Each year, I challenge myself to find some new way to improve my instructional methods, as well as to motivate my students. One of the challenges I have discovered in this constant self-development, however, has been that I neglect the MOST important part in all of it: the learners.
At least once during the semester I share with my students a very emotionally-driven part of my past: weight has been an ongoing struggle with me since childhood. Last year, I made strides I never anticipated, and was down to my lowest weight since the earliest part of my college career. Despite being told by health-conscious individuals and championed by friends, my weight loss started and ended with my own desire to accomplish it. This year, I rebounded slightly, and am working to get the regained weight off for good.
This is the primary connection between my experience with weight and my students: if it doesn’t matter to you, you won’t do it. My learning goals for students are NOT their own goals. That’s been proven to me time and again, and as a result, students frequently don’t learn what I hope they will from the course. This year, I am making a change to my course that will (hopefully) allow the learners to take center stage.
In small groups, students set goals for their learning prior to starting each unit. This offers a few important benefits:
- It fosters within learners ownership of their education (because the learners set the goal, THEY own it)
- It promotes camaraderie among students by forcing them to interact (it is a communication class!!!)
- It cultivates individual and group accountability (they share the group’s goal with each other and the class)
- It encourages students to make SMART goals (you can find lots of resources on this strategy online)
- It advances planning skills (they are required to make a plan of action for each chapter in the unit)
Many of the groups have chosen goals directly tied to grades (such as a group average grade for the unit). I’m okay with that for now, but I would like them to develop more complex goals as we progress through more units. Grades are an external motivator, which can be helpful, but without some internal motivation, some “fire in the belly,” it’s difficult to make the goals stick long-term.