The Motivation Equation

Screen Shot 2013-07-11 at 2.11.26 PMThe upcoming new ibook by Kathleen Cushman, “The Motivation Equation,” stands to expand on her pioneering work in leveraging students’ voices in shaping learning environments, pedagogical practices, and transforming how we talk about learning. And thank goodness.

Often missing from our education discourse is, ironically, the most important element of our education system: the learners.

In this newest endeavor (you can read an early release of the book for a limited time here), Kathleen seeks to provide information on “designing lessons that set minds free.” QED’s Chief Education Officer, Kim Carter, had this to say after reading the book:

Motivation is the holy grail of learning. Who doesn’t believe if learners are motivated, they have a much greater likelihood of successful learning?  From the Introduction’s explanation that “motivation is not something you have at the start” to its Appendices packed with additional resources, The Motivation Equation is brilliant on so many levels.  Let me name four:

  1. Kathleen’s synthesis of the essential mind, brain and education science related to motivation into 8 steps or conditions is mind-bogglingly clear.
  2. More importantly, the 8 steps are readily accessible and practical.
  3. The Motivation Equation is rich with student voices – offering a “unique ‘trialogue’ among students, teachers, and learning scientists” – which anchor the steps and the research in familiar realities.
  4. The Motivation Equation is the best (ever) use of the e-book medium that I have seen to date. Unerring integration of sound and video clips, call-out boxes for brief bios and research notes, links to additional resources, survey templates, and protocols for engaging learners in exploring their own motivation represent a treasure trove of value-added resources.

Still need convincing to check it out? Visit WKCD‘s new website, How Youth Learn, for research highlights and videos of student voices.

Narrowing in on the Learner

Do you want to ….

  1. Boost your students’ self esteem?
  2. Keep them engaged?
  3. Have an alternative to testing your students to death?
  4. More specifically support their needs?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions read the infographic below which is all about competency based learning.

Competency-Education-Infographic
Source: Digital Learning Now 

How Youth Learn: Ned’s GR8 8

This video needs no introduction. Just watch it and then file it under — “When Student Voices Align With Research From the Science of Learning.”

Racing to the Top and Leaving the Impoverished at the Bottom

dollar eyePoverty cripples societal advancement. When prevalent in the richest nation in the world, it becomes mindboggling. Why are so many individuals struggling under the weight of poverty in America? Why is nearly 1 in every 4 children considered impoverished in this land of Race to the Top? Are we racing to the top of the wrong metric?

 My hat goes off to the many families who are pushing their children to aim higher than the constraints of their impoverished surroundings. As members in a society, we share their challenges too, even if we turn a blind eye.

During an interview with CNN, actor Jeff Bridges and “Share our Strength” founder Bill Shore, express why poverty, child poverty specifically, is our responsibility; “If we’re not taking care of our kids, we’re not taking care of our country. If another country was doing this to our kids, we’d be at war.”

relative-child-povertyIn a post titled, “Map: How 35 Countries Compare on Child Poverty,” the Washington Post reports, “A new report by the United Nations Children’s Fund, on the well-being of children in 35 developed nations, turned up some alarming statistics about child poverty. More than one in five American children fall below a relative poverty line.” Out of the 35 countries examined, America ranked 34th.

Mind you, In this study, UNICEF is using its own “poverty line.” Internationally, poverty is defined as families living on less than $1.25 or $2.00 per day, and as much as we grumble about how little we are paid, no gainfully and legally employed American is limited to these lowly amounts. (But in the shadows? That’s another story.) In America, poverty is defined as families living on less than about $22,000 per year.

Because of such huge gaps between developed countries’ internal economies, UNICEF instead measures how much poorer children are from their country’s national average.

“The UNICEF report looks at something it calls the ‘child poverty gap,’ which measures how far the average poor child falls below the relative poverty line. It does this by measuring the gap between the relative poverty line and the average income of poor families.”

Again, from the Post, “The picture (in the U.S.) looks even worse when you examine just how far below the relative poverty line these children tend to fall.”

What are we doing, America? And what should we be doing more of?

Eric Jensons, “Teaching with Poverty in Mind” provides insight into the weight of these children’s challenges. He highlights four major risk factors that, because of economic hardship, burden the developing child and hamper student achievement.

E = Emotional and Social Challenges

A = Acute and Chronic Stress

C = Cognitive Lags

H = Health and Safety Issues

This may explain why many of our students coming from lower socioeconomic backgrounds experience difficulties performing in their classrooms. Unfortunately the direction educational policy is headed (as well meaning as it may be) is unjust, unequal, and unapologetic for learners outside of more affluent communities. If a student doesn’t make the mark, they are tracked to remediation or retention in attempts to correct their academic deficits rather than build on their strengths!

Show me a dropout who complained about not getting tested enough, and I’ll show a dropout that never dropped out. The truth is, how often do we hear about students dropping out because they felt the system spent too little time focused on their deficits? How many were exasperated with the focus on their strengths? Is this “leave no deficits behind” approach really attending to their needs and cultivating their interests? Clearly not.

However, while schools, school systems, and educational policy makers can play a role in transforming practices to meet the needs of these learners, we as a larger society have a role to play as well. We, the people, need to stand up to demand that the promissory note that MLK, Jr. referred to way back in ‘63 be delivered upon, because it is clear that we are, as a nation, are still defaulting on that promise.

Again, from the Post: “The poor U.S. showing in this data may reflect growing income inequality. According to one metric of inequality, a statistical measurement called the gini coefficient, the U.S. economy is one of the most unequal in the developed world.”

(What would MLK have to say about that, I wonder?)

Until such time that we fully, tactically and strategically engage in the war on poverty, we must focus where we can — on the students, children, and learners in our charge. Their voice, their dreams, their empowerment must be our first and foremost goal.  But how?

The 2007 Dispelling the Myth Award winners, Osmond A. Church P.S./M.S. 124 K-8 School, have done a remarkable job in breaking down those barriers.  Recognized for significantly raising students academic achievement, their dedication to these young minds is reflected in their success. With an enrollment total of about 1,227 students; 97% are low-income, 33% African American, 44% Asian and 21% are Hispanic, educators were able to provoke a lasting change. What once had dismissed this school, because of their high achievers awarded them much acclaim. Perhaps this school’s mission is responsible for their turnaround; “to inculcate all members of the school community with an understanding and acceptance of diversity, fostering individuality and creativity, where high expectations are the norm for all students.”

Yet we know a well crafted mission isn’t enough. Without the leadership and vision to pursue it relentlessly, such a mission is an empty platitude rather than a way out of poverty. If we want to actualize the talking point that education is a pathway out of poverty we must focus on four things:

1. Leadership.

2. Equity.

3. Cradle to college rap-around services.

4. Sustaining educator engagement.

And even these offer no guarantees without a larger effort to break the status quo of inequality. And judging by where we fall in a comparison of developed nations, our leaders seem abysmally disinterested in racing to the top of that metric.

So, for now, education offers our best hope for affecting change and breaking the predictive cycle of race, class, and gender on educational outcomes. So, bring along your copy of Jenson’s work and lets get to work.

Photo Credit: kevin dooley via Compfight cc
Graph: WashingtonPost

Year at Mission Hill, Chapter 10: The Freedom to Teach

missionhill

This chapter opens with the voices of alumni, looking back on their experiences as students of Mission Hill and distilling the wisdom they gained from it. A short collection of the alumni voices below:

I learned how to be a critical thinker. I learned how to play off my strengths. . .

I had teachers who were here to care for me, to make sure I was able to take of myself and to learn.

When you feel respected and you respect them, it is so much harder to not try and to just think that something is not important . . .

. . . constantly putting myself in somebody else’s shoes. Questioning things.

Deborah Meier, founder of Mission Hill, shares her perspective on issues shaping education today,

I think what we are facing in America today and around the world is not a crisis of education, but a crisis of faith, respect for democracy, which rests on having respect for the judgement of ordinary people.

In response to this, Mission Hill gives respect to the process, not just the product — discourse, listening, communicating, and providing students and teachers an authentic and empowered voice in the school.

Challenging this actualization of their mission in action? Race to the Top and the race to test, test, test students. This process limits the flexibility of teachers to attend and respond to the nuanced needs, interests, strengths of the individual students.

Again, Deborah Meier,

The whole point of an education is to help you learn to exercise judgement, and you can’t do that if the expert adults in your school are not allowed to exercise theirs.

Year at Mission Hill, Chapter 9: Seeing the Learning

missionhill

“How do we know what students are learning?” So opens the narration of chapter 9, “Seeing the Learning.”

Rather than simply reply on summative test scores to communicate whether or not students have “achieved,” the educators at Mission Hill create exhibitions in which students must present and defend their learning to a committee of teachers and peers. The complexity of learning necessary to pull of such a feat is no small matter. But more importantly, look at the students as they go through this process — they have worked hard, they know it, and you can practically savor the satisfaction they will feel on the other side of the experience.

This is assessment AS learning, a process that is immensely valuable to the most important person in education — the student. Check it out. You’ll be moved.

Year at Mission Hill Chapter 8: The World of Work

missionhillThis chapter, “The World of Work,” offers a look at applying a school-wide theme through integrated projects. Teachers organize opportunities for authentic experiences based on the ideas and recommendations of the kids in an effort to allow students to “see their ideas actualized.” This practice for building student agency works because it helps them develop confidence in the value of their own ideas.

Designing and implementing such learning experiences also changes the relationship of the educator with her/his own work. Rather than simply attending to the scope and sequence of a curriculum, she/he must first and foremost attend to the needs, interests, and passions of the students. By finding ways of connecting those with activities and experiences that build the learners’ skills and understandings about the world, the “work” of the educator is more dynamic, responsive, and professional.

(Make sure you see the final product of the project the older students are working on!)

5 Characteristics of Learner-Centered Teaching

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Maryellen Weimer (whose bio includes: Penn State Professor Emeritus of Teaching and Learning and Editor-in-chief of Teaching Professor) addresses the wide spread use of the term “learner-centered” in her post, “Five Characteristics of Learner-Centered Teaching” on The Teaching Professor Blog at Faculty Focus. At the heart of her concern is this: “With widespread use comes a certain definitional looseness.”

To help tighten up the definition, she offers five clarifying characteristics, quoted below with a single descriptor pulled from her explanations. For more fully fleshed out descriptions, visit her original post, or better yet, check out her book, “Learner-Centered Teaching.”

1. Learner-centered teaching engages students in the hard, messy work of learning.

On any given day, in most classes teachers are working much harder than students.

2. Learner-centered teaching includes explicit skill instruction.

Learner-centered teachers teach students how to think, solve problems, evaluate evidence, analyze arguments, generate hypotheses—all those learning skills essential to mastering material in the discipline.

3. Learner-centered teaching encourages students to reflect on what they are learning and how they are learning it. 

They challenge student assumptions about learning and encourage them to accept responsibility for decisions they make about learning; like how they study for exams, when they do assigned reading, whether they revise their writing or check their answers.

4. Learner-centered teaching motivates students by giving them some control over learning processes.

Learner-centered teachers search out ethically responsible ways to share power with students.

5. Learner-centered teaching encourages collaboration.

Learner-centered teachers work to develop structures that promote shared commitments to learning.

It is pretty easy to see how these core characteristics can apply to any age learner — be they kindergarteners or faculty in a school system. If we want our educators to be learning models for students, we would do well to employ some of these characteristics at all levels of learning.

Photo Credit: © 2006-2013 Pink Sherbet Photography via Compfight cc

Year at Mission Hill, Chapter 7: Behind the Scenes

missionhill

Chapter 7 of this fantastic series delves into the fuel that keeps the fire going — questioning everything in relation to the whole child:

  • Asking for help.
  • Inquiry to inspire students’ voice.
  • Shared inquiry about students.

Building a community of curiosity, which changes teachers’ perspectives on teaching, learning, and their own empowerment as educators, empowerment they then pass on to students.

Such a paradigm shift or “mindset switch” is vitally important to sustaining transformational learning.

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18 Myths of Education (Infographic)

Below is a provocative infographic from Open Colleges, an online university in Australia.

What do you think about these? Agree? Disagree? Little bit of both? Share your thoughts in the comments.

<img alt="" src="http://informed.s3.amazonaws.com/informed/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/600px_final the original source.jpg” />

An Infographic by Open Colleges

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