Inspire to learn

TIP 9 :  Aim to Inspire / Build motivation

Paul Curzon, Queen Mary University of London

The most important thing in teaching is inspiring students. If they want to learn then teaching is easy.

Practice is not always fun. You need something to keep you going. What keeps people going through all those hours. David Beckham wasn’t a natural born footballer, but as a teenager he spent hours and hours practicing until he was. Why? He had strong motivation. So is motivation something some people have but not others? No. Everyone can be motivated about something, but different people are motivated to do different things. Someone or something provides the spark of interest. Often it is an inspirational teacher. Sometimes it is just an experience. sometimes it is more intellectual. you know you need to do it to get where you want to be,

As a teacher therefore it is important to aim to inspire. How you do that depends on the context to some extent. To start with you need to make sure early experiences are fun, or interesting, or both. You need to help people see bigger pictures of why the skills can help you make a difference, or make you rich. Different things provide the spark for different people, so providing lots of different kinds of inspiration matters.

If you find something easy to start, and it was fun then you will probably keep going. If you find it hard when everyone else seems to be finding it easy, then it will hard to motivate yourself to keep going. This is when its important to remember you can be good at it, if you do practice (see Tip 1). Taking steps that are small (for you) will help. Remember lots of people (like David Beckham) didn’t start out the best. Practice out strips initial differences in skill eventually.

As a teacher it is important to create learning experiences that help motivate, and that includes ensuring no-one gets stuck. You also need to give the right kind of positive feedback to motivate. Try and make as much of the learning as fun and interesting as possible. You need to create activities that will keep the best interested but ensures no-one struggles, and that means they nee to be open-ended. You need a variety of exercises. Not everyone will be interested in programming robots that follow lines, for example. Some will be inspired by more obviously meaningful activities. This is obviously a hard trick to pull off but it’s not impossible.

Programming has many different motivations. As a teacher try and find ways to plug in to a variety of different kinds of motivations that may be the spark for your students.

  • it is very creative and that in itself is motivating;
  • it is a form of problem solving which can be fun especially if you like solving puzzles or thinking logically and so intrinsically motivating;
  • it can be a way to make a difference, if you can program you have the score skill to make something to transform people’s lives;
  • it can be the basis of a solid interesting career,
  • it is a way to be rich (at least for some – the richest people on the planet tend to have started technology companies)… 

For me it was just that I found puzzles fun and programming was intellectually stimulating….

Which ever one works for you is fine, but remember what it is that motivates you as that may help keep you going when you go through a tricky patch.

If you are a:

  • student
    • Think about what motivates you to do things and keep that as part of your mix of activity.
    • when you are losing your motivation remind yourself of your original motivations
    • when things go wrong see it as a way to be better and remember with practice you can get better
  • teacher:
    • aim to inspire and teaching will be easy
    • provides lots of different ways to
    • develop learning experiences that will help people keep going so have elements that support people’s motivation

More on Learning to Learn (to program)

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