Your class is a quiet class. Your students file in at the beginning of a session, quietly take their seats, obediently take notes, and then get up and leave at the end, also quietly. Sure, sometimes a student falls asleep, and there is the occasional flash of hostility between students, but that’s all okay in the balance, right, of such a quiet and obedient class?
Well, no, actually this class has a number of limitations, from the lack of interaction (quiet and order aren’t always good attributes) to the student boredom (evidenced in falling asleep). What the class needs, what would solve many of its problems, is some student enthusiasm for their work, some investment in it, which would lead almost inevitably to more interaction and discussion of the work between students and students and teacher. This interaction in turn leads to more motivation and enthusiasm to engage in the work, creating a kind of “positive feedback loop,” in which success feeds on success. The problem is how to start, how to get students “fired up” in the first place about their coursework?
Try These 6 Methods to Ignite Enthusiasm in Your Students
Show Your Enthusiasm for the Work
Of foremost importance is for the instructor to communicate her own enthusiasm. This does not necessarily mean, as many seem to think, jumping around like a cheerleader and saying “Isn’t this fun?” It’s my experience that such “enthusiasm” often is meant to serve as a cover for lack of skill, a fact students quickly pick up on. Rather, what is meant by “enthusiasm” here is real passion from deeply connecting with one’s work: I’ve watched students’ eyes light up, for example, when I discuss the satisfaction of having readers immediately “get” what I had meant in a story. They had either experienced this themselves, or wanted to, and this created a desire to learn the course content.
Demonstrate the Value of Learning the Material
“Why do I need to learn this?” and “How is this going to help me?” These are two often-heard phrases, even at the college level, especially in basic or fundamental courses, such as writing or mathematics. They are legitimate questions: if students are going to invest a significant amount of their time learning something, they need to know its value. The teacher should be prepared with an answer, perhaps some examples and real-life instances that called upon the skill, such as the police officer who caused a case to be lost and a suspect go free because he did not clearly detail in his report what had happened at the crime scene. Anecdotes like this clearly demonstrate that a wide spectrum of professions require fundamental skills like writing.
Allow for Student Interaction: with the Teacher, Other Students, Material
People in general, and students in particular, long for some kind of connection. Historically and even today, education in the U.S. is often a solitary pursuit, taking place alone in libraries, coffee shops, or at one’s seat in a classroom. However, learning really should be a social endeavor. More ideas are generated and processed more deeply with a peer or peers. Therefore, setting up some kind of group or partner work each class session helps students learn better. If the groups are changed each session, students will get to know each other better as well.
Allow for Student-Chosen Projects
Little seems to contribute to student enthusiasm more than the students’ ability to choose their own topics or projects. When I tell students they are encouraged to choose their own topics for their research papers, there are responses from sighs of relief to broad grins. I tell them I do, however, have one requirement: it must be a topic they are truly interested in, preferably have a passion for. Students rise to the occasion by turning in very credible papers on topics like the history of hip-hop, cited with interviews with leaders in hip-hop—entirely legitimate or even impressive papers that students would not have considered writing before because they thought topic was not appropriate for school.
Connect to the Real World: Guest Speakers, Field Trips
Another way to generate enthusiasm in the class is to make those connections to the “real world” that students are longing for. One way to do this is through guest speakers with expertise in course topics: a community leader discussing the rights of gay people, for example, if that has been a course topic.
Visits to important local sites that are related to the curriculum also generate student enthusiasm. Even in your city is not located near famous landmarks, field trips can still be of value by visiting areas of local importance, such as canneries or factories. This trip can be connected to the works of John Steinbeck, for example, contextualizing the reading and allowing discussion on the differences and similarities between the novel and “real world.”
Permit Students to Use their Expertise
Finally, allowing students to use their growing competence helps. Allowing them to take the lead on a final project like a debate or a presentation feeds this enthusiasm as they have been developing their competence all semester long. Allow students to set up groups, choose topics, assign roles, and so forth, with little intervention.
Creating motivation in students and “motivating” students seems almost a contradiction in terms as ultimately people motivate themselves.
However, although it goes beyond applying a few simple catch phrases like “Great job!” teachers can help create enthusiasm in students through communicating their own passion in the subject matter, allowing students to explore their own passions, connecting to the “real world,” and permitting students to exercise their growing competence in the subject matter.
What do you do to generate enthusiasm in students?