Any teacher that spends an entire day in a classroom trying to engage students in learning knows they are not all the same. What works with one, may not work with another. Each student is motivated differently. Behaviors can be predicted by knowing which key opens what door.
While there are many techniques to inspire learning, most students probably fall into one of these four general categories. Dunn and Dunn research in learning styles has divided students into the following:
Students in this group will trust you if you have credentials. They need to know that “you” know. Place a diploma on the wall. Discuss the advanced education you have. They may ask, “Where did you learn that? Who told you to do this?” They are not being disrespectful or challenging your authority. They just need to know that you indeed are qualified to be doing what you are doing and know what you are saying. Once this is established, they are satisfied and buy what you are teaching.
These students will not appreciate a substitute teacher unless they fit the qualifications necessary for acceptance.
Age is the key factor here. These students find it hard to believe that a new teacher, age 23, could possibly know enough to be teaching them. They respect and listen to people that are older than they are. In their minds, they see age and wisdom connected. They will be more accepting of an older teacher and question a young teacher. They will be uncomfortable with a young nurse in the hospital or a young doctor, as well. The “better” attorney would be the older one. They probably would not vote for a young candidate in an election.
This student is easy to find in the classroom. They are easily affected by peers. If the peers are academic, so will he be. If the peers are athletic, so will he be. If the peers are acting out, so will he be. In the past these behaviors occured in grades 6-9. Today, we are seeing these behaviors grades 3-9. We may call them followers, easily persuaded, or crowd pleasers but their motivation is peer driven.
TAG, Talented and Gifted, students and Resource Room students are not motivated by peers as much as the middle section of the class. They tend to march to their own drummer.
These are the independent thinkers. Every teachers dream? Well, no. Teachers say they want independent and creative thinkers but what they really mean is that they want students to agree with their beliefs. When students are truly “independent” and think for themselves, teachers often call them non-compliant and punish them for not following directions. We give lip service to being creative and want them to connect the dots we prescribed. So, these students often give up on being creative, play the school game, and graduate with untapped creativity.
We want creativity but not too much creativity. We want students to think out of the box as long as they are near the box we gave them. Once they get too far from the box or lose it, we consider that non-compliance and tell the student they have an attitude.
Students May Have More Than One Area
Many students have more than one motivational area. For example, they can be self-motivated and yet respect age. But, one area will usually motivate action more than another.
- Student #1 will be asking questions about where you learned something and how you know it. They are not being sassy. They want confirmation that they should trust you.
- Student #2 will have problems with you if you are young and seem to be inexperienced. Wisdom comes with age.
- Student #3 will be playing up to his friends. What they think is more important than what you think.
- And, Student #4 will be taking you at your word that you will allow them to be creative. If you stifle their creativity, they will shut down.
How teachers react to a student’s creativity will determine if the student continues to be motivated and trust. All four motivational areas are about some form of trust.