if these teachers ever observe each other to see the differences.

Are there other correlations (or dichotomies) that I haven’t included here? In thinking about your own experiences, either as teachers, facilitators, administrators, etc., what evidence have you seen that 21st century learning environments have an impact on student engagement?