Fostering Student Motivation or Keepin’ It Real
My blog project is focused on approaches to fostering reading motivation through guided student inquiry and multimedia approaches. My goal is to better understand some of the field-level dialogue, best-practices and theories on motivation and inquiry and to expand my current repertoire of related class room practices and assignments, e.g., avoiding student boredom, and resultant lack of success.
For this blog, I looked at classroom strategies designed for students of diverse “conceptual levels” in Dawson R. Hancock’s Influencing Postsecondary Students’ Motivation to Learn in the Classroom. Hancock did a study published in College Teaching by that looks as highly structured versus unstructured classrooms and their impact on student motivation. Hancock argues that conceptual levels are a personality variable that can be used to design classroom activities that fit individual student needs in postsecondary settings. Hancock defines conceptual levels as a “learner’s ability to discriminate, differentiate, and integrate information.” Low conceptual level students have “relatively few cognitive structures and tend to minimize or avoid ambiguity.” High conceptual level students are “structurally more complex and use alternative thinking processes.” In other words, low conceptual level students think concretely and high conceptual level students think more abstractly.
You see where this is going, right? How do you as a teacher effectively organize a classroom to engage both levels of thinkers?
Hancock looks how high and low class structure affects motivation. Structure in this case is defined as directive versus non-directive teacher strategies. I think most of us can understand this from personal teaching or tutoring experiences. For students that quickly begin to generate multiple and abstract ways of thinking about a topic, as an instructor, you usually just want to facilitate the student’s own self-directed inquiry, right? Perhaps help them with organization or resources, but not a lot of direction on how to approach their topic. They’ve got it and they are on their way. For students I have worked with that tend to think more concretely, I do in practice find myself offering more ways to think about a topic, suggesting activities that might broaden the student’s thinking. I also tend to be more directive around helping students think about how to approach the tasks.
Guess what? The study found that these two groups of students do indeed tend to do better if they are provided with structures that suit there conceptual level. High conceptual level students who were in classroom environments that allowed them to interpret and integrate materials were more motivate. And, you guessed it; low conceptual level students were more motivated when given more direct instruction.
Part of me gets a little concerned about using these data in inappropriate ways. I strenuously want to avoid a dumbed down, K-12 like approach for low conceptual level students. But, used constructively, I think this information is helpful. I think working with them in sort of a coaching approach, where you are facilitating them in developing the skills and habits that allow them to think with more complexity, while respecting their intelligence is effective. In other words, probably good not to throw them in the deep end.
Unfortunately, this article was not very helpful in terms of how to actually structure a classroom so that both groups are optimally treated. Hancock suggests that teachers learn as much as possible about the levels of students, and perhaps consider dividing the class into groups. I don’t particularly like this idea. I am more inclined to try and conference with students as much as possible to try and meet individual needs. More work to be done in thinking classroom processes through here! How do you individualize this?