Sometimes Autonomy is a Student’s Worst Enemy: How Holding High Expectations Can Draw Students Into the Classroom Michele L. Davis University of New England


Meet ninth grade Tyler: stands no more than 4’8” tan, scruffy hair, baby face with deep brown hair. The standard attire is big baggy shorts or skinny jeans and skater shoes. He wears a hemp necklace or two and an oversized hockey jersey. He has a constant smirk, showing a contagious smile. He greets me my last hour of the day, “Hello Miss, how’s it goin?” as he saunters into class a good minute or two after the bell. …everyday. I want to like this student, I want to see him succeed, but goodness, he knows how to push every button there is from his quiet, studious peer to the right of him to his sophomore buddy Allen that also failed English 9 and is now repeating; Tyler wants to be liked, but only so much. He wants to be a rebel, because in my opinion, it is all he can control. I picked this student because he is the student that is the epitome of the word “punk”: belligerent often, rude always, yet somehow likable, aggressive at times, but can be sweet, and desperately apathetic. And, Tyler is smart. He is selling himself short as a student and his own autonomy, his deep desire to do things his own way, creates an affect that is a failure in public education. I have tried many of the strategies Eric Anderman and Lynley Hicks Anderman (2010) discuss in our textbook Classroom Motivation. We are already out of school, so I cannot employ any more of the concepts discussed, but I certainly can discuss what most definitely did not work, and what did. The motivation strategies in particular I did this school year with Tyler are the following: 1. Within-task choices 2. Between-task choices 3. Choices of where to work 4. Peer pressure/involvement of peers in behavior management

5. Breakdown of tasks into measurable, successful goals 6. Attributional feedback 7. Discussion of his cognitive abilities 8. Upheld high expectations What is interesting about this student is that his desire to be a rebel matched his desire to be thought of as smart. Yet, he did not want to appear “close” to a teacher, nor passing in way; he wanted to be the rebel, the flunkout, the “drug-ee.” After I had one-on-one conversations privately, with his close friends, and with Tyler in front of the class, he did perform…but only sometimes. I do think the strategies I applied had an effect, but sadly it may take more similar applications from future teachers to make a dent in this against-school kid.

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