10 Sep 2014

Back to School!

By Lily

This is a guest blog by Jo Taylor founder of Wall Display


A new school year will mean lots of different things to different people. For teachers there is the prospect of getting to know new students, understanding their needs and working out how to best teach them. For students, some will be starting new parts of their education journey, others will be in a middle ground between exams and school transitions. But, for all of them there will be a glimmer of excitement at returning to school (even if it is just to see their friends!) When I was teaching, a sad fact, was that I saw this glimmer quickly fade. After a few weeks it seemed like we were all “going through the motions”. Don’t get me wrong, I was surrounded by amazing teachers and there were outstanding lessons a plenty, but it was still a constant effort to motivate our students.

I think a lot about motivating students and the best ways to do it. Conversations with my parent’s generation always remind me that up until relatively recently, it was the threat of punishment which was used to keep students working. Thankfully we have moved past throwing board dusters at children and “the cane”. Over the course of my teaching life and work in education, I have spoken to hundreds of teachers about how they motivate their students. I feel like the common answers for “good work” or “students who need a boost” are (in no particular order):

  1. Verbal praise
  2. Stickers / Stamps
  3. Sweets (or “healthy alternatives”)
  4. Merits/House Points
  5. Sending a postcard home
  6. A praise call home
  7. Letting students have free time/creative time

The sad thing is that, while these interventions may change behaviour, they don’t have a lasting impact, and in some cases are actually decreasing academic motivation! There are number of aspects to this. Firstly, providing a reward for a behaviour, can mean reluctance to perform this behaviour without the prospect of the reward. Secondly, by introducing an external motivator it means it is less likely pupils will foster an internal motivation for doing that activity. Lastly, when teachers introduce external motivators for children they are often more controlling and less focussed on student autonomy. For more detail on the hows and whys, Joe Kirby provides a clear and interesting summary of why commonly used education rewards are not effective.

Traditional thinking on motivation does not include using technology in the classroom, and that is probably because they were not around when people were ‘traditionally thinking’. There are education technology solutions which make it easy to recognise and record behaviours (Classroom Dojo, Vivo) and achievements (Classbadges, Reward System), and to track and analyse results. Generally these solutions are “top down”, with a teacher noticing student behaviour and awarding/deducting points accordingly. While it is definitely useful to shape and track behaviour this is not the same as actually motivating students, to want to learn.

The need to motivate students is what gave me the idea for Wall Display, a website for teachers to share their students’ work with the world. Wall Display is influenced by the Positive Psychology movement. We think that by letting teachers quickly share educational achievements (no matter how small) students will be more motivated to work. Imagine a teacher has two students who are completing an essay assignment. Student A likes to individually brainstorm ideas and then write, Student B talks to their friends and then synthesises a critique. If the teacher encourages one way of behaving for their class then one student will miss out. Now imagine 30 students, all with different foibles, and having to balance all their behaviours. Why not focus on the end product?

The logic behind Wall Display is simple, we make it easy to provide students’ work with an audience, which makes school seem more purposeful and in turn can help students feel more motivated to complete assignments. Another benefit of this process is that parents can now easily see their child’s achievements, and so will have a greater understanding of their schooling, and can engage more with it (we are literally giving them conversation starters). We think that this increased parental involvement will help consolidate student motivation to work at school.

We have just released our latest platform and are working with schools and students to make it even better. If you want to talk about motivating children or how Wall Display could help your school or educational charity, please get in touch: