Parent: How was school today?
Parent: What did you do?
Child: Nothing. Fell asleep in math.
Parent: So you didn’t learn anything?
This conversation highlights a common problem: Many students find school boring. They are uninterested in learning, waste time and fall asleep in class, and enjoy only the nonacademic aspects of school (e.g., friends, sports, activities).
Why are so many students bored in school? Motivation theorists would answer this question differently. Carl Rogers addressed the issue in Freedom to Learn. (1969). Contributing to boredom is the perception by many students that school learning is meaningless, or not connected with their goals and interests and not valuable in their lives. Meaningless learning is initiated by others, requires little personal involvement by learners, affects (at best) a small part of learners’ lives, and is viewed by learners as not relevant to their goals. Unfortunately much classroom teaching reinforces this perception, especially when teachers lecture and students passively listen.
Learning cannot be made meaningful to students by simply telling them why the learning is important (e.g., “Math will help you in the future when you have to compute your income taxes.”). Rather, meaningful learning requires a reorganization of the teaching-learning process. Teachers become learning facilitators who provide resources for students to attain their goals or solve problems that are important to them. Teachers do not relinguish their responsibilities for students’ skill acquisition but rather help students focus on the process that will lead to goal attainment. Rather than all students doing the same thing at the same time there will be much differentiation with some working in groups and others individually, some inside and others outside of the classroom, and so forth. Although such latitude may not be possible across an entire school day, allowing students some choices is predicted to increase their perception of learning as meaningful to them and thereby help to reduce boredom.
Rogers’s theory has seen wide psychotherapeutic application. The focus on helping people strive for challenges and maximize their potential is relevant to teaching and learning. At the same time, the theory is developed only in general terms and is replete with technical constructs that are difficult to define and measure. Greater specification is needed on how one’s self-regard affects behavior and can be improved. Another problem is that the actualizing tendency is not firmly linked with goals. Rogers emphasized striving toward growth, but this process is vague. Much research shows that specific goals motivate individuals better than general ones (Locke & Latham, 1990). A third concern is that it is unclear how positive regard for others may influence them or how social factors (e.g., social comparisons, peer feedback) can affect regard and self-regard. Fortunately, research continues in the humanistic tradition that will help to clarify these concerns.
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