Re: The school game-students' motivation

Kate Dionne (cmdionne@ENGLISH.UMASS.EDU)
Wed, 14 Aug 1996 13:40:14 -0400

At 10:34 AM 8/14/96 +0000, you wrote:
>>From Darlene Sybert:
>"Wouldn't there always be a majority that would rather do something
>else than write three drafts of an essay? . . .What would motivate
> a student to do that instead of playing with his new college

[If I've missed someone else already saying this, my apologies; I'm not
completely caught up on my e-mail, and have volumes of this thread saved for
the weekend.]

>From the amount of work I've sometimes seen students do, above and beyond
the call of grades, I'd guess it's much like anyone else. Grades
substitute for the money many people (here you can include non-teachers as
well) get to do their work. Do I work exclusively for money? In some jobs,
not in others. If I wrote solely to get published and to hope for eventual
tenure I'd already be burned out.

For students (having been both a student and a teacher) I would say
motivation can come from:

personal satisfaction, praise from an authority figure, wanting to discover
meaning through writing, to explore their own capabilities, to do better
than other students (not necessarily as measured by grades), to impress or
respond to other writers (students and others), , to master a skill, to
prepare for other classes and experiences...

And I imagine this is only a partial list.

I think much of this is beyond our control; however we can create conditions
that favor students getting involved and engaged with their work. (Please
don't think I claim any credit on my own for these ideas; none of this is
original to me)

Some ideas:
Creating a real audience for student work via in-class publication
Giving students some control over what that 3-draft essay is about
Praising them whenever possible
Showing that you believe them capable of work that matters, that says
something... why on earth should they care about writing if we imply our
only interest is in measuring for grades, not in engaging their ideas?
Sharing with them our own experiences with writing, both good and bad
Making space for assignments that go outside the classroom (here I'm
thinking especially of some wonderful stuff being done here (among other
places) at UMass by Zan Meyer-Goncalves and Tom Deans on community service

And I would add here as well [my opinion, solely :-) ] that for me as a
student, a class which believes the only useful writing is that which I do
not enjoy, that suffering on my part is a good way to measure my learning,
is a class I can't wait to leave.

Whereas a class where I enjoy the writing, where that enjoyment is not seen
as a sign that I'm not working hard enough or that teh assignments aren't
challenging enough, is a class I hate to see end.

[This is my first post here, so if there's some ritual of self-explanation I
should be doing, let me know)
Kate Dionne UMass Writing Program

" That is why I like novels: instead of heroes they have people in them"
Ursula LeGuin, "The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction"