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Papist
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« on: February 19, 2010, 11:11:12 AM »

My school district happens to be one of the better districts in the state. However, NM is a very poor state with a low SES (socio-economic status) and there is a strong correlation between a low SES an low academic achievement. I was recently part of a council to determine how we can improve student comprehension and performance in Mathematics in the district. We found, that although we have many great teachers who employ best practices, our students are still not performing very well. It turns out that after our analysis, the major problem we face is student motiviation. It doesn't matter what great lenghts some teachers go to inorder to increase student interest in the subject, our students simply don't care.
Are there other teachers here who are experiencing the same problems?
How do you address them?
Is it possible for educators to address what appears to be a society-wide problem?
What is contributing to such strong student apathy?
« Last Edit: February 19, 2010, 11:12:12 AM by Papist » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: February 19, 2010, 11:52:00 AM »

Yes, I, for one, also experience the problem of low motivation among my students.

Last week, I was invited by an elementary school teacher to talk with little kids about "microbes." It surpassed all my expectations. The fourth-graders were so amazingly active, curious, interested, motivated. They looked at me, asked many questioins, tried to write things down. Their faces, their eyes were alive, following me, I'd even say "illumined."

What happens to all that when these kids grow up and, being 18 or 19, come to my freshman-sophomore non-majors biology, A&P, or microbiology class? The contrast is just stunning. Almost no one, with very, very few exceptions, shows interest in what I am saying in lecture. In a class of 60, I sometimes see only 2-3 students who are really listening and trying to comprehend. The rest makes occasional sketchy notes, or writes nothing at all. Some sit with players on their ears. Some use laptop computers, allegedly to take notes - but when I go up the stairs and look across their shoulder, I see that they are checking their e-mails or chatting online.

Overall, the motivation to study for real, to study in order to learn new things, to comprehend things is extremely low at my university. There is, rather, a certain motivation to keep coming to class and take exams, so that some grade would be made, hopefully the passing grade. If it's a minimal passing grade, a D- - so be it. For some students, even an F is OK, because they continue to obtain their scholarship if they only as much as attend classes. It does not seem to bother them much that they are not moving toward graduation. I have an advisee who has already been studying here for her bachelor's degree for 11.5 years.

Most of my students have jobs, and some of them have 40 hours a week jobs that are physically and psychologically very demanding (waitressing, or working as a behind-the-counter person in a grocery store). When I tell them that they HAVE to study at home every night, they just laugh. It's not going to happen for them, they are exhausted after their work shift.

All this "college life," social clubs, activities at fraternities and sororities - that also takes a lot of time and energy of many of my students, and lowers their motivation to study even further.

I don't know. I am afraid the real answer to this problem is to close down a lot of universities like mine. Those who are really smart and gifted academically and willing to study hard in order to learn will find some tough, challenging place, will get scholarship to Harvards and Stanfords. And those who are not willing to study - they should probably learn some trade and just work, like my son-in-laws parents who have no college education but are extremely successful owners of a prosperous construction and remodeling firm.
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« Reply #2 on: February 19, 2010, 12:19:58 PM »

I've wondered whether the decrease in motivation is something like a "job slump."  For those fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on your POV) to be in one job for 5+ years, there seems to be an increased challenge to remain motivated on a day-to-day basis - I'm not implying that everyone feels this, or that all jobs elicit this problem, but it seems to me that it becomes a more common issue the longer one is tenured in a company.

Children are, in our system, doing the same "job" from Pre-K or K until 12th or 16th or 18th/20th grade - if someone actually completes their undergraduate degree in 4 years, they have likely been in school for 17-18 years straight through.  Contemplate that for a moment: there are people who can retire after 20 years in certain professions, and here kids are encouraged/expected to be students for nearly that long just to get a good job.

Yes, there are new challenges (new subjects, teachers, buildings), but at the end of the day they're doing what they've been doing for years: going to school, sitting in rooms, learning different subjects, going home, doing homework.  This may be the great challenge - motivating kids to focus on the day-to-day differences, rather than getting worn down by "the grind."

(As an aside, it pains me to hear that other programs outside the US are able to cover more material in fewer years... Efficiency in the program would reduce the motivation problem, and would produce ready-to-work individuals sooner - giving them a new job, rather than extending their educational "job" another few years.)
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« Reply #3 on: February 19, 2010, 12:31:45 PM »

I've wondered whether the decrease in motivation is something like a "job slump."  For those fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on your POV) to be in one job for 5+ years, there seems to be an increased challenge to remain motivated on a day-to-day basis - I'm not implying that everyone feels this, or that all jobs elicit this problem, but it seems to me that it becomes a more common issue the longer one is tenured in a company.

Children are, in our system, doing the same "job" from Pre-K or K until 12th or 16th or 18th/20th grade - if someone actually completes their undergraduate degree in 4 years, they have likely been in school for 17-18 years straight through.  Contemplate that for a moment: there are people who can retire after 20 years in certain professions, and here kids are encouraged/expected to be students for nearly that long just to get a good job.

Hmmm (from whom did I hear this? Smiley), - that's an interesting observation!

(As an aside, it pains me to hear that other programs outside the US are able to cover more material in fewer years... Efficiency in the program would reduce the motivation problem, and would produce ready-to-work individuals sooner - giving them a new job, rather than extending their educational "job" another few years.)

In my Kiev Medical Institute (later renamed University), in the former U.S.S.R., we actually had a lot MORE time for those subjects that are important for a health care professional. We studied General Biology for one full year, Anatomy for three semesters, Physiology for a year, Microbiology for a year. And there was a mandatory sequence: no student could take Microbiology without first taking the two semesters of Biology and the two semsters of Chemistry and one semster of Organic Chemistry and two semesters of Biochemistry. Here, my students who declare a Pre-Nursing major and aim at becoming licensed nurse practitioners or registered nurses, are not required to take ANy biology, and are required to take only one semester of Microbiology, which is very often their "meal" during the very first college semester of their lives, so they are totally unprepared and Microbiology just flies through them...
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« Reply #4 on: February 19, 2010, 04:54:39 PM »


(As an aside, it pains me to hear that other programs outside the US are able to cover more material in fewer years... Efficiency in the program would reduce the motivation problem, and would produce ready-to-work individuals sooner - giving them a new job, rather than extending their educational "job" another few years.)
Actually, foreign countries cover fewer topics but do so in a more in depth manner. One of the problems with the U.S. curriculum is that it is very broad but very shallow. Because teachers are required to cover so many topics in one year, the they cannot spend the time necessary to get into each topic in depth.

But again, most students simply don't care about their subjects or don't really believe that it is important to learn these subjects. Here is one case in point. I have a student who is earning a D in Algebra I credit revcovery course. I told her that I was very concerned about her grade. She was suprised that I was concerned because a D is "passing" and should then be ok.   Shocked
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« Reply #5 on: February 19, 2010, 04:56:39 PM »

To add to my last comment, I don't understand why a D is considered passing. It just seems ridiculous to me.
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« Reply #6 on: February 19, 2010, 05:03:17 PM »

To add to my last comment, I don't understand why a D is considered passing. It just seems ridiculous to me.
Agreed. I hear much the same thing as you (I teach in a low-SES area too). I'd rather see the college model of a C as a passing grade, and a D only differing from an F in terms of GPA. I write in my curriculum (I'm fortunate enough to write it myself) that a percentage of 70-80%, depending on subject, equals mastery. Why then, if the kids are not mastering the material, are they being allowed to pass my class?

I'd rather do away with grades altogether, and move to a mastery system. My principal agrees with me, and with many others in the profession. Unfortunately, the people with the money (state and local boards of education, U.S. Dept. of Education, legislators such as those who crafted NCLB, etc.) do not agree. Hence the stagnation.

Under such a mastery system, students would be grouped according to what skills they are currently working on mastering. Once they master that skill, they bounce to the next skill group. Some classes would have 13-year-olds and 18-year olds together, but all of them would be working on the same skill. So some could graduate at 15 or 16, and others would stay until they're 21, but all would graduate with the essential skills they need to succeed. Such a system would greatly increase the motivation of students, since it wouldn't just be a "waiting game" to them.
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« Reply #7 on: February 19, 2010, 05:25:18 PM »

Quote
Overall, the motivation to study for real, to study in order to learn new things, to comprehend things is extremely low at my university. There is, rather, a certain motivation to keep coming to class and take exams, so that some grade would be made, hopefully the passing grade. If it's a minimal passing grade, a D- - so be it. For some students, even an F is OK, because they continue to obtain their scholarship if they only as much as attend classes. It does not seem to bother them much that they are not moving toward graduation. I have an advisee who has already been studying here for her bachelor's degree for 11.5 years.

There are countries in the world whose universities stipulate that if a student fails a particular subject two years in a row, then he must provide good reasons (medical, serious family disruption, etc) to be allowed to continue in that course, otherwise the faculty is obliged to remove him from that course. As for the "perennial student" milking a scholarship, again, there are many places in the world where scholarships and grants are given only for the length of time the course runs, i.e. three years for a three-year course, etc. Fail a year, and there's no extra money coming to you.

Perhaps adopting these measures may help in reducing the "motivation" problem.
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« Reply #8 on: February 19, 2010, 05:55:51 PM »

To add to my last comment, I don't understand why a D is considered passing. It just seems ridiculous to me.

Our College of Nursing does not allow their students to stay in their programs if the students earn less than a C. Also, at my Department of Sciences and Mathematics, science majors must pass certain required courses (in biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics) with the grade of C or better. However, I am dealing with very many students who either do not want to be majors in science or in nursing (and for them, a D in my classes is just fine), or expect to get into the nursing school "some day."
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« Reply #9 on: February 19, 2010, 06:08:20 PM »

In my Kiev Medical Institute (later renamed University), in the former U.S.S.R., we actually had a lot MORE time for those subjects that are important for a health care professional. We studied General Biology for one full year, Anatomy for three semesters, Physiology for a year, Microbiology for a year. And there was a mandatory sequence: no student could take Microbiology without first taking the two semesters of Biology and the two semsters of Chemistry and one semster of Organic Chemistry and two semesters of Biochemistry. Here, my students who declare a Pre-Nursing major and aim at becoming licensed nurse practitioners or registered nurses, are not required to take ANy biology, and are required to take only one semester of Microbiology, which is very often their "meal" during the very first college semester of their lives, so they are totally unprepared and Microbiology just flies through them...

I suppose my comment is less abut the time, and more about what is accomplished in the time.  For example: we could cover what most students encounter as "Algebra 1" in 1/4 the time we currently use.  Spending a whole year on Algebra in school would thus accomplish what is currently only done in college-level mathematics courses.  I was blessed: my biology teacher in HS was recognized by the state as a top-level educator, and we covered a ton of material in the one year.* However, even at that time I was encountering contemporaries from public and private institutions that didn't cover even half of what we did.

(*Aside: to this date, one of the 2 or 3 most difficult classes I've ever taken - I think 90%+ of us scored a 3 or higher on the AP exam that year, getting us college credit for both Bio 1 and Bio 1 Lab in the process)
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« Reply #10 on: February 19, 2010, 06:12:06 PM »

Actually, foreign countries cover fewer topics but do so in a more in depth manner. One of the problems with the U.S. curriculum is that it is very broad but very shallow. Because teachers are required to cover so many topics in one year, the they cannot spend the time necessary to get into each topic in depth.

Are you saying that within each discipline the curriculum is too broad, or are you saying that we teach too many disciplines?

But again, most students simply don't care about their subjects or don't really believe that it is important to learn these subjects.

So you see the major motivational hurdle as being a sort of "relevance gap" - too many subjects seem impractical or useless?

Here is one case in point. I have a student who is earning a D in Algebra I credit revcovery course. I told her that I was very concerned about her grade. She was suprised that I was concerned because a D is "passing" and should then be ok.   Shocked

A society of mediocrity.
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« Reply #11 on: February 20, 2010, 03:04:23 AM »



Are you saying that within each discipline the curriculum is too broad, or are you saying that we teach too many disciplines?


Within each discipline the curriculum is too broad. I teach ninth grade this year but last year I taught eighth grade math. You should look at the curriculum for eighth graders. If they don't have ADHD before eighth grade, they are certain to develop it by the time they finish middle school.
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« Reply #12 on: February 20, 2010, 04:20:26 AM »

If there was a greater focus on theory, I think the sciences and maths could be made more manageable.  Theory can be extrapolated and used in a variety of applications.  When pure application is taught with minimal theory, things become so disjointed and you have to cover a million examples since the basis is never fully understood.
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