Developing Students’ Intrinsic Motivation to Write
Today, the Common Core standards in the United States call for an increased emphasis on student writing in multiple subject areas. Some students may welcome more writing opportunities at school, while other students may dismiss writing as frustrating and burdensome. In their article, “The Bright and Dark Side of Writing Motivation: Effects of Explicit Instruction and Peer Assistance,” authors Fien de Smedt et al. explain that student motivation to write plays an important part in students’ actual writing performance. Previous studies have shown that students who have stronger beliefs in their own writing abilities and who are motivated to write actually have better writing performance (1). In contrast, students who have weaker beliefs in their own writing abilities and who are less motivated to write often display a dislike of writing in school (1). The question for De Smedt et al., then, is: How do we increase students’ motivation to write, and thus help them become more willing and better writers?
Reducing Test Anxiety in Elementary School Children: Coloring Before a Test
Today, test anxiety is the most prevalent form of anxiety among K-12 students. Researchers Dana Carsley and Nancy L. Heath note that even one third of elementary school students experience test anxiety (1). Test anxiety has been linked to lower grades in school, grade retention, dropout, and mental health problems in students. Moreover, “effects of test anxiety can increase in severity if not treated at a young age” (1). In response to the increasing prevalence of test anxiety among students, school administrations and teachers have incorporated anxiety-reducing measures into schools and classrooms. However, Carsley and Heath remark that “these programs are typically lengthy and include several sessions that span over multiple weeks” (1). They argue that given the extent of test anxiety, it is essential that teachers are aware of effective, easy-to-implement anxiety-reducing strategies that require “no additional teacher training and minimal class time” (1).
For elementary school teachers, developing students’ literacy is a primary goal. It is also no easy task. Studies have shown that helping struggling students become fluent readers becomes increasingly harder as students progress through the primary grades, and “children who do not learn to read effectively in primary grades are less likely to achieve full literacy” (Linder et al. 323). Moreover, in their paper, “Effects of an Animal-Assisted Intervention on Reading Skills and Attitudes in Second Grade Students,” authors Deborah Linder et al. explain that children who struggle with reading “often demonstrate negative feelings about reading at school,” exhibit less motivation to read, have low self-esteem, and often resist participating in classroom reading activities (323-324). In contrast, students with higher reading abilities have higher levels of academic success and more favorable attitudes about school (323).
For their study, Linder et al. investigated how partnering therapy dogs with second grade students affected those students’ literacy levels and attitudes about reading at school. They note that animal-assisted interventions have already been linked to numerous benefits for children, including “reducing anxiety, facilitating coping, and reducing discomfort in stressful situations” (324).
How School Goals Affect Teacher Motivation and Burnout Rates
In the United States, nearly 40 percent of teachers leave the profession within five years (Skaalvik and Skaalvik 154). Research has shown that this high teacher turnover rate is attributable to high levels of stress, time pressure, and discipline problems, among other things (153). In their paper, “Motivated for Teaching? Associations with school goal structure, teacher self-efficacy, job satisfaction, and emotional exhaustion,” Einar M. Skaalvik and Sidsel Skaalvik argue that school-wide goals also play a significant part in influencing teachers’ job satisfaction and motivation to stay in the teaching profession.
When it comes to speaking in front of the class, some students shine and others find the experience dreadful. For authors Craig O. Stewart et al., the level of comfort that students have with public speaking is not simply a matter of preparation and student demeanor. Rather it is largely a matter of whether students perceive public speaking as a skill that can be developed or a “gift” that students either have or don’t have.
And Now Presenting…! How Dramatic Arts Integration Increases EL Students’ Use of Academic Language in the Classroom
Now create a skit!
In their paper, “The Influence of Classroom Drama on English Learners’ Academic Language Use During English Language Arts Lessons,” Alida Anderson and Sandra M. Loughlin investigate the effect of classroom drama (aka dramatic arts integration) on English Language learners’ use of academic language in class.
Anderson and Loughlin note that contextualized language-learning tasks, such as dramatic arts-based activities, have a powerful effect on students’ acquisition of academic language, as these types of activities support “connections between concepts and language expression” (265). However, decontextualized language instruction is often the norm in ELA classrooms, in which “language-learning tasks…are removed from immediate or accessible meaning beyond the language itself” (266). Yet there is a powerful case for contextualized learning environments, given that they “foster academic language proficiency through discovery and experiential approaches that integrate basic communication skills, new information, procedures, tasks, as well as vocabulary, structures, and functions in academic discourse” (267). In this learning environment, teachers would provide “action-based language opportunities” that enable “collaboration, discussion, and planning” (267).
Instructional Differences in High-Poverty Elementary Schools: High vs. Low Performing
As of the 2013-2014 school year, 25% of U.S. public schools were designated as high poverty (37). The status of these schools not only reflects the economic position of the 20% of American children who live in poverty, but also the ever-widening academic achievement gap (37). In their paper, “Exploring instructional differences and school performance in high-poverty elementary schools,” authors Regina G. Hirn et al. note that there is a well-documented link between socioeconomic status and school achievement (37). They remark that compared to affluent students, poorer students are less likely to “become proficient in reading or math” and tend to have “poor trajectories throughout their lives—including being more likely to be in poor health, to have children with poor health, to have children as teenagers, and to have children who do not do well in school” (37-38). Along with student poverty, Hirn et al. explain that high-poverty schools’ hiring trends also negatively contribute to student achievement. In particular, high-poverty schools “tend to employ teachers with less experience, lower levels of education, and lower retention rates than those in wealthier areas” (38).
For Hirn et al., No Child Left Behind, licensure, and credential requirements have failed to address the achievement gap problem in the United States. They argue that to address the problem of low achieving schools, it is necessary to examine the teaching practices within those schools (38).
Time Pressure, Positivity, and Creativity in Elementary School Classrooms
For decades, educational researchers have noted the benefits of creative thinking. Arguably, in today’s competitive and globalized society, creativity is more important than ever. In their paper, “Learning under time pressure: Learners who think positively achieve superior learning outcomes from creative teaching methods using picture books,” authors Chih-Yung Tsai et al. examine how teachers can boost student creativity in the classroom. In particular, they argue that by creating an environment in which students demonstrate positive emotions and by also exerting moderate time pressure, teachers can help develop students’ creative thinking (61).