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What Do Students Want

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What Do Students Want

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  • August 2010
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What do students want (and what really motivates them)?

Educational Leadership

Students who are engaged in their work are energized by four goals - success, curiosity, originality, and satisfying relationships. How do we cultivate these drives in the classroom?

Ten years ago, we began a research project by asking both teachers and students two simple questions: What kind of work do you find totally engaging? and What kind of work do you hate to do? Almost immediately, we noticed distinct patterns in their responses.

Engaging work, respondents said, was work that stimulated their curiosity, permitted them to express their creativity, and fostered positive relationships with others. It was also work at which they were good. As for activities they hated, both teachers and students cited work that was repetitive, that required little or no thought, and that was forced on them by others.

How, then, would we define engagement? Perhaps the best definition comes from the work of Phil Schlecty (1994), who says students who are engaged exhibit three characteristics: (1) they are attracted to their work, (2) they persist in their work despite challenges and obstacles, and (3) they take visible delight in accomplishing their work.

Most teachers have seen these signs of engagement during a project, presentation, or lively class discussion. They have caught glimpses of the inspired inner world of a child, and hoped to sustain this wonder, enthusiasm, and perseverance every day. At the same time, they may have felt stymied by traditions of reward and punishment. Our challenge is to transcend these very real difficulties and provide a practical model for understanding what our students want and need.

Goals and Needs: The SCORE

As the responses to our questions showed, people who are engaged in their work are driven by four essential goals, each of which satisfies a particular human need:

* Success (the need for mastery),

* Curiosity (the need for...

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