How do you activate the desire to learn?

I started reading a book that’s been in my library for some time, but up until now, I hadn’t had the time to read. It’s called Activating the Desire to Learn, and it seemed quite appropriate for our recent focus on relationships and student engagement. In fact, it’s perfect.

Alfie Kohn, from 1993:

Rewards for learning undermine intrinsic motivation.

Eric Jensen, from 1995:

Forget the use of rewards… Make school meaningful, relevant, and fun. Then you won’t have to bribe the students.

Sullo, the author, likes the theory by William Glasser called choice theory. It’s based on biological understanding, and tells us we have four basic psychological needs:

  • Belonging or connecting;
  • Power or competence;
  • Freedom (to make choices), and
  • Fun

One very popular quote from Sullo:

A joyless classroom never inspires students to do high-quality academic work on a regular basis.

Of the methods described later in the book, one that seemed very powerful to me was “class meetings” led by students. He also talks about the dynamics involved in bringing folks together in circles, instead of traditional classroom rows. I think if we’re going to truly address issues of student engagement with learning in our schools, we have to look for ways to:

  • further develop relationships with students to ensure they feel connected to their school community,
  • celebrate achievement and have conversations of how kids can apply newly acquired knowledge and skills,
  • give students choices about their learning and opportunities for personal development,
  • strive to make learning appropriately challenging for each student. Great learning happens between an intersection of curiosity, challenge, and confidence to succeed.