Recently, as part of our Lighthouse Educator Workshop Series, we have focused on the key components of successful educational therapy. After determining what “success” looks like in our students, we generated the key components that the student and the therapist bring to the process of educational therapy that are the best predictors of a successful outcome.
In October, we met as a team, at our educational therapy clinic in Ojai, to discuss one of these key components- the importance of possessing a growth mindset. In November, we explored some of the language that we can use to inspire this mindset in our students. We discovered that solution-focused language focuses on positive expectations for the future rather than problems of the past and automatically invites clients into a growth mindset. Therefore, as educational therapists, we determined that we should work to ensure this language becomes a natural part of our communication with students and families.
This month, our focus is on another key component of successful educational therapy- motivation. In order for educational therapy to be successful, we need students to be motivated to participate in the process. This is essential because the student who is motivated is engaged and eager. The student who feels that his or her efforts will not yield positive results may be cooperative, but will certainly progress more slowly than the motivated student. While I have sometimes heard teachers and parents declare that a student is simply “lazy,” I have never believed this to be true. I believe that all students are innately propelled towards achieving but that they sometimes are hindered by barriers. These barriers might be cognitive, emotional, sensory, or social, but students do not choose to fail. It is up to us, as educators, to identify and remove those barriers to success. It is up to us to motivate our students! So how do we motivate them? Several ideas come to mind.
First, as previously discussed, we must help our students to embrace a growth mindset. We set the climate by explaining what we will be doing throughout our daily sessions and why we are doing so.
- “Your assessment results show” or “You told me that reading comprehension is really challenging for you. We are going to work each day on helping you visualize text so that reading becomes easier and more enjoyable and you can better understand the information.”
When we set the climate, we let the student know that we expect growth and progress. We can also use this opportunity to share information about brain research that demonstrates which parts of their brains need to be stimulated and how the tasks we present are designed to engage those areas of the brain. Furthermore, throughout their time with us, we keep students informed of our observations about their growing skills, talk about the next steps, and make decisions with the students on when they are ready for more challenge.
- “What has gotten easier for you? What still feels challenging?”
- “Wow! That summary was awesome! I remember just two weeks ago, this task was challenging for you!”
- “Do you feel ready to move up a level, or do you want to stick to this level for the next story?”
These conversations inspire that essential growth mindset. But sometimes, we need to do more. As a result of learning or language disorders, our students may have experienced years of challenge, misunderstanding, criticism, and embarrassment. They may not be motivated or excited to be pulled out of class or spend time after school to work with yet another tutor only to continue to experience failure. What do we do then?
PACING for SUCCESS
A strong motivator, for many people, is the feeling that comes with overcoming a challenge and experiencing success. Therefore, as educators we must scaffold tasks so that they are always in a student’s instructional range. If a task is deemed too easy, there is no gratification in succeeding. If a task is too difficult, all a student experiences is frustration. Ensuring that there is enough challenge, but not too much, is the job of a skillful educator. We are fortunate that, as educational therapists, we are not on a clock, trying to complete a specific curriculum in a given amount of time. We can move at the pace of the student so that he or she experiences challenge and success every step of the way!
While there is some reluctance on the part of many parents and educators to use extrinsic rewards as a motivator, they can be a very useful tool with our particular population of students. Research has demonstrated that extrinsic rewards can diminish intrinsic motivation to perform a task; however, for many of our students, there is no intrinsic motivation to perform tasks related to an area of real difficulty. The intrinsic motivation to engage in academic tasks often comes from previous feelings of success, and many of our students have experienced quite the opposite. Therefore, we often use motivators like beads and prizes to keep students on task and using their time productively. As they experience success, their excitement for the tasks grows. It is an exciting transition to see a student go from asking how many beads a response is worth to enthusiastically working through several tasks with no mention of an external reward. A high five and a new feeling of accomplishment become the reward!
Many students have a competitive streak that an instructor can tap into. If success with a task is within reach, but just barely, the extra push provided by a competitive spirit (grounded in fun) may be just what is needed.
- “I’m not sure you’re quite ready for this, but let’s give it a try!”
- “This is very challenging for a lot of students but I want to see how you do with it.”
- “Let’s see if you can beat your last time on this reread!”
In group situations, the opportunity for a student to support another student who is struggling with something that he or she has already mastered can be very rewarding. Additionally, the opportunity to get support from someone who once struggled with the same challenges is motivating as well. Using peers to motivate one another can be extremely useful. Because of the growth mindset that we establish from the start, we do not avoid discussing areas of challenge with our students. We bring difficulties to light and plan ways of addressing them. Therefore, students are encouraged to share their challenges and successes with one another and we facilitate that dialogue whenever possible.
HONESTY and RESPECT
I have never met a student who did not respond to honest feedback. Students know when they are being coddled or when an adult is avoiding an issue. I have found that students of all ages respond to honesty, as long as it is given with understanding and a sense of optimism. I ask that my instructors always make a point of mentioning an area where they see a student could improve his or her skills. Be honest, set boundaries, clarify expectations, express pride or disappointment in a student’s behavior, but always do it with an indication that the student is growing, or will grow, towards the goals that have been established.
FUN and HUMOR
When educators respect students and are enjoying their work, chances are, the students are enjoying themselves as well. This respect for the students and enjoyment in teaching them translates to students’ motivation to engage and give their best effort. Laughter, silliness, and general fun are an expected part of intervention sessions at Lighthouse!
Used honestly and at appropriate times, any and all of these strategies can act as successful motivators. Knowing and understanding our students helps us to anticipate which types of motivators are needed in a given moment. Please consider the strategies above and share your experiences successfully motivating a student!