Motivation (Part I)

Last week I was in a history class.  It was the teacher’s prep, but there were students working to put final touches on their presentations which were due later in the day.  Out of the blue, this conversation ensued:

“I’ve got to start all over!” a student shouted.

The teacher smiled and said, “What do you mean?”

“Look at theirs!  It’s so much better than ours! That’s it, I’m going to start over.”

“It’s due later today, it’s fine.  You did a good job too.”

The student rolled her eyes.  “I can make it better.”

The teacher smiled again and said, “You don’t have time.”

And here’s the kicker . . . the student said:

Sure I do.  I’ll work on this during English instead of my rough draft.  I’ll lose the hundred points since my rough draft won’t be in on time, but that doesn’t matter.  At least this will be good, though.

The teacher shook his head again and said, “Don’t do that.  You’ll be fine.”  Although I didn’t look at their writing projects (each group wrote a newspaper to share information with the rest of the class), I’m sure the teacher was right.  Their work looked solid. 

That’s when this question began haunting me:

What makes the writing project in U.S. History so much more important to this student than the writing project in English?

Here are some of the thoughts that have been bouncing around my brain about this:

  • The audience played a crucial role.  In history, the audience was the entire class; in English the audience was the teacher.  I think this made a difference.
  • Attaching a large number of points to a writing project is not enough to motivate a student to get it done . . . especially when there is another project with a more pressing audience.
  • I’ve not valued a classroom of peers as an authentic audience like I should.
  • I’m sure this student is a “good student.”  At first, I used this to brush off her statement about losing the points in English. I figured she was simply overzealous.  However, this didn’t give me solace.  If the “good students” are willing to brush off an English writing project, what about everyone else? 
  • I wonder how the teacher placed so much value on an audience of a classroom full of peers.  I’m curious about the kind of teaching that led up to the final projects.  I’ll need to ask him.

What are your thoughts about this?  Leave a comment and let me know.  I’ll be back tonight (probably late) for Part II of this post.  Until then, happy teaching.