Motivation and An Image

Efforts to promote learning (educational reform) have been headline news for many years. If you reflect on the number of reforms attempted in the United States in the last thirty years, you would need many fingers to count them. Then if you reflected on how many of these attempts to improve education are extant, you would be hard pressed to need any fingers.

W. Edwards Deming, the man who brought the meaning of quality as “continuous improvement” to the world, often stated, “ninety-six percent of the problem lies in the SYSTEM, not in the employees.”

Following are two examples where the educational SYSTEM uses unproductive approaches.

The first: Educators talk about “motivating students” because of the apathy towards learning so many students display today. We focus on “motivating.” However, when we observe young children in their first years at school, we see THAT THEY ARE ALREADY MOTIVATED.

A much more practical and effective approach would be to REMOVE BARRIERS to their motivation. Asking students, “What can we do to remove barriers to your learning?” and “What is the school doing that hampers your desire to put forth effort to learn?” will give some suggestions never thought of before, one of which is simply TO LISTEN TO THE LEARNERS. Not a rocket science idea!

Second, we were taught and think of the bell shape curve where most of the population is in the middle with few at the extremes.

Since OUR VISIONS SHAPES OUR BEHAVIORS, the bell-curve image has us envisioning success for only half of the population, the 50% at the right of the median. This picture can be seen, for example, in standardized tests, in rankings, in grading, and in competitive academics, e.g., Why does a high school limit superior accomplishments to only one valedictorian?

Rather than thinking of a vision where only half are in the upper 50%, as in a bell-shaped curve, a much more effective vision would be to think of a curve shaped like a capital letter “J.”

Here is how the image works. At the beginning of the school year—before students have learned the subject matter—they are at the left, lower part of the “J.” As students gain mastery, they move to the right and upwards along of the “J” curve.

Whereas a bell-shaped curve has us envision less of a success rate, a “J” curve image prompts us to think of what we can do to help ALL students improve and increase their skills as the year progresses—so that by the end of the year they are all at the incline of the “J.”

If we really want ALL STUDENTS TO SUCCEED, we should scrap thinking of the bell-shaped curve and replace it with a “J” curve.

Another vision that helps motivation  are at the Levels of Development.

More information on this topic is available at