How to motivate the unmotivated?

Discussion in 'Secondary Education Archives' started by roamer, Apr 19, 2007.

  1. roamer

    roamer Companion

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    Apr 19, 2007

    I started to write a long laundry list of personal problems about my very bright but unmotivated 15 year old son, but I began to bore even myself. My professional experience is with elementary students and these quirky teenage years are baffling me.

    So, I'll ask a question that's simple to ask, but so far no one has been able to answer for me...How do you help motivate an unmotivated, but very capable, student?
     
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  3. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Apr 19, 2007

    Someone who comes up with a fail-proof solution for this could get very, very rich. I don't have one, but I'm happy to brainstorm with you.

    What is he into? What, if anything, does he notice in the news?
     
  4. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

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    Apr 20, 2007

    I also have no answer, but am curious. While my own children are motivated, my students are not motivated beyond completing the minimum (if that). I, too, will be watching this thread closely.
     
  5. JaimeMarie

    JaimeMarie Moderator

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    Apr 20, 2007

    I went and saw Rick Lavoie speak a few weeks ago. If you get a change you should go see him.
    Rick Lavoie

    May 15 Ashburn, VA 571-252-1011; 703-771-6765
     
  6. Counz2BLiz

    Counz2BLiz Rookie

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    Apr 20, 2007

    I am certainly no expert but I have been there as that teen. The one thing that motivated me more than anything was choices. I disliked others making decisions for me, I had a hard time with authority. As a parent now, I challenge my son, build on his strengths and provide relevance as to why he is doing what he is doing. I told my son if he brought his grades up that I would take him anywhere that is within reason, being only 10 he chose the Zoo he has 2 more B's to bring up to A's and he will have earned it. I tell him that he can do it but I have brainwashed him since he was little that he is smart of course he is but if he gets less than A's I tell him that he is cheating himself and that I know he can do better because he usually does.

    Pesonally I think teens lose their way in high school because they do not have a direction that they can relate the stuff they do in school with, that if I do A it will get me to Z and I can get into that College and it will give me what I need to get that job that earns $XYZ. It is even harder if they do not have a clue what they want to do, if that is the case then they need to be introduced to different careers. I would find eveyone I know and ask if your son can spend time checking out what they do, from Graphic Arts to CHef.

    I tend to think the ones that lose their way are highly intelligent and very artistic so it is either the arts, music or something they do with their hands, introduce him to graphic arts if that is the case and go from there. Considering I have no clue about his interest, start asking him, if he plays basketball, go out and play a game with him and start the conversation. Boys talk most when engaged in an activity they enjoy.

    Let me know if this works, I will be very curious to see how you do.
    Liz;)
     
  7. awaxler

    awaxler Comrade

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    Apr 20, 2007

    Do you mean how to motivate them in school?

    I teach 14 year-olds and this is the challenge I face everyday. In fact, student motivation is one of the key components in classroom management.

    It is important for teachers to spark student interest at the beginning of every lesson.

    Here are some of the things I do:
    1. Use critical thinking questions that don't necessarily have a right or wrong answer and have the student support their argument.
    (ex. Do you think President Truman was justifed in dropping the atomic bomb to end WWII? Why?)

    2. Use music to teach. (ex. I play the Bob Marley songs "Buffalo Soldier" and "Catch a Fire" before starting my lesson on the slave trade and the middle passage)

    3. Use video. Not whole movies, but clips from movies can do a great job in motivating students to want to learn more about the topic. I use video clips at the beginning of lessons rather than the end to spark interest. Hollywood movies are great for this, but you can also use unitedstreaming.com to download short clips from documentaries.

    4. Relate what students are learning to what is going on in the "real world". This is obviously easier done with some subjects than others, but can be done.

    5. Relate what students are learning to what is important to them.

    6. Use technology...or rather, have the student use technology to learn. Have them create podcasts, videos, web sites etc.

    Hope that helps. I know it can be difficult, but you just have to keep trying to find what it is that helps spark their interest.

    --Adam
     
  8. roamer

    roamer Companion

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    Apr 20, 2007

    Thanks for the comments. Since some of you asked about his interests and such, I'll tell you some more about him.

    He started kindergarten at 4...he had to turn 5 by Sep 30 to start kg and his birthday is Sep 24. We figured we'd be fine if he needed to repeat kindergarten and since we'd have to pay for preschool anyway, we'd give kg a shot. He excelled in kindergarten and was identified for the gifted program. Kindergarten through 5th grade was good. He was in the gifted program and was on honor roll. He was reading on a 10th grade level in 3rd grade and a post-high school level in 5th grade. He was diagnosed with ADHD (inattentive type - no hyperactivity) by a private neuropsychologist in third grade. He began taking Adderall then, but we did not push for a 504 plan.

    He went to middle school in 6th grade and things began to fall apart. We have four elementary schools feeding into one middle school and he was no longer the big fish in a little pond. For two years, kids picked on him quite a bit. He says now that it was probably more his perception of it, but he felt very picked on at the time. In 8th grade, he found some new friends and started to become accepted by the more artsy kids. By 9th grade, the artsy kids turned Goth and this year (10th), he turned semi-Goth with them. I have no problem with that - in fact, he's nicer to be around because he loves the look on people's faces when he's dressed up in his Goth stuff and still holds doors open for them.

    His grades are getting worse and worse, though. This 5th six-weeks, he has an F in Spanish IV, an F in Computer Info Systems, an A in gym, a B in Geometry, an F in AP Gov't an A in English and an F in Advanced Biology. Every one of his teachers says he can do the work...he just chooses not to. I've seen gradebooks and there are lots of 100's and just as many 0's...not much in between. His teachers love him. In fact, they give him far more opportunities to make up work and turn in late assignments than he deserves. He's engaging and intelligent in class. His behavior is not a problem at all.

    His teachers expect us to fix this and we just don't know what to do.

    He's not interested in sports - he'd rather read fantasy novels than just about anything else (Xanth, LOTR, Eragon, etc.). He plays video games occasionally, but he can take them or leave them. He's beginning to learn to play the guitar. He has no idea what he wants to do when he's an adult. He has no plans beyond what he's doing each particular minute.
     
  9. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Apr 20, 2007

    Yup, sounds like several kids I've known, including the kid of a mother who'd worked as a psychologist. In fact, her frustration about him is how we became friends. He's in his twenties now and finally beginning to find his way. I think.

    Being gifted is kind of hard to handle. One of the things that can come with giftedness is a kind of noticing - things that other kids pass by, gifted kids tend to register. Some gifted kids also have powers of concentration that let them tune out to focus on a particular thing, but other gifted kids seem to lack that capacity - and even for those of us who haven't been labeled ADHD, it can be a little difficult to cope when several dozen really neat ideas and really wonderful things to notice are all competing for brain space at the same time - it's a bit like teaching several dozen kindergartners all of whom are tugging on your sleeve for attention RIGHT NOW, only you can't send them home to someone else and you can't even get away from them in the bathroom. Some of us cope by withdrawing, either periodically or habitually.

    If your son is at all interested in building fantasy worlds, either through writing or through gameplaying, or if he wants to understand them more richly, it's worth pointing out that a really good liberal-arts education is extremely helpful. Tolkien's LOTR holds us in part because he wove into it his understanding of languages, literatures, history, culture, ethics, and human nature. Other excellent works in fantasy play with geography, physics, and cognitive science.

    One thing I wouldn't do is push him to decide what he wants to be as an adult. (One of the things the gifted kid notices is that to walk through one door you have to choose not to walk through another. Sometimes that feels like a kind of amputation.) Instead, suggest that he find something just to start with - he needs to put enough energy and heart into it to do it well, but he doesn't need to plan to stay with it his whole life. In today's world, many of us don't end up where we started... and, you know, that's all right.

    For the time being, you could perhaps suggest that he view each class as its own alternate universe to explore... Lois McMaster Bujold's series that begins with The Curse of Chalion is set in a place where the language looks distinctly Iberian; Vernor Vinge's books (A Fire in the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky - strictly speaking, science fiction but they read very, very well) draw heavily on biology as well as on neuroscience and philosophy; and every fantasy novel that holds together at all delves into issues of society and government - Sherwood Smith's Crown Duel pulls on some of those strands.

    That's not a very immediate answer, I know. I'm sorry. But I'm still figuring this out myself... and I've got age-mates who have grandchildren.
     
  10. Tasha

    Tasha Phenom

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    Apr 20, 2007

    Have you considered therapy? I am wondering if he has put pressure on himself to do well and everyone else expects him to do well too. While it is good to have high expectations this kind of faltering at some point is normal for many g/t kids. He doesn't know what he wants to do in life when most of his peers probably do (or act like they do) and he feels like he should know what to do and should be getting good grades. Rather than deal with all of it he decides to not do it at all. Sometimes he feels guilty or is motivated by interest or something else and does his work (the 100s). If this sounds like your son, I would take him to a counselor of some kind so he can recognize why he is acting this way and deal with it. Read this article for more information:
    http://www.appliedmotivation.com/gifted_and_talented_underachieve.htm
     
  11. Counz2BLiz

    Counz2BLiz Rookie

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    Apr 21, 2007

    It sounds like he could be bored with school maybe not challenging enough. High School kids can get about 1 year or more of college courses out of the way online maybe those would challenge him??? Just taking a guess. I was a high school drop out that went the Gothic way, too but turned around and went back to school. I was not a G/T child, I just happen to have a G/T child myself . It sounds as though many have good suggestions. Let us know what turns out, I would love to learn.

    Best,
    Liz
     
  12. LayLin

    LayLin Rookie

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    Apr 21, 2007

    I have found that since for teenagers, the world revolves around them (I do not mean this as an insult, it just is, and is sort of a wonderful perk of being a teen) you need to make EVERYTHING relevant to them. For some kids, it is easier, because they are see that good grades get them into good colleges which get them into better jobs, more money etc. For most teens, they need more of a push. If it means taking away and giving back priviledges to make grades/school relevant OR as a teacher it means tying Shakespeare to their own life in some way to pique their interest. It is not easy!
     
  13. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    Apr 22, 2007


    I don't know these references (my kids are more into Club Penguin and PBS at the moment), but the idea is the one that has worked with me in the classroom.

    If you can find the "hook"-- the thing that the kids care about, it's very often possible to use that to help get the results.

    It can go one of two ways: 1) as TG suggested. See if you can get him to make a link between what he needs to do and what he loves to do. Kind of the old "whistle as you work" routine. If he can pull his classes into one of his games, he'll enjoy ths classes a whole lot more.

    2) You could consider the games a priveledge to be revoked in necessary.

    I'm WAY more in favor of 1)

    good luck!
     
  14. teacherwannaB

    teacherwannaB Companion

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    Apr 22, 2007

    Did he have a token economy rewards system in elementary school? I have a professor that is very against token economies because many times it takes away the intrinsic motivation/ rewards that a child may have had early in life (birth-k). They get into grades 1-5, and they get introduced to the token economies and get accustomed to the external rewards and the intrinsic motivation is weeded out, and get into middle school and are up a creek w/ out those token economies and external rewards and motivators.

    What he recommended for a student such as this, is to re-establish some type of rewards system w/ reachable, short term goals. Then gradually stretching out the amount of time between goals. The idea is to motivate him w/ the rewards, then give him a taste of success with reachable goals, and re-establish that intrinsic motivation. The main idea was to make sure that in the beginning the goals were short term and reachable to start him out w/ immediate gratification. So starting off w/ a goal that can't be reached quickly- like bringing up grades by progress reports or the next report card- wouldn't work.

    For example, you could start out with completing and turning in all homework assignments for a week. This would earn him some kind of reward, but nothing outrageous or specifically monetary. You mentioned that he loved to read. Maybe this could earn him a trip to the bookstore, a book, and a coffee- some kind of reward based on his likes. If he didn't meet the homework goals- then no new books, but a trip to the library instead. Then gradually make the homework goal 2 weeks, and add test grades to it. Something like- all homework assignments completed and all test passed will earn a reward based on what he likes- as well as having an educational benefit. The goal is to give him a feeling of success, and let those intrinsic rewards kick in, and hopefully he will gradually make the change from external to internal.

    Hope to help!
     
  15. roamer

    roamer Companion

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    Apr 22, 2007

    I love the ideas, teacherwannaB, however, we never know when he turns in assignments or even what has been assigned. His teachers have far too many students to email us every day if he fails to turn something in and he has been known to omit the truth when we ask (now I wouldn't say lie...omitting the truth sounds so much nicer).

    He tells us everything is fine and then we find out otherwise when three-week reports or report cards come out.

    Our elementary school didn't have a token reward system when he was there. There is one in place now for 3rd-5th...I haven't heard how those kids adjust to middle school. I guess we'll find out in a year and a half when his little brother goes to 6th grade.

    We've never been too keen on paying for grades, however we started to do so recently. At each 3 week report or report card, he has the opportunity to earn up to $35. His grades have actually gone down since we started that.

    Thanks for all the input everyone...I'm taking notes.
     
  16. srh

    srh Devotee

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    Apr 22, 2007

    Roamer--much of what you said would also have described my son, who is now 25. He didn't go Goth, but he married a girl who was!! He started school at age 4 (was already reading...birthday November 18) and also went to a GATE school from third grade on, and did very well there--it was right down his alley with science and projects, etc. But when he got to high school, a "regular" school, he began to dislike anything "establishment."

    He is a gifted creative writer, with excellent verbal and grammatical skills. I tried to steer him into writing then, but without a lot of luck. But apparently, all my "kudos" to him finally sunk in. He is now in Germany, doing quite well teaching English! He is also writing scripts for a new "radio show" in the works.He recently completed a several-weeks session tutoring the hottest "pop rock" group in Germany. He helped prepare them for English interviews during their European tour.

    So, while I didn't find a way to motivate my son DURING high school, just know that looking for his strengths and directing him (however subtly) WILL have an effect. I know you won't give up on him--he needs to hear that too! Maybe in your case, he will get there a little faster. I hope so!
     
  17. roamer

    roamer Companion

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    Apr 22, 2007

    Thanks, srh...that's my hope. I keep looking at my brother who was so much like my son is now. My brother dropped out of school in his junior year and did construction work for the next 15 years. In his mid-30's, he decided construction work was getting too hard on his body and he got his GED, his Bachelor's, then his Master's, taught college for a while and now works for the Dept. of Ed. Luckily for him, though, he has a wife who made enough money to support them comfortably for all of those years he did construction.

    It's just so hard to think into the future and hope for the best when he's doing his best to mess himself up now.
     
  18. teacherwannaB

    teacherwannaB Companion

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    Apr 23, 2007

    Yikes~I guess the teacher knew what he was talking about when he said not to give specific $$ per grade. LOL

    Seriously- I'm sorry you are going thru this w/ your son. The little plan I gave you was just a general idea- you could change it to meet your needs. But there has to be some accountability. I know the teachers have a ton of other kids, but there are other ways that they could work w/ you to get you more involved in your son's school work. I know when I was in middle school, I had to write down EVERY homework assignment in a type of agenda, my mom would then check every night to make sure I did what I was supposed to do, then sign off in the agenda. Math was my worst subject, and the teacher would put in my agenda when the test were, and my parents would even sign off when and how long I studied for the tests. It was such a pain, and I remember hating it, but it worked. And if I took the trouble of doing the homework- then I definitally turned it in. I did it all and there were NO rewards for me except that I got to keep everyday privileges such as TV, phone, and hanging out w/ friends. If I didn't do what I was suppossed to, I lost one or more of them, depending on how bad I screwed up. So when it came down to it, I guess my parents didn't consider the other students the teachers had (they weren't teachers so this thought probably never crossed their minds)- their main concern was making sure that I didn't flunk the 8th grade. And I think the teachers were more than willing to work w/ my parents to develop a plan because they wanted to see me succeed just as much as my parents (or maybe they didn't want to be stuck w/ me another year.;) )

    I have a 5th grader who I have had problems with- classroom bullies. So I know its tough when it comes to them having problems at school because, at least with me, I felt so helpless not being able to be there every day to protect her or make sure that she is doing the right thing. This age is tough- they are responsible for more and are more on their own, but they are still maturing and trying to develop.

    Good Luck with your son:) !!!
     
  19. srh

    srh Devotee

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    Apr 23, 2007

    I have been in a few schools with mandatory agendas too...in a fifth grade class I student taught in, one of my jobs was to check off the agenda page (parent signature had to be there) for the previous night. I stamped anyone's agenda that was complete. The teacher always listed the HW on the board and also flashed it up on the computer before school got out. There was NO getting around letting parents know what the assignments were.

    BTW--many schools these days are purchasing customized agendas and selling them to students. I think it's a great idea to make them mandatory. I bought one to keep--it had school info in it, etc., so it was a worthwhile purchase for parents to make.
     
  20. roamer

    roamer Companion

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    Apr 24, 2007

    We have done the agendas in the past. His school used to require them, but they no longer do and we've found that many of his teachers don't want to fool with them. We may give it a try again next year. He absolutely hated the agenda with a seething white hot passion.

    Some good news...he scored a perfect 600 on his Biology SOL today (standards of learning for those outside of VA). Of course he still has an F in the class, but at least he's learning something.
     
  21. LateBloomer52

    LateBloomer52 New Member

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    Apr 25, 2007

    I am a newbie, and this is my "virgin" post, but he sounds like a bored genius to me, knowing no more than what I have read here. I was one of those "gifted" underachievers back in the day, not to the extent of failing a class, but basically made it through without studying, much to the chagrin of my momma. If he can make 100s and perfect scores on standardized tests, maybe he is way ahead of what they're trying to do in HS.

    In retrospect, part of it may be so NOT to look so smart. What I mean is, does he get "picked" on when he is always right or always "blows the curve" for everyone? I can remember NOT answering questions in class because some might give me a hard time about being right. Sounds strange, I know, but peer "pressure" can be tough and takes many forms. I never blew an assignment over it, but I didn't try very hard either. The older I got, the more pride I took in knowing the answer, so it may be something he is able to grow out of, if that is it.

    I didn't mean to stick my nose in, but this kind of hit home. Maybe we need to ask my momma how she handled me!!
     
  22. Sarkfollower

    Sarkfollower Rookie

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    Apr 25, 2007

    Okay... my response will be a bit different but hopefully you'll give it a try and see how it plays out. Your son is bored. He isn't into sports or anything that will put him in the spotlight... but he is craving a floor of some sort. He seems to be very interested in people and a "helper" of sorts. He needs someone to mentor. He needs to feel needed in the sense he is really contributing to someone else's well being. He has too much time on his hands and if he realizes someone else needs what he can offer, he is going to step up to the plate and give it his all. The roles need to be reversed in some respects... he needs to feel needed instead of looking for someone to need himself. He is at a stage of development where he wants independence and to find himself in the world and nothing makes you feel better than to give back and feel like you did something to better the position of another. I would look into Big Brother/ Big Sisters or some affiliate program and find a young boy that needs someone to help him with his homework... the more rebellious (or similar to your son), the better... your son will change before your very eyes and become more motivated in school and in life in general. I have seen it work time and time again and I am speaking for a younger person's stand point (I'm 31). Even if you tell him a friend of yours said they needed help at the BBBS center and would he mind taking on one of the kids... you may be surprised at his eagerness to want to help. Tell him it would really make a difference in this boys life etc etc... BBBS is a commitment so he would need to be willing to make a schedule with the local chapter. It teaches responsibility and develops character... I highly recommend it.
     
  23. mrs.oz

    mrs.oz Companion

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    Apr 28, 2007

    Ron Clark has a good book out called the Excellent 11. If my have some things in it that you can use.
     

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