Finding Success in All the Right Places

By Pat Collins and Kelly Jewell

Can you picture a student that you think is always off-task? How about one that sure seems lazy? Do you have students that don’t start assignments even though you know your directions were crystal clear? In this day and age it is tempting to blame these behaviors on ADHD, poor parenting, or bad attitudes. But what if it’s something else? We wondered why we weren’t successfully motivating and engaging our students.

You might say to motivate and engage students our lessons just need to be interesting, connected to the real-world, active, reach different learning styles, and fun. But, that wasn’t enough to reach many of our students. After plenty of research and a lot of trial and error, we hit upon the hidden obvious. People aren’t motivated to do things if they don’t think they can be successful. Success is motivating!

We realized that many of our students had not felt success for so long that they didn’t believe it was possible. Students were given only summative scores and grades; they looked only at the big picture and saw failure. They didn’t see their incremental successes. We changed our thinking and teaching to make sure each student knew we believed they could be successful so that they would believe it too. With the students we processed what it takes to be successful: effort + strategies + practice = success. We provided scaffolding, support, re-teaching, and engaged students in a system to monitor their progress using formative assessments, and they began to see their growth! Students that earlier professed to “hate math”, fell in love. Thinking and learning strategies that were called “extra work” or that “took too long”, now were considered strategies that supported success.

Now, our students are more motivated and engaged than ever. We haven’t reached every student, but we know this is the right path. We need to help our students find little successes along the way so they begin to believe that success is possible, and worth the work!


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