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Novel Motivation

February 22, 2009 · Filed Under Uncategorized 

As a tutor, a big part of my job is engaging students’ minds and getting them in gear for learning.  It flies in the face of standard wisdom, but one way to do this is through novelty.  My office is jammed with unusual trinkets and oddities, like dice within dice, two-foot pencils, and light-up pens.  My clock runs backwards, and I often use a timer shaped like a whistling tea kettle. 

My novel toys serve larger purposes.  The students that I see are often uncomfortable, especially at first.  The novelties help me to break the ice with new students.  The kids become intrigued, and I’ve got a foothold in the door to conversation with them.  In tutoring, it’s really important to build a relationship with students in order to see the greatest success. 

The oddities are also great rewards.  A surprising number of students will work to earn the privilege of using a two-foot long pencil or a pen shaped like a fingerbone.  I use the promise of simple pleasures like these to coax many reluctant students into time on task to assist remediation. 

Finally, yes, I have to admit that sometimes the trinkets are a bit too distracting.  That’s OK, though, because many of my students are struggling with most of their academic experience.  They come to see me because it’s fun to be here, even though we work on difficult skills.  Part of the fun is being distracted occasionally by a pen with popping dice on top or by dice that are only a quarter of an inch across.  They are amused, even for a few moments, by that clock that runs backwards.  And when those barriers of stress are broken down, I can often reach the minds that are trapped by feelings of failure and inadequacy. 

So, yeah, if a parent comes into my office (which I discourage!), they are often taken aback by the array of weird stuff they see laying around.  They sometimes wonder how in the world students actually get work done here.  But my track record speaks for itself.  Students that I work with succeed.  Kids who couldn’t read before learn to read.  Children who were once reluctant writers gain skills to frame paragraphs.  Youngsters who were afraid to try math skills become comfortable.  Novelty helps!

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