By Tonya Kowalski, Washburn University School of Law
This month’s idea comes from James Lang’s very popular 2016 book, Small Teaching. At this time in the semester, students who returned eagerly to begin a new year are starting to feel the weight of readings and assignments. It is easy for them to quickly lose all motivation other than the fear of poor grades. As we now better understand, higher forms of motivation are better fuel for learning. They may include longer-term motivation for self-betterment, such as getting a rewarding job. But the most effective form of motivation is what Lang terms “transcendent,” and focus on how learning will result in better social outcomes.
How do we help to encourage and sustain transcendent motivation in our students? Lang makes several suggestions for habits and activities that take no more than 10 minutes of class time, and often less:
1. Use the time before class begins to strike up friendly conversations with students; try to reach out to each member of class at least once.
2. Human beings are wired for stories; consider framing the material around a newsworthy story, perhaps even a cliffhanger to be revealed at the end of class. Law is particularly well suited to this – every case presents a new story, and those stories often go much deeper than what is presented in the text.
3. Share stories about professionals in the field who have used their training to make a difference.
4. Frequently connect smaller units back to the big picture during the class session; make sure the purpose for learning the material says clear.
5. Convey your natural enthusiasm for your subject; it is more contagious than you may realize.
For further background on the educational research behind motivation, as well as deeper insights into each of Lang’s five teaching tips above, please see James M. Lang, Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning 167-93 (Jossey-Bass 2016).