Here’s a huge problem that every educator encounters on a pretty regular basis: the classroom full of blank stares as you describe an assignment. Or worse, the rolling eyes and heavy sighs. Been there? I’m sure you have.
How do you overcome this kind of resistance? How do you handle the “Hedgehog Student“? You know the student I mean. He has become so frustrated with how little control he has over his schooling, that he has thrown in the towel. Metaphorically, he has curled up into a little ball, and is sticking his spines out at you!
It doesn’t have to be this way. You CAN change the dynamic in your classroom! Let me tell you about Carol. She had two classes of low-level students. There were a number of English-language learners, as well as many students on Individual Education Plans. All of the students are nice kids, but they don’t necessarily come from homes where education is a top priority. Also, because of their language and learning issues, Carol knows that she has to get them engaged right away.
Using the Guided Inquiry model (see Painless Research!), Carol and I were able to scaffold the research process for her students and not only engage them in the moment, but motivate them to extend the learning on their own. Here are some basic steps that you can use to develop motivation in your Hedgehog Students, while still meeting Common Core requirements:
- Start with something that has high teen or kid appeal. For these 10th graders, we used a popular Young Adult novel, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, but you can decide what topic is most current and interesting to your students.
- We had students engage with this topic by keeping a reading journal. You can ask your students to write about the topic in a journal, or an online blog, or some other authentic tool.
- We spent a period using the Question Formulation Technique. This is a terrific activity from the Right Question Institute at Harvard that empowers students to ask their OWN questions! This is the most important piece of this engagement/motivation puzzle. If students feel that THEIR questions are important and worth investigating, their interest automatically skyrockets. In fact, if you can’t get to most of the other steps, this is the #1 thing you should find time to implement!
- Using the questions generated during the QFT, we helped the students narrow down their questions to topics that are of personal interest to them. We didn’t dictate what questions they had to answer; it was all about what THEY wanted to learn. Bingo! This is what is called the “third space”. It’s the place where the curriculum meets and overlaps with student interest. You tap into that interest by using the questioning activity, and their innate curiosity is brought out to answer their own questions. In many cases in Carol’s class, the students even went further to learn more on their own.
- In our case, the students ultimately ended up doing a research project, finding non-fiction articles in our school databases that addressed the topic of their choice. Their final paper had to synthesize ideas from the novel, some TED Talk videos about bioengineering that we had shown them (and that really incited some great discussions!), and at least a couple of non-fiction articles (meeting Common Core requirements). As an added bonus, they got to create Glogs on Glogster (online posters) that presented their new knowledge visually. You don’t have to end with a paper; you could go right to the Glogs, or do any other variation of knowledge presentation ideas.
It can be frustrating to work with a class of students who just don’t care. It is much easier on you – and on them – when you find ways to meet them in that third space, because then you’ll find that they suddenly DO care. Let them explore their own interests and make some choices about what they are going to learn, and you’ll find that the Hedgehog Students uncurl themselves!
Questions: What teen- or kid-friendly topics do you think would really engage your students? Where can you insert student interests – that “third space” – in your curriculum?
Deborah Owen is a high school library teacher in Massachusetts. She blogs at Convergence In the Commons about “teacher hacks” – ideas that will help educators reach, influence, and motivate learners. Please feel free to sign up for her posts and newsletters, and follow her on Twitter: @DeborahCOwen.