Student Motivation – Big Picture Thinking

What is the number one complaint I hear as a teacher? I wish I knew how to motivate my child. I hear this over and over and can share in their frustration as a parent and a teacher; therefore, this month’s blogs are dedicated to student motivation. While I don’t have all of the answers, I do think I have some insight after years spent in the classroom and my recent cohort dedicated to studying Generation Y.

birds eye view

One of the best ways to motivate students is to clearly communicate to students why the work they are doing matters and how they are going to benefit from the work they’re doing. Too many times, students are given tasks to do without explanation – write this essay, clean your room, complete these addition facts, practice your scales. However, when children or students often lack the motivation to do the task, we just bark out “do this because I said so” instead of seizing the opportunity to help them see the big picture. So much of education has become about the test and parenting about compliance that we miss chances to show the benefit of activities. Write this essay (good communicators get better jobs), clean your room (you need to be a good steward of what God has given you), complete these addition facts (well, this may not be the best example), practice your scales (this exercise will make you a great sight reader).

One of the trends in education now is to have essential questions or student learning objectives posted which serve as a student guide to stay big picture focused. Every activity in the classroom should point back to the essential question. I like this and wonder if parents can learn from educators by writing essential questions or student learning objectives for parenting. Scott and I have  a 5 year plan for Brooke (that’s how much longer she’s in our home) with overall objectives for each year and specific activities to reinforce these objectives. We continually want to be big picture focused. In the classroom, I am continually framing daily activities within the big picture so my students understand the purpose. (On a side note, don’t give busy work if you’re a teacher). 

In parenting and teaching I love to think of looking at situations through a bird’s eye view and through the lens of a microscope. Sometimes I need to focus myself (or my student) from a bird’s eye view – back up, look at the whole, put this in perspective. Other times I need to focus myself (or my child) on looking through the microscope lens and fine tune skills. It’s not an either/or but a both/and. Think Google Earth here – zoom out, zoom in. I believe once parents and teachers learn the balance between the two and can move back and forth between these two, student motivation becomes less of a problem.

Which is easier – big picture thinking or zooming in?

If you’re looking for a great read on motivation, try Drive: The Surprising Truth that Motivates Us by Daniel Pink

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