Why is it that many students struggle with classroom assessments, yet find a way to easily succeed on their driver’s license exam, a summer job certification, or other practical tests? The reason often comes down to a matter of motivation – or the lack thereof. For example, when a 15 or 16 year old prepares for their driver’s license exam, they have a plainly evident source of motivation: pass and you can legally drive a car. It’s a similar situation when they prepare for a lifeguarding certification exam: pass and you can earn extra money this summer.
Simply put, students are motivated for “real-world” exams like these because they clearly see how doing well serves their best interests. When it comes to classroom assessments though, the benefits of doing well aren’t as obvious. There often isn’t an immediate, tangible, and meaningful reward for a good outcome (treat days and gold stars can only go so far), and many students struggle to keep long-term goals like a passing grade, making the honor role, or working towards graduation in perspective. This lack of motivation translates directly to poor assessment results. After all, how often do any of us excel at something we don’t see the point of?
So, the question becomes how can educators help their students understand the purpose behind regularly administered classroom assessments and gain motivation through that understanding? Here are five classroom tips:
1. Create Student-Centered Classroom Assessments
For many students who struggle with motivation, giving them more ownership and opportunity to offer their own opinions can be helpful. Take advantage of this fact, and work to make your assessments more student-driven. For instance, if your assessment involves a writing assignment, start by having each student or groups of students analyze both an excellent writing assignment and a poor one. Then, instead of telling them yourself, ask your students to identify what makes the good example strong and the poor example weak. This encourages them to practice analytical skills and form arguments rather than simply taking in and repeating back information. It also helps your students prepare for their own future writing assignments in an active manner.
2. Tap into Intrinsic Motivation
Interest and motivation go hand in hand. So, when creating your classroom exams, try to make questions as relevant to your students’ personal interests as possible. Brainstorm things that your students care about and get excited about – the topics that they discuss in casual conversations with their classmates and friends. Maybe this includes box-office movie hits, popular singers, favorite sports teams, or the latest tech trends. Integrate these topics into your lessons and eventual assessments to pique your students’ interest and get them to engage with the underlying concepts and material.
3. Give Students a Say
Letting your students make some decisions about their assessments is a great way to give them more ownership over their learning – and reap the motivational benefits that can provide. Consider giving your students some choice in the format that they are assessed in, and switch up the format you use to accommodate different students’ preferences. This also gives your students the chance to display their knowledge of various concepts in different ways. For example, if you’re teaching a unit on the Civil Rights Movement, some students may excel at explaining the underlying causes and effects of the movement on an essay-based exam. Others may have an equally strong grasp of the content, but better communicate it through a more project-based approach like developing a basic website or collaborating with classmates to create a short performance.
4. Take the Time to Personalize
Taking the time to work individually with students and tailoring elements of your lessons to their needs can go a long way in increasing their motivation for classroom assessments. When you see that students are doing well with material, challenge them slightly beyond grade level to keep them engaged. Similarly, take the time to work with your struggling students. Help them with those concepts they are finding the most challenging, and offer them learning strategies to take in material in a way that aligns with their strengths.
5. Encourage Students to Monitor Their Own Progress
When students are able to see their progress towards various academic goals it can be a significant motivating factor. Consider having each student keep a chart of their assessment performance throughout the grading period. This gives your students a continuous visual of their assessment outcomes to date and can help them to recognize steps they need to take to improve their performance moving forward. Additionally, consider holding “student-led conferences” with each student and their parents or caregivers. Giving your students the chance to explain their own class and assessment progress to someone they care about can be more motivating than a conversation led by you.
Looking for more tips to engage your students with classroom lessons and assessments? Check out this blog post on Melding Student Interest with the Standards! Interested in learning more about Edmentum’s assessment solutions? Check out this video or register for our upcoming webinar on Formative Assessment Strategies and Study Island!