How teachers can get the best out of today’s tech-oriented learners

Class five pupils of DEB Township Primary School in Meru get guidance from their teacher Lucy Mithika during recess on February 28, 2019. [Olivia Murithi, Standard]

You probably have come across the old maxim by William Arthur Ward: “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” It always jolts any teacher worth their salt to pause and reflect on where they stand in this grand matrix.

One of the most important and challenging aspects for a teacher in this day and age is motivating and inspiring the modern student. How exactly does one go about this?

Teachers who work with unmotivated students are faced with two main challenges. The first challenge is for the teacher to find out what it is that actually motivates the student in question. The teacher, in this case, has to be able to identify scenarios and/or stimuli that the student responds to positively. Such situations can be used to foster the student’s interest. The second and more daunting challenge for the teacher is to change the student’s mindset into believing that if he or she applies effort in academic or extra/co-curricular activities, they will succeed.

What has changed between the modern student and the student from past decades?

There are profound changes that show a distinct shift from the paradigms of the learner from the previous generation, and the modern student.

Critical thinking

Learning is no longer passive and instead has moved away from the rote practices used to force students to absorb information. Critical thinking is a 21st Century teaching approach used to instruct a modern-day learner and aids human development. This same approach to group learning also provides a more hands-on environment that can provide students with real life skills that are becoming more important. These skills will help them in changing roles in the workforce that emphasise the human side, and critical thinking that cannot be achieved by technology. A modern-day learner is therefore brought up with the encouragement to possess this essential skill in our increasingly digitalised world, which can be attributed to the sheds of curiosity they possess.

Student identity

Individuality is encouraged, something unheard of even 10 years ago. Collaborative projects force different learners together to foster tolerance and understanding with more focus on teamwork. Students today are also encouraged to be more expressive in their work; something strangely frowned upon in times past.

Technology and digital devices

Technology and digital devices have made information just one click away from a learner. It has also made teachers more accessible to students using educational platforms, social media and other means to communicate, upload lessons and assignments, and assignment submissions. At the same time, this artificial intelligence is the sleeping giant that can replace a teacher as a content reservoir with many adaptive software developments opening up various possibilities. A teacher therefore has to stand out and offer more than just content in a class setting.

What strategies can educators employ to motivate the modern day student? Methods that can be used by teachers to motivate their students include incorporating instructional behaviours that motivate students. That for instance, includes helping students set achievable goals and strengthening their self-motivation, structuring the course to motivate students and de-emphasising grades. Other strategies include:

Creating real life lessons

Unmotivated students normally wonder: “Do I really have to know this?” Teachers ought to help them see how these classroom lessons can be applied in their lives outside the classroom. For example, teachers can use motivational speakers or online motivational videos to encourage students on real life situations that they encounter on a day-to-day basis.

Simplifying academic tasks

Some students normally find assignments too overwhelming; they then put forth very little effort towards completing them. Giving the student one-step-at-a-time tasks will be helpful. Simple step by step tasks may help the student gain confidence in himself or herself.

Working from students’ interests

An instructor should be sure not the focus on what they want to teach or on what they are required to teach, but concentrate more on teaching what the students might find interesting. What do the students find intrinsically motivating? What are their wants or needs? By avoiding work in which students will be criticised or punished, the students’ intrinsic motivation will be ignited.

Seeking further training

Teachers should seek to acquire knowledge and skills on leadership in to empower their students. Enrolling for classes such as a master’s degree in educational leadership or other educational related courses can be a start. The teachers can apply lessons learnt to the students’ challenges and empower them to do better. In turn, the student is motivated to keep up the good job.

Capitalising on students’ existing needs

Use student’s interest and natural curiosity to motivate them. Students will be motivated to learn when the course when incentives for learning in a classroom satisfy their own motives for enrolling in the course. Some of the needs your students may bring to the classroom are the need to learn something in order to complete a particular task or activity, the need to seek new experiences, the need to perfect skills, the need to overcome challenges, the need to become competent, the need to succeed and do well, the need to feel involved and to interact with other people. Satisfying such needs is rewarding in itself, and such rewards sustain learning more effectively than grades would. Design assignments, in-class activities, and discussion questions to address these kinds of needs.

Making students active participants in learning

Students learn by doing, making, writing, designing, creating, and solving. Passivity dampens students’ motivation and curiosity. Ask questions. Encourage students to suggest approaches to a problem or to guess the results of an experiment. As Confucius said, “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; but directly involve me, and I’ll make it my own”.

Emphasising mastery and learning rather than grades

Two scholars, Ames and Ames (1990), provided a report on two secondary school Maths teachers. One teacher graded every homework assignment and counted homework as 30 per cent of a student’s final grade. The second teacher told students to spend 30 minutes on their homework a night and to bring questions to class about problems they could not complete. This teacher graded homework as satisfactory or unsatisfactory, gave students the opportunity to redo their assignments, and counted homework as 10 per cent of their final grade. Although homework was a smaller part of the course grade, this second teacher was more successful in motivating students to turn in their homework. In the first class, some students gave up rather than risk low evaluations of their abilities. In the second class, students were not risking their self-worth each time they did their homework but rather were attempting to learn. Mistakes were viewed as acceptable and something to learn from.