Motivating Students 2: Begin with Students

Connecting to students’ world does not mean never expanding the parameters of their knowledge.

Student interests, values, attitudes are an effective starting point, but not the appropriate end point.

Connecting course material to what students already are familiar with, to what they are already interested in is a potent way to affirm the relevance and value of learning.

Sometimes the connection may be one of opposition. Students may have a long-held mistaken idea, formed at a much younger age, about a particular subject. A major advantage of bringing this mistaken conception to the forefront of student awareness is that it is easier to dislodge a misconception if students are made aware that they hold it. Otherwise, even though they “learn” correct material, this correct information will not necessarily dislodge the previous misconception.

  • This is crucial for those who work with attitudinal issues such as issues about class, gender, nationality, and race.
  • This is also important for those who deal with areas where students will have formed habits and understandings early in life with simple and uncomplicated thinking patterns: language, writing, science, knowledge, self, studying itself.

Pre-knowledge probe

As students in general: what do you know about ----?
- Write down everything
- Find something of value to affirm, even in misconceptions. (i.e. This is a frequently held opinion; this is what seems reasonable to our senses. Or, although this is wrong, this is a highly original and creative idea.)


Do a quick general processing of a reading assignment

- What surprised you in this section?
- What was new information?
- Did anything you read contradict what your believed previously?

Sometimes this can be the spring board for a productive discussion, not only of the material itself, but of the process of creating knowledge.

 X believed that -----. But the book said that -----. What reasons might we have for believing the book? Why did the authors accept this as truth? (This really gets as the crucial question: How do I know that what I “know” is true?)