Motivating Students/Westminster High

Jim wrote me the following regarding his teaching:

I am a returning math teacher who has worked in business most of my life. Had a tough time teaching last year. Thought I could just teach the subject and didn’t give any thought to managing the classroom. Got a rude awakening.

I figure if I can guide the students into being courteous to one another, we can then have meaningful conversations  about math. One of the best ways to learn math is to express it in English.

The suggestion I gave Jim is the one I gave to high school teachers in Georgia using math as an example.

I suggested they start each lesson by giving students a problem. Grappling with a problem creates interest and curiosity, both great motivators. Students can then share how they solved or attempted to solve the problem. After  this discussion, use direct instruction followed by guided practice.

The approach follows the Japanese model of teaching. Our usual approach is to give direct instruction followed by guided practice. This approach does not consider motivation; it assumes students are motivated by a responsibility to learn what is taught. Of course, what is lacking here is the teacher’s responsibility to create an environment where students WANT to learn.
Incidentally, I started my staff development at Coffee High School in Douglas, Georgia by informing the staff that if they were ever in Southern California and drove by Westminster High School in the Huntington Beach Union High School District they might take notice of four bungalows in the front south side of that campus.

These bungalows were built at my behest when I was assistant principal of curriculum and instruction. I had presented to the board of education a plan to establish a small learning community that combined math, science, language arts, and social studies with teachers having a common planning period and with the same group of 9th grade students. Coffee High School was initiating the same format—also starting with ninth graders—to raise their graduation rate, a challenge that affects most high schools in the U.S.A.