Courtney Langton

Courtney is an aspiring high school teacher. Her teachables are History and English, but she's happy to teach anything that doesn't involve numbers or formulas. Her particular interest is in promoting gender equity and anti-oppression both in and outside the classroom. She writes a detailed To-Do list every morning, and enjoys nothing more than a good book and a plate of bacon on a rainy Saturday.

Jonathan Wong

Jonathan's primary interest is moral education. His teachable subjects are English and Music. He encourages critical thinking and hopes to teach his students to recognize, and strive for, what is truly important to them without forgetting to be compassionate, tolerant, and open-minded along the way. He likes making analogies and his favourite is one that compares life to jumping on a trampoline.

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On motivating students
Sunday, November 15, 2009

Last month, I began my placement using reasoning that I believed would motivate kids outside of what they had to do for marks. I told them that e.e. cummings’ “i carry your heart with me” could win them any love interest; I told them that their Twitter musings were poetic and that their Facebook profiles were really character profiles of themselves. What I learned in my practicum was that while the above would win over some of the most skeptical of Canadian students, these particular ESL students just didn’t care about those abstractions—they cared about getting marks. To them, a Facebook page would never get them into university, and they had a very difficult time connecting to material that wouldn’t help them get 95%.

The fact that I modified the motivation I gave them does not mean that I believe they are correct in being disdainful or what they see as abstractions; far from it. I will still mention the importance and relevance of the material in English classes to the outside world. However, after all of my careful crafting of interesting, creative activities to test comprehension, to my chagrin, the kids reveled in being given a quiz. So I decided that instead of fighting them, I would continue to give them activities that tested more than their skills at memorization, but remind them that learning and practicing the (to them) less traditional ways of showing their knowledge and understanding of a book would still get them marks and help them in university.

I suppose over the course of my practica in undergrad I got the idea that every lesson had to be wildly creative and fascinating to my students; that everything the students learned had to connect to them on a completely personal level. In that process, I forgot what it felt to be in grade 12, panicking about being accepted into my program and university of choice. These students do look to the teacher to tell them what skills and knowledge will help as they enter the world of academia, so I have begun to give them concrete, detailed reasons as to why they should learn what I teach instead of why they would want to learn it.

In reality, the students were motivated to learn the specific expectations I was teaching them(in one particular case, how to debate) because they knew that they would have to actually use those skills in a summative assignment the week after, and because they knew that in university, they would often be called upon to substantiate their answers in class and come up with rebuttals to their classmates' points. The kids really responded to that and worked very hard on the assignments I gave them. I did still mention, however, that my friends and I enjoyed many hours spent debating and discussing issues that had come up in class or in the reading of a newspaper article, and that with these skills, they might do the same (and perhaps already did). So in the end I integrated some parts of my former teaching philosophy with my newfound method of motivation. 

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Courtney posted at 10:47 PM - Comments (1)


Wow, I really missed a lot (though I am glad you guys have been too busy to post as much as you would like). I'm glad to hear that your practicum experiences went well for the most part. I can tell that your time there has really made you rethink things and I have to say that I feel the same way. In fact, I can say that almost everything I had come up with regarding how I view teaching and would like to apply teaching before going off to practicum has changed at least a little.

Courtney: I'm glad that you managed to find your place within your classes. I agree that we do need to remember that students sometimes want to be told what to learn rather than why they have to learn. Thanks for the reminder.

Jon: I'm hope that you find your love for teaching again. True, we will be expected to be good teachers. However, you do not have to be a teacher, so if you continue down this path you are still teaching because you want to. In fact, you could get by with just being a mediocre teacher, but I am guessing you will be a good teacher because that is what you want. Hopefully that makes sense... (Delayed response, I know.)

By Blogger Ashley, at November 16, 2009 at 11:49 PM  

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