Supporting Student Self-Motivation In Online Credit Recovery Classrooms (Part 3 of 3)

Due to the self-directed nature of online learning in many credit recovery settings, fostering student motivation is essential. One teacher that was a part of this study noted, “Most students are in credit recovery because of motivation issues, not cognitive or behavioral issues.” As in traditional classrooms, online credit recovery teachers grapple with how much of this motivation should be internal versus external, as reflected in these two opposing comments made by one teacher: “If the opportunities we provide don’t motivate them, I can’t hold them by the hand and make them work. Mostly they’re motivated because it’s their second chance to pass the course, and they know that.” While at the same time: “I’m always on their back if they’re behind—they know that.”

In practice, teacher strategies emphasized both internal and external motivation. The following excerpt explores three strategies that have proven effective in supporting student motivation.

Fostering student buy-in

One teacher explained that when new students enroll in online credit recovery, she sits with them to make sure they know exactly what they’re getting into—“This is what you’re going to be doing in here, for 180 days.” But she also lets them know that the online course could be a good solution, since they have already failed the course in the classroom, and that she will provide support. If a student is reluctant to participate, the teacher suggests looking over another student’s shoulder for a class period, and to talk with students who are already taking online courses. If the student still doesn’t want to participate, the teacher sets up an appointment for the student with a guidance counselor.

Offering praise and encouragement

Some teachers spent much of their time circling the room, offering encouragement in addition to academic support, giving statements like: “‘Oooooh, we’re getting there!’ ‘Keep it up!’ or ‘Nice work. Now see if you can get one more activity done today.’” One teacher said, “Even if [students are] not progressing, just offering some positive feedback about something they’re doing well generally works.”

Emphasizing deadlines and consequences

One teacher explained that her students had not fully understood that their credit recovery course could make the difference between graduating or not. After she met with seniors to discuss this, their participation increased. At another school, a prominent notice on the learning lab’s whiteboard said, “Attention Seniors!! You must finish Credit Recovery by Fri May 23rd for June graduation!! Remaining days: 29 28 27 26 25 …” A third teacher reminded students that the more focused they were, and the more often they came into the credit recovery classroom, the sooner they would finish the course.

Learn more by reading the full report, executive summary, or teacher’s brief.


This article is part of the Online High School Credit Recovery series, adapted from the Online Courses For Credit Recovery: Promising Practices For High School Teachers report, conducted by the UMass Donahue Institute with support from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, which explored online credit recovery programs at 24 Massachusetts high schools.

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