Over my last four years teaching math at Grant I have noticed that a large percentage of my students have zero motivation. Motivation to succeed, motivation to fail, motivation to do pretty much of anything except go through the motions almost as if on autopilot. Hence, the old motivator of “Do it, or you’ll fail!” was in of itself a failure. Thus, I have had to get creative and constantly find new ways to literally, make them to do math. That’s why I got excited about some of the research done by Maurico Delgado on how to activate the striata part of the brain which is also where motivation comes from.
Thanks to modern MRI technology there has been some incredible brain research done over the last few years that has given us insights into what generates motivation. The experiments were actually fairly simple, ask a subject to make a decision, any decision no matter how meaningless or insignificant and the striata lights up. Psychologists, then took this research and created a motivation protocol that essentially just forces people to make decisions and thus they become more motivated. There are all kinds of theories about decision making being a biological imperative, giving a person an internal locus of control as to why this works but all that really matters to me is that it does.
Therefore, I started to look at the systems of learning that I have in place in my class for opportunities to include decision making into as many things for as many students every day. As it turns out it really isn’t that difficult to do but it did take a brain shift on my part. If you think about it most students have very little opportunity to make decisions in a class. They are told what to do and when to do it. With the only decision making opportunities available to them being negative ones.
When looking at the research, it was clear that it did not matter what decisions were made just that they were, so I started to create decision-making opportunities that couldn’t have negative ramifications. One of the first ones I thought of was getting a multicolor LED strip to wrap around something in the room and forcing a student to choose the “color of the day” each period. This met my criteria of being safe, easy, doable and not time consuming or expensive on my part. Next, I started looking at my already established routines and noticed that there were no decision-making opportunities in them. Students are arbitrarily given a “role” to play in a team that was either randomly created or created by me. While, I’m not ready to give up control of team composition (that’s a whole other article) I found that with a little revamping decision making could be integrated into the team roles. For example, instead of having the Reporter/Recorder read everything they now must choose who on their team must be the first to read. That reader must then choose who the second reader is and so on. I have managed to make forced decision making an integral part of every team role. I hope that with a little modeling, performance quizzes and weekly team goals this will quickly become a natural and seamless part of every class. Of course with my mind shifted to constantly be on the look out for decision making opportunities I’m sure I will develop plenty more throughout the year.