California Educator

October/November 2019

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Page 49 of 67

I T 'S L I K E LY T H A T your hard work orchestrating the first weeks of school enhanced your students' connection to the school community and their enthusiasm for the learning to come. However, as the semester goes on and you seek to sustain that motivated momentum, you may not be able to find the same amount of prep time that you dedicated at the start of the year. Yet even when your students' bubbles of excitement fade, you can reboot their connections, engagement and motivation with the help of insights from neuroscience research. THE NEUROSCIENCE OF MOTIVATION Motivation is a desire to learn, try, work and persevere. Students' levels of intrinsic motivation — the inherent satisfaction of the activity itself, rather than an outside reward — directly corre- spond with increased effort and with seeing the effectiveness of their behavior, choices, focus and performance. Intrinsic motivation is promoted by dopamine, a brain chem- ical that gives us a rush of satisfaction upon achieving a goal we've chosen. When dopamine levels rise, so does one's sense of satisfaction and desire to continue to sustain attention and effort. Increased dopamine can also improve other mental pro- cesses, including memory, attention, perseverance and creative problem-solving. THE VALUE OF CHOICE Dopamine release is promoted by meeting desired challenges, interacting with peers, movement, humor, and listening to music, among other things. Knowing what boosts students' dopamine levels can help you in your quest to maintain or reboot their motivation. One dopamine booster that I've found especially effective is choice, which appears to increase students' levels of intrinsic motivation, supporting their sustained effort and persistence in academic tasks. Choice shifts responsibility for their learning to students and builds their judgment and decision-making. Some students may feel anxious about having too much freedom, fearing they won't do the right thing. By starting with small choices first, you can help your learners develop skills of evaluating, select- ing and following through with good choices. As you offer more opportunities for choice and expand students' boundaries as self-directed learners, you'll see further increases in their confi- dence and motivated effort toward their chosen goals. SOME CLASSROOM EXAMPLES Here are some ways to provide choice to invigorate students' motivation, engagement and effort in their learning beyond the first weeks. World languages: As students learn vocabulary in the target language, you can offer them choices regarding how they build master y and self-assess their progress. Curiosity and personal relevance for this type of task can start with your showing a short humorous video in the target language. Look for clips that show positive emotions, laughter and people and places to which your learn- ers will relate. eir goal is to explain — in a manner of their choosing — why they think the clip is funny. You may let them use dictionaries, provide guidance to appropriate textbook material, or have them work in flexible groups with you or peers. Allow them to write or speak about the humor they found, draw a cartoon strip ref lecting something in the video, or make their own videos on the humorous topic emphasized in the video. Language arts: To motivate students to learn the essentials of punctuation, have them choose a book they love. Ask them to choose a favor- ite section of their chosen text and have them copy it without the punctuation. You then make anonymous copies of these unpunc tuated documents and place them in boxes labeled with the level of challenge (as you determine it). You can add infor- mation about the topic to guide students in selecting a topic Nicole Honeywill/Unsplash Keep Students Motivated Use neuroscience to sustain enthusiasm for learning By Judy Willis 48 Teaching & Learning

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