Re-motivating Pupils: a summary of Caroline Spalding’s ReseachEdLoom talk

It is my first year at Durrington High School and would have been my first ResearchEdDurrington at the end April, and I am really disappointed that this year’s event has necessarily had to be cancelled. So it was a great bonus that Shaun Allison was able to get so many of the presenters to take part in #ResearchEdLoom just before the start of the Easter holidays. This had the added bonus that rather than just having to choose talks to attend in particular slots, we were able to access as many of the presentations as we were able to over a 3-day time period – and go back to them, pause, and rewind as necessary. This form of CPD is now taking off with the launch of ResearchEdHome this week, and it has definitely been one of the unexpected benefits of Lockdown Life.

The presentation that really struck me (whilst sitting in my back garden in the sun) was on re-motivating pupils, by Caroline Spalding. Although we are not at a stage yet where we know when schools will reopen and can plan properly for the return, I think these points are worth keeping in mind all through these weeks of distance learning. Caroline highlighted five areas which need consideration:

  1. Lack of routine

Humans are hardwired to get into routines using the “habit loop” (Charles Duhigg 2012) – think about how embedded your route to work is, or your exercise routine. Caroline’s school had a great habit-forming routine set up to get Y11s attending after-school revision sessions where a member of SLT visited the last lessons of the day with reminders, and students were rewarded with a chocolate bar (very similar to what happens at Durrington). We need to think carefully about how we can plan to reintroduce these key routines and re-form these habits when students return to school.

This also made me think how important routines and habits are during home-learning. With two primary aged children of my own to keep occupied each day myself routines have been a life-saver. They know that their first task after breakfast is to get started on their maths worksheet of the day. Some students will find it hard to get into a routine at home on their own and reminders from us could really help – for instance starting all distance lessons in the same way.

2. Low attainment

Many of the students at Caroline’s school are low prior attainers and she reminds us that “the poor motivation of low attainers is a logical response to repeated failure.” (White and Rose 2019). Ultimately, if students are successful they are going to be more motivated and we need to keep this in mind upon their return. We need to be enabling students to show what they know as well as finding gaps quickly and working to address these so that their progress and learning is really visible to them. Self-quizzing is a great way to do this and there are various apps and online platforms that can help with this. An element of competition can be a good thing and can be a great way of rewarding students remotely whilst also being able to check their learning and engagement. Once back at school, consider how success will be celebrated visibly to students: perhaps introduce some physical badges for those who have shown excellent effort if there is nothing like this in place already.

3. Loss of social ties

Caroline talks about Self-Determination Theory (Deci and Ryan 1970s) which says that intrinsic motivation requires competence, autonomy, and also relatedness which is the desire to have positive relationships. Pink (2019) extended this idea and talked about drive – the desire to feel part of something bigger. It is also worth considering McCrea and Moore’s (2019) six strategies for motivation:

  • Make it satisfying
  • Make it likely
  • Make it cheap
  • Make it normal
  • Make it “in”
  • Make it theirs

Caroline suggests that branding can play a really important part of this and at her school Year 11 have their own logo and hashtag and this really helps to build a group identity. Positive language is vitally important to emphasise desirable behaviour and make this the norm. Team ethos could be used in an individual class by (for example) praising how many correct questions achieved by the whole group rather than just individuals.

I think this could be introduced easily during our time away from school particularly with the help of online learning platforms – we are just implementing Hegarty Maths at Durrington and I think it will be really motivating to praise classes for their engagement each week. At Durrington we have also been trying hard as a school to maintain our sense of community throughout the lockdown, partly through our #DHS4NHS campaign where staff, students and their families and the wider community have been running 5k to raise money for Worthing Hospital.

4. Loss of role models for success

Students need to know what success looks like (Didau 2016) and this year’s year 10s will miss out on seeing the current year 11s go through the build-up to their exams, having their leavers assemblies and finish off their time at school on a high. So it is vital that we think about who the role models can be for our remaining students – are there former pupils who we can invite in to speak to those lower down the school?

5. Need to adapt curriculum plans

Caroline says that as a senior leader it is vital that she is supporting curriculum and middle leaders as much as possible in potentially adapting the curriculum for our return to school. Curriculum is also about having a coherent journey through the curriculum that the students understand. As an aspect of Self-Determination Theory, autonomy is about making your own choices but also feeling like you are a master of your own destiny. We should be encouraging our current year 10s to identify a real sense of purpose in what they are doing and also helping them to think about why they are doing it by having their long-term goals in sight. Caroline summarises by saying “how can you write the narrative of your pupils’ success?”

I really enjoyed this presentation and it gave me lots to think about. Caroline Spalding is on Twitter as @mrsspalding

Deb Friis


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