The Struggle to Have Students be Their Personal Best

Wow! What a challenging class. Today the students were VERY loud and lacked focus. Throughout the class period, it was a constant challenge to get high-quality work.

Coral Reef Environmental Poster

Today, the class completed their Help Wanted environmental posters as part of the technology project, TechnoEnvironment. They had already done a direct instruction lesson on the poster elements in the previous class. In this class they just needed to add a caption and arrange design elements. The caption had to contain a simple sentence that explained to fellow students at the school what THEY could do to help solve an environmental issue. The technology skill emphasized during this lesson was desktop publishing. The instructional goal was to create an informative publication for a target audience that had a well-balanced layout, attractive design, and an effective message.

To help students write a meaningful caption, a list of ideas were written on the whiteboard. In addition, questions were posed about what action students could take to solve certain environmental issue. For example, to stop sharking finning students should not eat or use products made from sharks, to reduce the damage from oil spills students could ask parents to be careful when pouring oil into cars and lawn mowers, or to block the spread of nuclear energy they could donate money to research related to alternative forms of energy such as wind or solar. This brief discussion, paired with the ideas on the whiteboard, gave students the framework they needed to develop one meaningful suggestion to fellow students.

Free Time Motivates Students to Complete their Work at the Cost of Quality

Once the task was explained, I began to roam around the room supporting students while they completed their posters. When the printer starting churning out paper a few short minutes later, I was surprised. I knew the amount of work required today from students was limited, but it would likely take more time to complete. It was then that I realized the students were hurrying through the assignment so that they could have free time to play on the Internet.

It is common practice for the students to have free time after they complete their work. This routine has been well-established throughout their years of schooling. During the past few classes, I have not witnessed any abuse of this privilege…until today.

The work I was handed had spelling errors, clip art unrelated to the topic, poorly balanced design elements, and pixelated images. In all of these examples, it was clear that students were RUSHING their work. Moreover, many posters had captions that were not targeted to fellow students. It was clear – as little thought as possible was being given to this task.

To Grade or Not to Grade

At the school where I am a guest instructor, Computers is not a graded component of the report card nor are the TechnoKids technology projects integrated into grading in other subject areas. I know that the students do not like investing their time in work that is not graded. By Grade 8 many students refuse to do their best work if there is no assessment. They are NOT internally motivated simply by knowing that they did a good job. This means that I have to “sell” every assignment. At the start of each class students must “buy in” to the task. In the past, I have done a pretty good job selling the task, however today my efforts were not working.

How Do You Get Students To Do Their Best?

Environmental Bulletin Board - Help Wanted

Help Wanted Bulletin Board

Today, more than 10 students reprinted their work because their first copy was not their best effort. All student work is now posted to a bulletin board in the computer lab. Yahoo! Although it was a challenge, the work is well done. There are four students missing work. I have requested that they come into the computer lab to complete their edits. A print out for their work is to be handed to the IT support member who will then post it to the bulletin board.

You may wonder what insights I can share with you so that your students will always do their best. After some reflection, here are some suggestions:

  • Preview the Screen before Printing: Establish a rule that no student can print until the teacher has viewed the computer screen to sign-off on the work. (TIP: This works when only a few students are done, but if many finish at one time, it can get unruly)
  • Grade Student Work: Older students value grades. Provide a marking sheet for a task ahead of time and then evaluate the final product upon completion.
  • Authentic Audience: Have students share their work with an audience. You can post student work throughout the school, share work with another class, email work to an e-pal, or invite visitors into the lab to view work.
  • Color Printing: A publication can be printed in color if the work is high-quality.
  • Creativity: Provide more room for creative expression to make a task personally meaningful.
  • Set Clear Expectations: Describe the expectations for a task explicitly.
  • Self-Evaluation or Peer Evaluation: Provide a checklist. Have the student or a peer review the work to determine if it is complete.

TechnoEnvironment Articles:

  1. Planning to Teach an Environmental Technology Project
  2. Frozen Computers Foil Internet Research
  3. 12 Tips for Internet Research
  4. Five Issues Associated with Assigning Computer Homework
  5. Guided Discovery and Computer Education
  6. Establish an Authentic Audience for Technology Projects
  7. Direct Instruction and Computer Education
  8. The Struggle to Have Students be their Personal Best
  9. Flexibility is the Key to Success in the Computer Lab
  10. Where is the Content? Razzle Dazzle and Computers
  11. Celebrate Success!
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