Motivating Students to “Do the Work” of Learning

Edu-speak is a language in which I am building my fluency. When I initially looked at this week’s reading, I thought: “ah, this will be a good review. I already know all about Project Based Learning and…yea, those other two.” Turns out, I am not as fluent in this particular dialect of Edu-speak as I thought that I was.

Project based learning or, the idea of offering learners the opportunity to become active participants in the process, is not a new concept, but gained momentum with the Montessori preschool movement in the early 20th century.  Founded by Maria Montessori, she believed that children learn “not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment.”

Image Credit: Zulama

This idea about getting students to essentially do the work, i.e. conduct research, meet deadlines and altogether just be super great self-directed learners is really, to me, the ideal educational setting. In my own classroom, I remind my students that they should be working “much harder” than me. And in the now classic Edu-speak idiom, I remind them that I am not the “sage on the stage” but rather their “guide on the side”.

But what about when students (particularly in the secondary classroom) show reluctance to this approach, asking for more lecture so that they can again be passive in their learning? Because after all, PBL is a lot more work than taking notes while the teacher talks at you. I like what George Mayo did to energize his students about their projects. By creating a film festival in his community where students showcase – and vote – on the short films they made for his class, he recognizes that students need (and like) to have an authentic audience to showcase their work. I think I might just try this in my own community of learners with my English 10 “This I Believe” videos.

As for Problem and Challenge based learning, these are the two that are relatively new to me in name, but not necessarily in content. Similar to PBL, these two approaches ask students to again, be at the center of their own learning. The goal, according to David Gijbels, is to:

educate students to be able to understand and solve complex problems in a changing world”

I like the qualifier “in a changing world” because it addresses the reality of education in the 21st century: technology provides students the access to just about anything they can dream up. And so, the teacher is no longer the “deliverer of knowledge”. Now, one could argue, the teacher’s role is even more important – we are now tasked with teaching students the skills and savvy to negotiate, interpret and analyze the information they access. And what a ride it will be.

From Enhancement to Transformation

While this is the first exposure that I have had to SAMR and TPACK, I feel like there is an intrinsic knowledge of these frameworks that most educators (in the 21st century, at least) already possess. It’s the identification and purposeful practice and reflection these frameworks offer that is most appealing to me as I forge ahead as a tech-savvy educator.

In looking more closely at the SAMR Model, I like that the framework makes room for a growth mindset – you can use technology and be rewarded from the benefits, but the SAMR model encourages us to to move beyond the idea of technology for the sake of technology. The idea of using technology to create something that was “previously inconceivable” is exciting, if a bit daunting.

Image Credit: Ruben R. Puentedura’s Weblog


So, in looking at how I could use the SAMR Model to evaluate my own practice of technology integration, I would say that I fall somewhere between Augmentation and Modification. While I have significantly increased my purposeful use of technology in my lessons, I still wonder how much a blog, for instance, is still just a fancy substitute for a journal. But when I think about that difference, I am reminded of the capabilities of a blog as opposed to a notebook. And one HUGE difference stands out to me – a blog allows a writer to share their thoughts with the whole world (if they choose), whereas an in-class notebook is only accessible to the classmates and the teacher. That in itself is powerful and moves that particular tech tool from Substitution all the way up to Redefinition.

Redefinition: Tech allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable” 

Looking back through my posts last year, I’m reminded just how much I did strive to make sure my use of technology in the classroom was purposeful and focused on Modification and Redefinition. Our grade 10 unit on Digital Storytelling was hugely successful and the students were the most engaged I’ve seen them…BUT, it was a LOT of work in both the planning and evaluating. Maybe as we continue to grow with technology, it will become more second nature to us as we move from Enhancement to Transformation.