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Mike Willmarth

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Without the use of negative consequences (punishments), how do we get unmotivated or oppositional students to follow classroom instructions?

I have an interest in having my middle school students use a particular organization system for their class materials. Having a uniform system allows peers to more readily help each other stay organized, allows parents to more easily check on their child’s progress, and allows the class to more efficiently move through our daily transitions. The question, how do I get all students on board without the use of if-then rewards or punishments? I know from my experience (12 years at middle school) that some students will be oppositional and some will be unmotivated. While these represent the exception, not the rule, they are often the students most in need of the organizational structure. Additionally, it is the parents of these students who most often need a simple to follow structure for supporting their child’s educational process.

[Some background that may help when considering your answers – I will be teaching five sections of eighth grade math with a total of approx. 160 students. The group is roughly 40% free and reduced, and about 50% ESL.]


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  • Jul 20 2012: As a student myself and as someone who often observes how his peers act, I'll do my best to answer this question.

    Right off the bat, I would try to motivate these oppositional and unmotivated students with rewards, and only use punishments in extreme circumstances. I say this because that's what some of my favorite and my friends' favorite teachers did. But as you said "without the use if-then rewards or punishments", this could be a problem.

    So, how I would handle them would make sure to maintain high energy, get them involved with hands-on activities as much as possible(I know you're teaching 8th grade math, but Pre-Alg and Alg offer up some interesting hands-on oppurtunities), maybe hint at some long-term future rewards, especially avoid dull and boring lesson plans/presentations, use repetition in sparing(Math requires some repetition but there's a fine line between hammering in a concept and causing insanity and discomfort), and ultimately, just make it as fun for them as possible.

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