Emily Gravett writes insightfully about the disconnect between instructor and student course goals. She's writing about religion courses and how academic goals, such as “analyzing the historical, cultural, linguistic, literary, political and social contexts of religious beliefs and practices” are not the goals that motivate students to take religion courses. Their goals are more personal and often involve big questions such as, “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “What is truth and how can I know it?” Instructors (not just those who teach religion) are trained to deal with content objectively, rationally, and to approach subject matter with reason and logic. Students need to learn these ways of rational thinking, but what motivates them in all kinds of courses is how that content is relevant to them—how it connects with what's happening in their lives. Gravett points out that we are doing the discipline and our students a disservice “if we do not attend to (or, worse, if we actively avoid) what we know motivates students to learn.” (p. 21)
It's a very discipline-specific article but its implications are relevant in every field. For example, Gravett proposes a variety of instructional practices that encourage students to make connections between the content and their lives. Here's a weekly online reflection assignment her students write. They use the notes they've taken in class during the week.
- What's the most surprising or important thing you learned in class this week?
- What was the most inspiring or unsettling idea you heard from a peer during class this week and why?
- Describe a connection between something you learned in class this week and your life outside class.
Not only does a reflection assignment like this encourage thinking about the personal relevance of course content, it promotes good note-taking and underscores that students should be listening and learning from others in the class. Perhaps best of all, it “motivates” the teacher to talk less and use discussion more.
Reference: Gravett, E. O. (2018). Lost in the great divide: Motivation in the religious studies classroom. Teaching Theology and Religion, 21
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