Try and Make Me! Motivating Young Learners

How do good teachers get children to believe that learning is its own reward? Since 1959 University of Wisconsin professor Martin Haberman has observed and analyzed the behavior of very effective teachers working with children in urban poverty.

Successful teachers, he concludes, care most of all about knowing children well so that they might find entry points into their learning. They deal with behavior problems not as “discipline” issues, but by working to find new ways to motivate and interest students. They measure their success by the degree of effort they inspire in students. They work with parents, rather than supervise, inform, or blame them. They stay away from letter grades, and shift the students explanation of success from “ability” to “effort” they use the class to set group norms of expected behavior and see punishments as a last resort, an indication that they have failed in their work of motivating students to learn.

In 1995 book Star Teachers of Children in Poverty, Haberman describes some e strategies such teachers use to create intrinsic motivation for learning. Ultimately students cannot be forced to learn he writes, and the game of teachers pretending otherwise is one that traditional teachers inevitably lose. In the classroom climate established by starts, learning is transformed from teacher assignments to “something we’re in together” They do this, he says, by:

Knowing that it will take time to win children over to an interest-based approach and arouse their natural curiosity and interest in learning. Beginning with some external rewards for class, group, and individual participation, but watching for kids to show interest in particular activities.

Using the problems children face every day in their neighborhoods as the basis for learning activities

Building on events in other classrooms and around the school to arouse students’ interest

Capitalizing on children’s interest in music, games, and popular heroes

Recognizing the outstanding talents of some children-such as singing, playing chess, programming computers, dancing, speaking another language, etc. will spur the interest of others

Modeling learning behavior by bringing their own interests to class: weaving,writing, construction, film making, etc.

Using individual leaders and the natural influence of groups and teams to follow-up activities

Raising questions-the answers to which the teachers do not know-that will spark the curiosity of children and spur them to investigate and explain to the teacher

Using real events-such as performance for parents, a class magazine, or the production of a school play or program as a focus for involving children

Spending countless hours listening to children tell about their activities out of school, to learn what their interests and talents might be

Meeting with parents to learn more abort a child’s current and potential activities

Conferring with other teachers, reading popular journals and searching for new ideas and strategies that will interest children in activities.

From Star Teachers of Children in Poverty, by Martin Haberman(Lafayette, Indiana, Kappa Delta Pi, 1995) Tel:  (800)284-3164  (800)284-3164