A Career Research Project to Boost Intrinsic Motivation

Almost weekly, my teammates and I talk about our fifth graders and the lack of intrinsic motivation that some of them seem to have. My biggest concern has always been the potential that I can see in them, but that they don’t put out into their daily efforts in the classroom. And truly, I just don’t think they all know why that’s so important.

You see, I could say it to them all the time, just how much I believed in them, how I knew they could dig just a little deeper, take their assignments just a little more seriously. I could preach about how what they do now matters for their future. But that wasn’t making the difference that I so desperately wanted to see in some of them.

How serious was this problem? My best example is this, I give my students the opportunity to revise and resubmit their weekly reading assignments. If they don’t get the grade they want reported on their graded assignments, they can ask me to send it back to them to redo and resubmit. That’s an amazing opportunity, and about half of them (maybe even more) don’t take advantage of it. Unbelievable, right? I mean, they see their score immediately, may see that it’s a 50, and they move on to do something else. Why wouldn’t a student ask to retry that assignment to get a higher score? It puzzles and worries me, and to be honest, are we really doing our jobs if we aren’t building more intrinsic motivation in our students?

So when New Years rolled around, I came up with a plan. I knew that I wanted to work on goal-setting with my students, but I also knew that I needed to do so on a deeper level. You can read about the conferences that I had with my students for setting goals and reflecting on their performance in my previous post, Help Your Students Set Meaningful Goals Instead of the Same Old New Year’s Resolutions. You can also get a link to the forms I used during these conferences in that post.

That was part one. Part two of the plan was a research report. I had my students research the requirements of their future career goal. They researched the education, task, and skill requirements for that career, and then the reflected into heir current performance and made plans for the meeting their goal. It’s just the right combination! I called the report, “My Future’s So Bright”.

Since having these conferences and discussing their future career goals and plans for getting there, I’ve seen a significant change in some of my students. They had realizations that mattered to them and that they knew they could work on NOW. To be honest, since doing this, I’ve shared how impactful this plan was with pretty much anybody at school who will listen. It’s that good!

If this is a problem you’ve seen in your own classroom, with your own students, any time is a good time to address it. You can grab my conference forms and the career research report and bulletin board kit in my store, just go to the shop tab.

Using Student Conferences to Set Meaningful Goals

New Year’s Resolutions are great, and we all set them. In fact, most of us work with our students to set New Year’s Resolutions in the classroom when we come back from our winter break. But, do your students really understand the importance of the goal they are setting, or, do they really set meaningful goals? My guess, based on my experience, is that your answer to those questions for many of your students, is NO. I saw the same problem, and I found a solution that has really worked for me. The biggest difference in my strategy than others – I hold one-on-one student conferences before setting those goals!

Student Conferences are the KEY. It looks very much like your admin/teacher mid-year evaluation meeting, and it’s just as professional. I know this sounds like it will take A LOT of your instructional time, and I know we are all fighting to use every single second we’ve got, but I promise you, this interruption in your daily instruction is TOTALLY WORTH IT! Each of my own meetings takes about 10 minutes, maybe less or more, depending on the student. When you think about it, that’s really only one day, and that one day could make a huge difference for the rest of your school year.

My process is done in two steps.

Step One – Student Data: I present and we discuss their overall grade and strengths, their areas for improvement, division assessment scores and progress compared to the expectations for those assessments, attendance concerns if necessary, and discipline concerns if necessary. Next, I talk to them about their daily work habits and I give the student time to talk about their own thoughts and reflections. Then, I have the student begin to think about and discuss their progress goals and action plans.

Step Two – Reflection & Goal-Setting: Now it’s time for the student to do some independent reflection. I use a few simple questions, asking the student to reflect on what he/she is proud of and what he/she would like to make better, where they would like to be by the end of the year or in the future (the goals), and how they, myself, and their parents can help reach those goals.

Step Three – Digital Display Google Slide (optional) – Finally, I have my students create a My New Year’s Goal digital poster display. These display posters are super cute printed out and displayed in your classroom as a reminder for students as they work towards their goals each day. If you’re teaching virtually, these posters could be used as a background wall/bulletin board in your virtual classroom.

If you’re holding these conferences in the classroom, I suggest saving your conversation notes and their reflection form, to share with parents and guardians at your mid-year parent-teacher conferences. If you’re holding these conferences virtually, you could even try having parents sit in on the conference since parent involvement is SO crucial to student success in virtual learning. I also pull these back out for future conversations and mini-conferences with my students later in the year. For those students who need it, those mini-conferences happen about once a month from this point on, and for others, not as often. It’s a relevant, important, and meaningful conversation and goal that you will NOT regret taking time to do.

If you’d like a copy of the forms I use, I have a printable and a digital version in Google Sheets and they can be snagged with this link. If you’d like to see what I have my students work on to extend these conversations and get the students thinking even more about their future goals, check out this “My Future’s So Bright Career Research Project.” Read about that research project and why I believe its so helpful in building intrinsic motivation in my blog post here.

Enjoy! And as always, I’d love to hear how your conferences go if you try this strategy with your own students!