Collaborate to Motivate

Picture an outstanding lesson and what do you see? What’s going on in the lesson? What is the teacher doing? What are the students up to? For some, the image conjured might be a calm classroom where students sit studiously with their heads in a book, but I would guess that most of us have pictured a classroom where students are working together. They are engaged in dialogue with the teacher and their peers, sharing ideas and opinions, asking questions and working on tasks and problems together. Whenever I have worked with groups of teachers to discuss and draw out the key features of outstanding learning a common factor that always prevails is some level of cooperation and collaboration between students. Sometimes you can walk into a lesson and instantly know it is outstanding because the learning is so palpable. There is a certain buzz to a lesson where students are working purposefully together in small groups. Indeed, it is harder not to find good examples of learning when these conditions are present. Evidence of learning is much harder to find in quiet lessons where students work in isolation.

Collaborative approaches to learning dominate the evidence-based research for the impact they have on student achievement. When compared to more traditional methods where students passively receive information from a teacher, cooperative, problem-based learning has been shown to improve student engagement and retention. Furthermore, More than 1200 studies comparing cooperative, competitive, and individualistic efforts have found that cooperative learning methods improve students’ time on tasks and intrinsic motivation to learn.

This got me thinking about how we can motivate students in their learning. A staple theory on most Business Studies or Psychology syllabus is the work of Abraham Maslow and his Hierarchy of Needs.

Abraham Maslow’s popular theory of human motivation represented through his Hierarchy of Needs (1943) identifies five distinct levels of human motivation (see below).  Here I have suggested how the five basic human needs might be fulfilled in a classroom context, from the basic needs through to self-actualisation – the desire to become everything that one is capable of becoming. A few slight tweaks might be necessary should we examine the concept from a whole school perspective, but this is my take. As teachers, we help our students achieve these ‘needs’ in our lessons and, to me, it seems fairly obvious that their love and belonging needs would come from opportunities to collaborate with others and feel part of a learning community. I’ve dedicated a whole section of the book to collaborative learning and would welcome opinions on how Maslow’s theory might work in a classroom setting.

Fig 4.1 Maslow in the classroom


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