I believe that student motivation is the bulk of the battle in the classroom. Yes, students need to learn the content, but such learning yields little lasting results when forced, bribed, or coerced. However, when students are motivated to learn – when they actually WANT to learn – the content naturally follows and it becomes a pleasure to learn. Motivation, therefore, is the key.
Enter stage left – the Word Paint Wall. In my middle school English classroom, where our classroom goal is to “increase the love of writing,” word paint is an activity students engage in during their own free time outside of class. They take preprinted slips of paper, compose some form of quality writing (simile, metaphor, personification, hyperbole, imagery using the five senses, etc.), and submit their entry in a box. Each Wednesday we draw out three entries, read, and vote on the best. Winners’ entries get posted on the Word Paint Wall.
There’s no grade. There’s no reward. There’s no mandate to participate. Yet, somehow word paint has grown to be the highlight of the week. The majority of students make submissions, and the energy surrounding the activity is a force, always accompanied by unreserved celebration of good writing.
One student who had boldly proclaimed his hatred for writing brought in his mother the other day to see his winning submission. Another girl, with disabilities in language, has won several times and now skips to class with a smile. Also, just last week, I received this anonymous note from a parent.
“Mr. Cureton, I am so glad that you decided to be a teacher again. I have an 8th grader who has always been a good student and a hard worker, but writing has always been a weakness for her. She has been reluctant to work on longer writing assignments and always needed more help with them. This year I saw her writing on a small piece of paper, and when I asked her if she was doing homework, she said, not exactly, but it was challenge for your class. Since then, I have seen her writing furiously many times, and she has even shared some of her writing with me. I didn’t think much of it until yesterday when I proofread a paper she had written for another class. I almost broke down in tears on the spot. Her writing has improved dramatically! And she did it on her own! Thank you for inspiring a love of writing in my child! This will have a positive and lasting impact on her life.”
I feel awkward sharing this because I do not desire to boast. Instead, I boast in my students. No, not all have caught the flame (I’ve got plenty of work to do!), but I’m proud of the success of my students – many of whom just needed a small shot of intrinsic motivation.