Boring. Dumb. Pointless. Irrelevant. Annoying. Stupid.
When students say words like these, they're telling us this: I don't value this kind of work.
Value is one of five key beliefs beneath student motivation. Every individual arrives at value differently — but there are some interesting patterns in the research.
For example, when a young person has a strong sense of purpose — “a long-term goal to accomplish something meaningful to the self” — and sees a link between that purpose and whatever lesson you're currently teaching, guess what? The student will tend to be a joy to teach. Even if they find the work laborious or difficult, they'll be unlikely to say that it's stupid or boring. The work, linked with their purpose, has become necessary and meaningful — and as a result, the child will write the words or work the problems or ask the questions or read the articles.
William Damon is a Stanford professor whose team has spent the past 15 years studying the development of purpose in young people. Damon's book shares the team's findings in depth, and this article by Damon does a good job giving an overview. (I'd recommend the article as a warm-up read at your next staff meeting; this article is also where the quotations in my blog post today come from.)
So, enough intro: what's a simple intervention for building the value belief (vis a vis purpose) in my students, starting tomorrow?
Damon recommends this: once per year, tell your students why you chose teaching as a profession, what you find fulfilling about teaching, and what you hope to accomplish with your students. In other words: spend five minutes showing your kids “what it looks like for an admired adult to pursue a vocation with purpose.” Don't miss that last part. You're not trying to sell them on teaching; instead, you're just modeling purpose.
Encountering “purpose exemplars” is one of the key means for building purpose in young people — so, start with yourself.