I literally lie awake nights thinking of ways to increasing student engagement, and each year I find more ways to improve; but I always have some students who still seem disinterested in becoming math rock stars. Go figure (ha!). I teach average students which means they are all very bright, but there are a million other more interesting things to do than to invest serious thought into homework. (Who knows, an apocalypse could happen before they graduate from high school and all that work would have been wasted!) Because math is the gateway to opportunity, I feel the weight of responsibility to help them understand the ramifications of their choices to motivate them to do homework, even when they don’t feel like it. Sometimes I have to rely on parents to help me pull them into reality and here are the ways teamwork has worked miracles.
- I allow my freshmen students to retake most tests, using different versions. I see scores go from F to A in two weeks. However, I require students to come in outside of class to do this; and some students will not take advantage of those opportunities. Because I enter comments in the grade book, parents who check the grades on a weekly basis are in a good position to help motivate. In my school, we have a “Howell Time” once a week where students can seek help and take care of missed work. Parents can coordinate with teachers to make sure that student makes good use of that time.
- Students who set realistic life goals for themselves tend to be more motivated than students who have no idea what they want to do. Parents of unmotivated students can sometimes see impressive changes by exposing those students to modern work environments. Many companies have “take a kid to work day.” On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes students don’t have any idea how people struggle when they do not have jobs that pay a living wage. I often recommend families take a turn serving lunch at the Salvation Army to help their son or daughter get a sense for how real people suffer and see the need to have logic-based, marketable problem solving skills. I know this seems dramatic, but I’m talking about changing a student’s heart. That will likely take some drama.
- Sometimes even the most dramatic efforts to motivate a student do not translate to daily investments of serious time embedding math concepts in their homework. I had two of those sons. Fortunately, I wasn’t working full time then because to get them through school, I literally had to sit with them at the computer many, many nights to make sure they knew what to do and did it with integrity, getting help when they were lost. Several times after I had picked them up from school, I had to take them back to pick up materials left behind in their lockers. Not every parent has that kind of time, and I know that seems ridiculous to have to do that with a teenager. But given the likely outcomes had I not intervened, I would do it again in a heartbeat. Both are now engineers.
The object to the game is to motivate students toward lifetime learning in amazing careers. That kind of change does not happen overnight. From my desk, though, the harder I have had to work to see a student evolve, the greater sense of joy I have when it happens. Every student is worth it, and every parent who can pitch in doubles (if not triples!) the effect I can have. It’s all about teamwork.