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3 Lessons on Student Motivation and Deeper Learning

In this installment of our continuing series highlighting strategies proposed by leading authors, read about the importance of cultural shifts within a school, and how they can improve motivation and learning. Sometimes the simplest of adjustments can lead to profound shifts.

Read below as educator-authors share lessons about school and classroom shifts that can improve student success:

1. Simple changes can lead to big results

Eric Kalenze, author of What the Academy Taught Us: Improving schools from the bottom-up in a top-down transformation era

“Regarding the psychology of building up the culture, I use an example because it’s a good way to illustrate. We were having behavior and discipline issues in our hallways and decided that we needed to keep the hallways clear. We banned locker passes. It seems like a small thing, but kids have to go to their lockers when they forget something. That was now off the table. Many teachers would say, ‘I just can’t do that.’ But we had a dual goal going on: to get fewer kids in the hallways unsupervised where inevitably bad things happen while naturally encouraging kids to arrive prepared.

It did that. Not everybody believed it would ─ they thought it was an awfully simple fix. It’s not as sexy as a one-to-one iPad initiative, but when you start to have an entire building saying, ‘Nope, you’ve got to come prepared,’ and that’s your job and there’s enough passing time and put it on the kids [it works]. The kids rose to the challenge, which converted the skeptics. The teachers rose to the challenge and said things like, ‘I might not be able to beat that hard line. Maybe I’ll create a storage space where they can always have their materials for my class.’ They were coming up with innovations within the direction. Then, you start to see people go, ‘Yes, we can uphold this.’ 100% of our kids were showing up prepared. This very simple action that converted their psychology and they were doing it as learners.”

Listen to the full interview with Eric Kalenze: Driving Change from the Bottom-Up

2. Shifting the balance of discussion toward students leads to deeper thinking

Dr. Kulvarn Atwal, author of The Thinking School: Developing a Dynamic Learning Community

“[Unfortunately] we’re a very compliant culture. If I’m a team leader in a school, I may tell teachers what I want them to teach; and to ensure that they understand, I might check their planning. I go in and check their books and observe their lessons. What I’m doing is controlling as much as I possibly can. Eventually, what happens is that teachers stop bringing their brains to work. The established practices that teachers have engaged in for many years continue…”

If we imagine the balance of talk in the classroom moving away from the teacher more to the children, what we’ll find are children building on each other’s ideas in a chain of what we describe as ‘interthinking.’ In a dialogic thinking classroom, a teacher may ask a question as a prompt. One child may answer. The teacher may then choose to ask that same child another question or to justify the response, so they think more deeply about what they’re saying.”

Listen to the full interview with Dr. Kulvarn Atwal: What Is a Thinking School?

3. Values and culture lead to resilient, motivated learners

Katharine Birbalsingh, author of Michaela: The Power of Culture

“We teach the children gratitude. Our values are very different, and that is what the book [Michaela: The Power of Culture] is about. It’s about school values, the ethos, and the culture at school, which is very different. 

I think it’s hugely important to what shapes a school and makes it what it is. We have been very successful with these children. In Progress 8, which in England is the way the schools are judged nationally, we came fifth in the country last year with our GCSE exams. We’re doing well. We do well by children who would, otherwise, perhaps not have such a great chance in life.

It’s about the culture of the school and how we get the children to be motivated and resilient and determined. We get teachers from across the country and the world ─ from America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe [who] say, ‘How come the children are so engaged? How come they’re so ambitious? How come they’re so curious?’ It’s really hard to explain because they do not go to a curiosity or self-esteem class. That isn’t how those achievements are made. They’re created when you are immersed in a particular kind of culture.”

Listen to the full interview with Katharine Birbalsingh: Building a School on the Power of Culture

Find books written by these authors and many more leading educators and experts by visiting us.johncattbookshop.com

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