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Motivating Students for Assessment Success

Thursday, January 24, 2013 -- Shane Dennison

Why is it that many students don’t do well on classroom assessments yet find a way to do well on their driver’s license exams, their summer job certification exams, etc?  The reason is often a matter of motivation or a lack thereof. For example, when a 15 or 16 year old prepares for their  driver’s license exam the motivation is clear and simple, pass and you can legally drive a car. When they prepare for their lifeguarding certification exam for a summer job the motivation is predetermined, pass and you can earn extra money this summer. In other words they see such exams as motivating to their best interest. We all know that students see immediate rewards that such tests can provide (driver’s license exam, life-guarding certification test, etc.), but sometimes they lack the motivation for classroom assessments that don’t always show a personal and gratifying reward until further down the road (i.e. passing grade for class, honor roll at end of quarter, grade promotion, and eventual graduation).

How can we transition such student motivation to classroom assessments that students take on a regular basis?

Well, first and foremost, most of us can do a better job at creating “student-centered classroom assessments.”  For example, if the assessment involves a writing assignment, the teacher could have each student or groups of students analyze both an excellent writing assignment and a dismal one. The teacher can let the students identify what made the good example strong and what made the dismal example weak so they can use their own analytical skills in preparation for their own writing assignment. 

Second, try and make the assessment intrinsically motivating to each student by making the item topics and questions relative to their interests when possible (i.e. perhaps integrate current pop culture, musical concepts, etc.) into the lessons and eventually into the assessments that they will prepare for.  Also, consider giving your students a choice in the assessment format they are administered and surrounding parameters (i.e. due dates, current cultural topics from a list you prepared, etc). Furthermore, try to challenge students slightly above their grade level when appropriate (not too easy as to not challenge them and thus not take as serious and not too difficult as to be overwhelming or beyond their abilities).  For struggling learners take time to show such students “how to learn” in a way that is personal to their unique strengths. Such personal strategizing will likely carry over to how they approach and perform on classroom assessments.   

Another consideration is having each student chronicle or chart their assessment performances throughout the grading period with expected future goals. Thus, they can have a continuous visual of their assessment performances to date and hopefully be more cognizant of steps that may need to be taken to increase those performances moving forward.  Finally, consider “student-led conferences” between the student, parents, and the teacher. Students explaining their class and assessment progress within the classroom to someone they care about with the teacher only giving suggestions as needed for improvement could prove to be more motivating to a struggling student (or any student for that matter) rather than just having the student witness the teacher speak in a one-sided manner to the parent.

Hopefully I’ve given you a few examples that hopefully will get you thinking about ideas to help encourage your students to succeed. Tell us how  you motivate your students in the comments section below.