Intrinsic motivation (things that we're interested in) is probably our most powerful motivator. Interest as a motivator is not just building on what students are already interested in. It is also about making things interesting.
- Can you use novelty?
- Can you make it a mystery?
- Can you make it fun?
- Can you make it interesting?
My doctorate focused on what motivates underachieving middle school students (article; dissertation). In the Underachievers Study, even though students thought that much of their work did not tie in with their interests, they did find some of the work interesting. This varied by the individual. Doris liked teachers sharing stories from their past. Cathy liked lessons related to government and books such as The Outsiders and Huck Finn, which related to the South, where she had lived as a young child. Ben thought his fourth grade teacher, who dressed up as story characters, was interesting.
There is a special category that motivates middle school students: “blood and guts.” Why do you think those “Grossology” books that we all love to hate sell so well? Because middle school kids love belching and farting, body parts and bodily fluids. They love anything disgusting! So anything, we can tie productively into belching and farting will capture their imaginations! Mrs. Edwards, a teacher in the study, reported that Ben also liked blood and guts and anything gory, “Ben loves books that have gory stuff things in them. He loved Edgar Allan Poe.”
When I was a university Practicum Supervisor (supervising sophomore student teachers during their first field experience), I was in a sixth grade science teacher’s classroom and they were introducing students to the microscope. A common introductory activity for working with microscopes is to look at the difference between plant cells and animal cells. Often the activity uses onions because they have large cells. The activity also often calls for using cells from inside their mouths. The students have to take a cotton swab, dab the inside of their cheeks, and put it on a slide.
What do all the sixth grade girls say at this point in the activity? “Ewwwww, gross!” But they almost always follow that immediately with, “Let me do it!”
What do you do to make your lessons interesting?