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Finishing Strong

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Finishing Strong

Virginia Pavlick

As summer nears, students and teachers alike begin looking forward to sunny days, beach vacations, and outdoor BBQs. After a long, tough school year that usually ends with a round of final exams, summer vacation is well deserved. Unfortunately, in those couple of months before the end of the school year, the rise in temperature often brings a drop in student motivation. Especially for middle and high school students, the willingness to study and focus is at an all-time low due to preoccupation with summer jobs, spring sports, and travel plans. Coupled with the pressure of advanced placement classes and college preparation, school burn-out is all too common.

In discussing this predicament at MyloWrites and trying to think of possible solutions, we realized that in order to find a solution, we needed to know more about the cause of the problem. What better way to learn more about student motivation (or lack thereof) than to just ask the students themselves? We compiled a set of nine questions and gathered responses from middle and high-school students. Here is what they had to say!

1.     With summer vacation around the corner, what are the biggest distractions to you in terms of studying and getting homework done?

  • Social Media
  • Thoughts of summer vacation and spending time outdoors
  • Lack of sleep
  • The nice weather
  • Pure boredom

2.     What are the hardest parts about staying motivated toward the end of the school year

  • The weather
  • Knowing that summer is so soon
  • My parents telling me what to do
  • Feeling like studying is pointless and overwhelming

3.     Do you have any strategies and/or tricks to staying on task?

  • Doing my homework outside
  • Doing my homework right when I get home and before anything else
  • Turning off social media accounts
  • Setting a reward as something to look forward to when finished

4.     What do your parents do that is unhelpful?

  • They don’t give me credit for the amount of work I do
  • They tell me how and when to do my work
  • They don’t validate my stress/workload

5.     What do your teachers do that is unhelpful?

  • They assign ridiculous amounts of reading or homework per night
  • They don’t realize that we have other classes besides just their class

6.     What do your teachers do that is helpful?

  • They give us fifteen minute breaks at school for homework (I get more work done in fifteen minutes at school than in an hour at home)
  • Fifteen minutes at the end of class to start homework, work together, and ask questions

7.     What do you see fellow classmates doing to combat the lack of motivation?

  • Take a break and go for a run/exercise
  • Complete one subject and then have a small reward (such as a snack) and then start the next subject
  • Use apps such as Quizlet, Notability, Forest, or the Unicef Tap Project

Below are details on the above-mentioned apps:

Quizlet: an online flashcard generator app

Notability: an app that allows you to add color, font styles, and helpful images to notes

Forest: a virtual tree-planting app that discourages social media use (the tree will begin to die if the user goes on to a social media platform)

Unicef Tap Project: an app that will donate clean water to children in need for time that the user is not using his/her smartphone

8.     Overall, what motivates you? I.e., what are you working toward?

  • Good grades
  • Completing my assignments so I have free time
  • Using/energizing my brain
  • Knowing that there are rewards once I finish (e.g., sleep)

9.     Is internal motivation enough to get you focused and on task, or do you need external motivators as well?

  • Self-fulfillment is enough
  • I feel good knowing that I’ve done well
  • Good grades

To clarify, in responses to the above question, “good grades” was the only external motivator that was mentioned.

So, we understand what is contributing to the lack of motivation toward the end of the school year. Students feel distracted by the nice weather, weighed-down by constant homework assignments and readings, and misunderstood by both parents and teachers. The last point is the most important, and likely the most possible to change. We reached out to Dr. Dana Dorfman, a member of the MyloWrites Advisory Board and prominent psychotherapist within the educational space, for advice on what parents and teachers can do to positively impact students’ feelings toward homework and studying in the face of upcoming summer vacation. Below are her three main take-aways:

1.     Validation

           Validating feelings does not mean “giving in” to them! We often fear that if we verbalize a feeling, we make it more real. Thus, we actively deny or resist acknowledging feelings. To our kids, this may come across as misunderstanding and/or “missing” their feelings of stress and burn-out. When we openly acknowledge their experience, and verbalize their feeling apathetic or unmotivated, we can manage the feelings and strategize ways to cope with them more effectively. The students we asked mentioned parents “telling them what to do” or “not giving credit for the work they do”, as well as teachers “not realizing they have other classes.” By validating our students’ hard work and expressing understanding of how tough it can be to keep at it during the last few months of the school year, students will feel validated and more apt to tackle the problem.

2.     Acknowledging Progress

Rather than viewing these last few months of the school year as a time for children to “eek out” the remaining fuel in their tanks, help them to redefine their goals for this time period. Identify realistic and measurable goals, while maintaining the mindset of validation in point #1. This assumes a more “affirmative,” or positive approach to feelings of depletion. In the responses we received, students felt as though parents and teachers didn’t provide sufficient “credit” for their hard work. By maintaining encouragement and rewarding their studies, we provide external motivation to keep at it!

3.     Support System

Students benefit from connecting with other students. Often, a humorous exchange with a fellow peer can infuse a student with a shift in energy and perspective. Additionally, students can empathize and validate each other’s experiences and help them to feel understood! In their responses to our questions, the students mentioned that it is helpful to use class time to begin homework so as to get a jump on it, work together, and ask questions. Encourage your students to participate in study groups or partner work to help them feel as though they are in good company!

Educators, what motivation tactics work in your classroom to push students to finish the semester strong? Parents, does your child have any tips or tricks that work for them? Share your thoughts in the comments below, tweet us @MyloWrites, or email us [email protected]!