Time for a Little Motivation!

Jocelyn McWhirter, Religious Studies

Last week in class, a first-year student raised the subject of getting less-than-desirable grades. Thanks to the ACUE course, I knew it was time for a little motivation!

I then said something like this: If you’re a student at this college, then lower grades mean that you're under-performing. You could get higher grades, but for some reason you don’t.

One reason might be your environment. The class climate may not be helping you. It’s a round hole but you’re a square peg. There could also be stuff going on in your personal life. Either way, it’s hard to focus.

A second reason might be that you have a disability. It might be a diagnosed disability and you don’t have adequate accommodations, or you’re just learning to navigate it. It might be an undiagnosed disability. In that case you have no clue what might be holding you back. It’s like you’re dressed out and playing the game with an injury that’s not taped up.

A third reason might be that your strategy for learning and studying isn’t working. Usually when our strategy isn’t working, we try harder, using the same strategy! But, as in sports, when your strategy isn’t working, you usually have to change your game. It’s hard to change. You might need a coach to help you.

The good news is that you can figure out what’s holding you back and you can fix it. You can do this because you get good grades by learning, and you can learn. Here’s a quotation from a book I read back in the spring: “The teen brain is more than capable of learning, and this fact should not be taken for granted! . . . Memories are easier to make and last longer . . . . This is the time to identify strengths and invest in emerging talents. It’s also the time when you can get the best results from special help for learning and emotional issues . . . . Your IQ can change during your teen years.”*

That’s what I said. Then I asked, “Do you feel this? Do you feel like your brain is all alert, watching everything, asking questions, trying to figure stuff out?” Some nods; a few shrugs and blank looks. But one student had already identified herself as a writer. So I asked her, “How about when you’re writing, trying to nail down what you want to convey and how you need to say it?” A little eye-widening and a little nod. Then I turned to the football players. “And what about in the middle of a game? Are you always thinking, okay, what’s the play, what’s going on around me, what’s my job, what do I need to do right now?” A flash of a smile.

“But not so much in school, eh?” Several nods of agreement.

“That might be an environmental problem. Or a disability, or a strategy that isn’t working. Whatever it is, we can pay attention to it and decide what to do about it, so that you can learn and perform to your fullest potential.”

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* Frances E. Jensen and Amy Ellis Nutt, The Teenage Brain (New York: HarperCollins, 2015), 78-79.