Friday, November 14, 2008

How Do I Motivate My Students?

One of the best ways to make sure your students improve in any area is to measure their performance. Since you are looking to increase their MVPA levels during the week for your GRPA data submission, why not hold a contest? But how do you successfully roll out a contest that is fair and does not promote unhealthy competition between students? There are several strategies to achieve this goal, but I will discuss one that has been show to be effective in the districts that I work with. Several great ideas came out of trainings that I recently held at Harlan County Schools and Mercer County Schools. Both districts are in Kentucky but are very different in their approach to PE. One district relies on classroom teachers to deliver PE while the other has PE Instructors at all levels within the district. These ideas will work for both groups.

There are several rules you should follow when putting a contest together. We have found that when you follow these rules, your contest will promote the behavior you are looking to improve and create healthy competition. Those rules are:

1. Easily measured behavior. Whatever you are measuring, be it MVPA minutes per week, steps, performance in fitness test items, make the indicator easy for your students to measure. Try and select criteria that do not require specialized equipment to measure. One example is a teacher who has students report their physical activity minutes as part of a fitness journal. The students then sum up their minutes for the week and report back to the teacher.

2. Group competition instead of individual competition. While you can reward individuals as part of a group competition, the best approach to create a supportive environment and cooperative behavior is to put your students into groups. Organize them according to fair criteria and have them compete against other groups of similar ability. You should post results according to groups and not single out any individuals. Encourage groups to support each other throughout the competition.

3. Set clear criteria. One of the best competitions is to measure the percentage of students in a group who achieve a particular goal. The winner of the contest would be the group with the highest percentage. Make sure your students understand how they will be measured and what is acceptable. Consider posting the rules of the contest where they are accessible.

4. Reward positive behavior. Set your reward before you start your contest and try to spread the wealth around. While your budgets may be small, there are ways to increase the reach of your dollar. Talk with current suppliers to have them help you through discounts or free product. Talk with area merchants so they extend you discounts and possibly provide product at cost.

5. Constantly remind and promote. Have your entire school get involved. Involve classroom teachers and the administration. Have reminders placed in daily announcements. Speak with the staff of the entire school before your contest begins to get their buy-in and support. When you see your students, provide encouragement, especially to those students and groups that are lagging behind.

There are several contests that we have see run effectively. They have made significant improvements in the performance criteria that are being measured. You know your students and what motivates them. A well run contest doesn’t have to include high dollar prizes as a reward. Your attitude and the support you receive from the rest of your school can make a contest wildly successful.