Motivating Learning

Posted by Karen Eoff on May 20, 2014

Why is the learning process such a mystery? Why do some students love to learn and become lifelong learners, while others won’t participate, and some purposefully disrupt the learning of others? What factor or factors motivate students to want to learn and participate in the learning process?

EAST students have opportunities throughout the year to be trained by industry professionals and EAST Initiative staff on the latest technology at the organization's headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas.
EAST students have opportunities throughout the year to be trained by industry professionals and EAST Initiative staff on the latest technology at the organization’s headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas.

A caring teacher or administrator

While doing research for a graduate degree in the early 80’s, I interviewed students who would be attending Arkansas Governor’s School—a six week summer residential program for gifted and talented students in Arkansas.  My interviewees were all from disadvantaged backgrounds or disadvantaged areas of the state. When asked what encouraged them to persevere in the face of adversity and to continue to be creative and motivated learners, the answer was the same for 95% of the students interviewed. Their response was, “I once had a teacher or administrator that truly believed that I could go to college and be successful.”

I know firsthand that many students are motivated to learn by caring, inspirational teachers or administrators who have touched their lives and shaped their future success. But are there other learning factors?

A great educational program

A great educational program can be a factor.  For example, I’ve observed the EAST initiative inspire students to want to become learners. EAST (Environmental and Spatial Technology) is an educational model focusing on student-driven service projects accomplished by using teamwork and technology. EAST was founded in 1996 by first-year teacher and former law enforcement officer Tim Stephenson while working with “at-risk” students who were less than enthralled about learning. His first group of EAST students became enthusiastic learners when this new and relevant model of learning was used. He had astounding results from the start with his students. This model spread throughout Arkansas and to other states. Numerous research studies have validated the EAST model. EAST has proven that at-risk and other learners can be inspired to learn when put in a learning environment using cutting edge technology as a tool for learning, collaborating, and using performance based learning.

EAST students at Greenbrier High School in Greenbrier, Arkansas, prepare to launch a weather balloon attached with a GoPro Hero3 camera. The students documented their project through a blog (http://ghsspaceballoon.blogspot.com/) which includes photos and video from the balloon's journey.
EAST students at Greenbrier High School in Greenbrier, Arkansas, prepare to launch a weather balloon attached with a GoPro Hero3 camera. Click the photo to see photos and video from the balloon’s journey.

Personal interest as a “hook”

But are there other factors? Based on my own experience I propose a third factor might be letting students explore topics that interest them, and then hook that interest to something that students need to learn. I will never forget the interest of a middle grade student that brought an archaeological artifact to school that had been passed down through his family. The student, who had previously shown no interest in school or learning, researched the artifact, prepared written historical notes as handouts, and then gave a fifteen minute historical brief on the object to students and teachers. Wow! We found this young man could write and speak well—if social studies had a relevant link to a topic that interested him.

Yes, I know that learning cannot always be enthralling.  Many times tackling a rigorous problem is just plain, hard work. Yes, I know that unlocking the mystery of what makes students want to learn is time-consuming and tedious. Yes, I know that we may never unlock the mystery for some students. Yes, I know that finding the money to purchase cutting-edge technology for students to use is tough. However, for all the dedicated teachers and administrators who have spent their professional lives motivating students to learn using any and all avenues, “This blog is for you!”

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Karen Eoff

Karen Eoff is the Director of the Southeast Arkansas Education Service Cooperative and a member of the TICAL cadre.

2 thoughts on “Motivating Learning”

  1. Awesome and well said. EAST is a model that is inspiring and engaging students across the state of Arkansas. It is amazing to see how EAST is connecting interested students with real life problems and creating an environment for students and adults to find solutions. In community after community in Arkansas adults are finding that our young people are fantastic problem solvers that use the technology needed for the 21st Century workplace.

  2. The last paragraph says it all, Karen. Thanks for giving us some great ideas to ponder as the school year draws to a close.

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