Removing Obstacles to Student Learning


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There are two kinds of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. Intrinsic works better, but it's hard to produce in students. Peter Senge suggests removing obstacles, rather than pushing our product, and Raymond Wlodkowski's research supports the idea that different cultures look on motivation in difficulties differently. Knowing how to work with students from different backgrounds and cultures may help in removing obstacles to learning.

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  • Ganesha, one of the five most important Hindu deities, is the Lord of success and the remover of obstacles. He is also the god of education, the one to appeal to for help on passing one’s exams. Humans seem to need a remover of obstacles when it comes to learning.
  • Today I want to share with you some research on motivation and learning, and to try to understand how we, as teachers, might help support students in their learning.
  • Peter Senge, in his groundbreaking book, The Fifth Discipline, makes this interesting suggestion: “Don’t push growth; remove the factors limiting growth.” That seems to imply that if obstacles are removed the natural desire to learn and grow will surge ahead. That also suggests that motivation to progress and learn comes from the inside instead of the result of extrinsic rewards or punishments.
  • But most of the learning that takes place in American education is extrinsic. That means that teachers are responsible for motivating students—and often feel frustrated in their attempts.
  • We ask ourselves how we can motivate students. We try to think of new ways, new tricks. Then we’re disappointed when they don’t rise to the bait.
  • But we should be careful. It’s not an either/or choice between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. We learn and grow through a combination of the two, in varying percentages. But what we’d hope is that students will primarily be intrinsically motivated to learn. Why? Because all of us learn better and longer when we really want to.
  • Motivation comes naturally to us when it’s something we want, when we are trying to accomplish a goal that is important to us.
  • Sasha Obama’s infectious enthusiasm for life is now front and center.
  • Research is supporting the notion that our individual motivation cannot be separated from our context.
  • People learn through their interaction with and support from others in the world. “We are more aware that to help a person learn may require understanding his or her thinking and emotions as inseparable from the social context in which the activity takes place.” Ray Wlodkowski, “Motivation and Diversity,” in New Directions for Teaching and Learning, #78, p. 8.
  • Our emotions are a part of and significantly influence our motivation. In turn, our emotions are influenced by our culture, says Wlodkowski. What inspires us, what discourages us, what compels us to try in spite of difficulties is a result of our cultural values and experiences. Be careful of using ice-breaker exercises for example: Asian, American Indian, and Latinos may find self-disclosure something they reserve for the family and close friends. “Without sensitivity to culture, we teachers may unknowingly contribute to the decline of motivation among our students.” Wlodkowski, 9.
  • One person working at a task may feel frustrated and stop. . .
  • while another might also be frustrated but tries again with renewed determination.
  • What brings out that frustration or determination or joy differs across cultures. Cultures differ in their definitions of novelty, risks, opportunities, satisfaction, and gratification (Wlodkowski, 9).
  • One of the most common challenges for teachers is disinterested or hostile students. In this situation, knowing how they experience learning is essential. If we can identify the sources of anger or apathy we can design activities that will be as non-threatening—and yet challenging—as possible.
  • Stephen Brookfield notes that of all the pedagogic tasks teachers must face, getting inside students’ heads is the most difficult—and the most crucial. Students perceive the same actions and experiences in vastly different ways. What is challenging to one is frightening to another; what is funny to one is insulting to another.
  • This is the payoff in the classroom.
  • In the end, with all our sensitivities alert, this is what we are called to do as teachers.
  • Removing Obstacles to Student Learning

    1. 1. Removing ObstaclesClearing a Path for Student LearningBarry CaseyInterim Director, Faculty Development CenterMay 4, 2009IHU Training Workshop
    2. 2. “Don’t push growth;remove the factors limiting growth.”Peter SengeThe Fifth Discipline
    3. 3. Extrinsic MotivationRewards Punishments
    4. 4. ““EngagementEngagement in learningin learningis the visible outcomeis the visible outcomeofof motivationmotivation.”.”Raymond J. WlodkowskiRaymond J. Wlodkowski
    5. 5. How do Imotivate them?
    6. 6. How do I. . . .motivate THEM?
    7. 7. “Motivation is the natural humancapacity to direct energy in pursuitof a goal.”Raymond J. WlodkowskiRaymond J. Wlodkowski
    8. 8. “It is part of human natureto be curious, to be active,to initiate thought andbehavior, to make meaningfrom experience . . . .”
    9. 9. Individual motivationIndividual motivationis inseparable fromis inseparable fromculture.culture.Raymond J. WlodkowskiRaymond J. Wlodkowski
    10. 10. All learning is CONTEXTUAL.
    11. 11. MotivationEmotionsEmotionsCulture
    12. 12. Cultures define risk,novelty, hazard,gratification,in different ways.
    13. 13. Students perceivethe same actionsand experiencesin vastly differentways.Stephen Brookfield
    14. 14. ““Engagement in learningEngagement in learningis the visible outcomeis the visible outcomeof motivation.”of motivation.”Raymond J. WlodkowskiRaymond J. Wlodkowski
    15. 15. ““Our task is to create situations inOur task is to create situations inwhich others provide their ownwhich others provide their ownmotivation to succeed.”motivation to succeed.”Michael TheallMichael Theall
    16. 16. Entelechy Productions (2010)