Praise, encourage, intervene: 3 ways to motivate students on Bedrock

Motivation to do something is inextricably linked to the value we place on it. Teacher, student and parent engagement are critical. As a school, how do you get everyone on board?

Before diving into the all-important quest to keep students going, here’s a brief outline of what we mean by intrinsic and extrinsic motivation:

Autonomous intrinsic motivation: this is likely to be driven by student personality, perception of task relevance and their own competency, interest, sense of achievement, enjoyment and satisfaction. It links directly to students’ emotional and cognitive engagement.

Controlled extrinsic motivation: this is driven by consequence of sanction or possibility of reward. It links directly to students’ behavioural engagement.

Why student motivation on Bedrock is crucial

The EEF recommends schools teach Tier 2 and Tier 3 vocabulary explicitly and in a data-driven way. Bedrock empowers schools to do just that.

As ex headteacher Geoff Barton, now General Secretary of the Association of School & College Leaders, writes in the 2018 Oxford Language Report, “whole-school literacy remains the final frontier in our schools” (OUP, 2018: 9). Word gaps negatively affect independent learning, access to curriculum, resilience, confidence, motivation, engagement, social skills, attendance, behaviour and career opportunities, thus perpetuating social inequality. What is most striking amongst practitioners is the sense of urgency to address word gaps as a social justice issue. 60% of secondary school teachers believe the word gap across cohorts has increased in recent years. 95% cite a lack of time spent reading for pleasure as a key factor.

With 35% of secondary school students worldwide never reading for pleasure (OECD PISA, 2009), it is clear that word gaps are not unique to the UK. However, 80% of UK teachers report addressing vocabulary knowledge deficits is at least medium priority for training at their schools. Moreover, the more students read the more likely schools are to break this vicious cycle. The more recent Oxford Language Report – Bridging the word gap at transition – highlights this: “Reading for pleasure – both fiction and non-fiction – is also important as it has a positive effect on broadening vocabulary, understanding and engagement.” Within this report, Geoff Barton continues to extol the wide-ranging benefits of teaching academic vocabulary, or as he calls it, the ‘language of power’:

“Latinate vocabulary, which tends to include longer and more sophisticated-sounding words, can act as a proxy for being able to operate with confidence in certain work environments. You can be limited if you don’t have that vocabulary at your disposal […it is] the language that will build young people’s confidence, their ability to communicate effectively and ensure their voices are heard. If we are serious about social mobility, this is a word gap that must be addressed.’

It is clear that the more we teach academic vocabulary explicitly within the context of knowledge- and language-rich texts, the more we motivate students to learn across school and beyond!

The difference parent engagement can make

The recent 2020 Oxford Language Report: Bridging the word gap at transition concludes that “[f]ostering an effective partnership between school and home is critical.” 90% of teachers surveyed believe that parents and carers are “very important” in the development of their child’s vocabulary.

The EEF’s most recent guidance report on Working with parents suggests schools need to:

  1. Critically review how they work with parents
  2. Provide practical strategies to support learning at home
  3. Tailor school communications to encourage positive dialogue about learning
  4. Offer more sustained and intensive support where needed

Within the Department for Education’s review of best practice in parental engagement, collaboration is recommended not only between parents and teachers, but also between areas, schools and communities. This ‘outward facing strategy’ is in line with the recommendations made by the Sutton Trust’s survey of 1,173 parents, summarised in Parent Power. They all stress the need for a multi-dimensional approach with a range of strategies as parental needs and barriers are varied and wide-ranging. Montacute and Cullinane (2018) make a compelling case (building on the previous ‘Parent Power?’, Francis and Hutchings, 2013) for more active parent-school partnerships to “tackle [England’s] social mobility problem”. They argue that a whole-school approach to supporting parental engagement in child’s education would “curb inequality” (Montacute and Cullinane, 2018).

This suggested more collaborative approach to parent-school partnerships is supported by educational researchers and policy makers across the globe. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development put together a comprehensive report on effective active parent-school partnerships, measuring impact through a range of both positivist and interpretivist methodologies with the Programme For International Student Assessment Central to their recommendations is the building of long-lasting meaningful parent-school partnerships (OECD, 2012).

Unfortunately, due to staff turnover this is not always possible. Edwards et al (2009) call for a ‘pedagogical reconceptualisation’, placing partnerships at the heart of teaching and learning and the school community at large. This need for a paradigm shift is apparent across England as both parents and teachers so often feel undervalued (Granville and Kay). By focusing on teaching and learning rather than behaviour in parent-teacher discussions, parents become agentic participants, getting to the crux of intrinsic motivation (the whys) rather than fixating on the extrinsic motivators (the what, where and whens).

Perhaps schools could reconsider their current parents’ evening format to reflect a more collaborative approach? There is no denying that students are driven by rewards and sanctions (extrinsic motivation). However, rather than simply issuing a detention or awarding a merit, teachers and parents need to explore a students’ lack of commitment or determined drive through exploratory talk (Mercer) with the student themselves. How can they be supported? Why do they not place enough value in the task to apply themselves? What drives them to succeed? How do they view achievement? What are their priorities and goals? How could their actions today impact their future?

Ultimately these relationships will do wonders for long-term success. There may be no ‘easy wins’ – but, as outlined in Sutton Trust’s 2020 Lost learning: Lost earnings, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

How to motivate students on Bedrock

In line with Ryan and Deci’s conceptualisation of engagement, at Bedrock we have carefully considered the three aspects of engagement largely agreed upon when supporting teachers and parents: behavioural, emotional, and cognitive engagement.

Consistency is key. You must have a clear policy that is followed religiously by all. Once your expectations have been outlined, everyone knows where they stand and can go about organising themselves accordingly (of course, some teachers, students and parents will need more support with this than others). However, when an opportunity to praise arises (and there are plenty of those on Bedrock) seize it; celebrate and lift them up! It is human nature to enjoy tasks that you succeed in.  Our three-step approach is designed to give everyone the chance to thrive.

1. Praise
Emotional engagement – how committed are students to completing Bedrock?

Do they understand how it positively impacts them?

2. Encourage

Cognitive engagement – do students complete Bedrock independently and with confidence?

Are students using what they learn on Bedrock across the curriculum?

3. Intervene
Students’ behavioural engagement – when, where and how do students complete Bedrock?

Teaching gives us insight into human nature. We interact with hundreds of different people, carrying their own hopes and fears, on a daily basis. The teacher perspective is our superpower. It is my hope that we all continue to dig deep and get to the heart of good teaching – by building confidence, improving literacy and empowering young people!

For more tips, download our poster, 13 ways to motivate students on Bedrock, and display in your staff room!

Develop literacy and empower voices in your school

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