Monday, May 18, 2015

Monday Musings: On Motivation

"Learning is not attained by chance; it must be sought for with ardor and diligence."
 -- Abigail Adams

I admire Abigail Adams, a woman ahead of her time in many ways.  What I know of her I learned mostly by watching The Adams Chronicles, a decades-old TV miniseries that was, at the time, riveting. 

If I were still teaching in a classroom, I would make a banner of this quotation and hang it someplace where every student could easily see it.  I would ask them to do a quick-write on what they think it means and then we’d discuss their responses.  Although a few of my ELLs might know the meaning of diligence, I would most likely have to define it plus attained, sought, and ardor for the majority of students, especially those in elementary grades.  But after they understood what the words meant, they could certainly reflect on what the sentence meant to them.

Unfortunately, not all students are willing to put effort and time into their work. And it shows.  I have had students who were very driven to succeed—one just finished her freshman year at an Ivy League university, the only student in her high school class who got accepted to one of the Ivies.  Another student wanted to be a doctor and came every morning to my before-school homework help program to review her homework, study for tests, and get help whenever she didn’t understand something.  But I had another student who never did homework, although he could at least do the homework for my class; he got absolutely no support from parents and that was a huge problem.  Other students just didn’t seem to care one way or the other—they showed up, did the minimum needed to pass, and were perfectly happy with the Cs, Ds, and occasional E or F they received on their report cards.  I’ve often wondered what happened to those students who were clearly not going to graduate at the top of their high school class and who, in fact, might not even graduate at all.

I really enjoyed working with the students who were motivated and interested in school.  But I also enjoyed working with the students who weren’t: They were a challenge and the less they did, the more I wanted to help them succeed.
Abigail Adams on motivation
Abigail Adams later in life; source: Wikimedia Commons
Sometimes I saw little tiny pieces of progress.  Often, I saw no change.  While discouraging, I don’t think I ever gave up on a kid.  Even as the end of the school year approached and all the standardized testing was completed, I continued to introduce new ideas and tried to make my lessons engaging so my students would be focused on learning until the very last day.

Actually, this quotation by Abigail Adams would be just as meaningful if it were revised to read as follows:  Success is not attained by chance; it must be sought for with ardor and diligence.

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