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The Key to Keeping Students (and Teachers) Motivated

Factoring relevance and choice into the equation

As educators, we’re always looking for new ways to keep our students engaged. In a world where there are so many distractions and competing messages, it’s a constant struggle to capture attention and keep our kids focused, let alone fascinated.

A few of us at DreamBox recently brainstormed ways to get and keep students motivated, and as we compiled our best hacks we came to an obvious but often overlooked observation: what’s good for elementary school students is often good for learners of all ages—including teachers.

We’ve quoted it here before, but insights from a recent Gates Foundation Study bear repeating. The vast majority of teachers surveyed said they weren’t satisfied with current professional development offerings—and when we look at their complaints it’s easy to see why. It’s also easy to draw a parallel to our own struggles with student engagement.

For example, teachers report feeling that they have little or no input on the professional learning topics they’re offered. Often, they find themselves herded into an auditorium and subjected to hours of instruction on content that’s neither relevant to their students nor their practice.

If what the person at the front of the room is pitching isn’t relevant to you, chances are you’re not going to be engaged—and you’re not going to learn anything. It’s true for teachers in a professional learning environment and it’s true for elementary school students in a classroom.

Relevance and choice matter—at every age. In fact, isn’t relevance at the root of the age-old question posited by bored math students everywhere, “When will I ever use this?” Formulas and algorithms are fine, but students need context too. The more we show students how the math they’re learning in class can be applied to real-world problems, the more relevant (and potentially engaging) it becomes.

Providing students with choice, on the other hand, can be a bit more challenging. With standards-aligned curriculum, students don’t get to pick WHAT they learn, but they can have a say in HOW they learn. For example, with DreamBox, students get to choose the lessons they want to play, and that makes for a more engaging—and ultimately more memorable—learning experience.

In a similar way, DreamBox empowers teachers with choice and relevance too. Our newly released professional development platform MyFlexPD empowers educators to deepen their understanding of math content in ways that are directly related to their students’ specific learning challenges. It engages teachers in a dynamic, self-paced experience that enables them to use real-time student performance data as a starting point for relevant professional learning. With the power to choose, and access to content that’s truly relevant, teachers are more likely to get and stay motivated.

Factoring relevance and choice into your learning environment are just two ways to keep learners engaged. For more tips, download “10 Ways to Keep Students Motivated.”

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