Ever had that student who seems to get it until you leave him on his own to complete something? The work you get back is totally different than you expected, and it is hard to know if it is lack of interest or a real misconception. Maybe it is that student who just doesn't seem to care at all, and you just don't know if that is because it is too hard for her or if she just hasn't found the value in the work. Today I am going to share a super quick, super easy method of assessing whether the issue is motivation or a lack of knowledge.
I learned about the Can't Do/Won't Do Assessment in graduate school when I was working in my graduate program in school psychology. At that point in my life, I didn't quite understand the power this assessment would have, but I tucked the technique away in my toolbox. I am so glad I did. It is quick. It is easy. It is the perfect data for making sure I am providing the right intervention for my struggling learners.
The truth is, it does no good to continue to give practice to an unmotivated learner who is choosing NOT to do the task. The reality is that only makes things worse in the long run. However, a struggling learner does need that extra practice. Being able to accurately distinguish between the two is the challenge.
All you really need to start teasing out whether motivation is the issue is two similar tasks. Perhaps it is a page of a test a student failed or a progress monitoring measure, either can work. The goal is not to make it long or complicated. It can even be an assignment that the student completed and didn't quite perform as high as expected because you are just looking to see how the student improves without additional instruction. Timed tests are great to use when you think that motivation is impairing fluency because they only take a minute or two.
So how do we do it? First, you need to figure out what motivates the student. For some kids it is extra computer time or a special snack. Others like a homework pass or a shortened assignment. (The homework pass is my favorite to use for kids who don't normally bring the homework anyways…they feel like they are getting a big win by skipping it, but you really know you would have never seen it anyways!) Whatever you pick it has to be a highly desired reward.
Once you've selected a reward, you dangle the carrot. Show the student their original score and challenge them to beat it with the reward in place for improvement (even slight improvement). Give the second task. You'll need to score it right away, and give the carrot for any improvement. If the student improved by 15% or more, motivation was definitely a part of the issue. If not, it really is a skill deficit. However, if the score went up by 15% but is still not passing, it is a combination of the two.
That's it! You can not target your intervention efforts more effectively based on your findings. If motivation is the issue, it is time to set up a reward system that encourages quality work. You'll have to reward a lot at first and slowly work the frequency down.
If it is a skill issue, you may want to check out the Pencil Tap Test (see cheat sheet) to determine if the student lacks self monitoring skills or if there is a lack of conceptual understanding. If the issue is both motivation and skills, then you can do an intervention plan to build skills and motivation!
Got questions? Leave them in the comments.