Circle Time: Internal Motivators and UnEssays

We have hit the time of year where some of my game mechanic tricks are starting to be less effective. This might be because some are external motivators which impacts withers over time. It might also be because I am less diligent after 6 months with the same students. I have also noticed that even good tactics are more effective the 1st or 2nd time due to a novelty factor.

In 5 of my 6 class this slippage is not usually an issue because they are on a semester schedule. This means that I get a new mix of students and an organic spot in the calender to change tactics and story. In the 6th class though I have the same students from September to June. After a while the class dynamic becomes a bit stale – kind of like the 6th season of a Sitcom. Yesterday, I decided to pull out one of my favorite tricks… I asked to the students what they wanted to do.

Games are not always about turning academics into games. As I wrote about with my dialectical journaling post, applying isolated game mechanics can also be effective especially when trying to access deeper internal motivations. So today I attempted to bring Relatedness and Autonomy into my stale classroom. The class simply started with students sitting in a circle. I teach Juniors and circle time is not too unusual at our school. I opened by telling the students that we are going to study the 1920s, Great Depression, and the New Deal over the next month or so. Then I asked them what they wanted to do during the unit. I was was pleasantly surprised by the answers. Here are some takeaways.

  • Every student had an idea.
  • Most suggestions fell in the project based learning category.
  • I suggested a flipped style and almost to a person the students asked me not to do that. They told me they would not watch the videos even with an in class flip.
  • My class is during lunch time and we have the last lunch block so several suggested good based projects.
  • Several suggested modified versions of projects they had done in the past.
  • Most were very excited about art based including painting, music, and cooking.

In the circle I let the students talk without little guidance. As the discussion went on the students began to smile because they were independently shape a project that I have used in the past.

They designed a simple version of the UnEssay Project.

Using a simple circling tactic the class was able to engage with the internal motivators Relatedness and Autonomy. Based on the conversation we had it sounds like the UnEssay projects they would like to design are also going to touch on improving their Mastery (another internal drive) of a skill they are already connected to. The projects also seem to have a sense of Purpose with several students looking to connect with family stories or would like to educate others about important topics relating to topics like Black History and financial literacy.

This group of students are typically in this class because they lack motivation in school. I am extremely excited to allow then to tap into these internal drives and be excited about doing academic work. We didn’t turn the class into a game today but the students definitely were engaged and had fun!

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