(Teacher's Lounge) Coffee is for Closers: Motivational Questioning as a Teaching Technique
Occasionally, when facing a classroom full of students who are clearly unprepared to discuss assigned material, I’ve said, “Why? Why didn’t you do your reading?” Students have many unhelpful responses and my question never elicits the response I want: motivation to complete future readings. One thing I’ve never considered asking them is, “On a scale of one to 10, how motivated are you to read?” And if (or when) they answer with a ridiculously low number, I never in a million years would push them with, “Why not a lower number?”
Motivational interviewing: A sales technique at home in the classroom
This strategy, called motivational interviewing, has been used in both counseling and sales. However, according to author Lisa Sheldon, it can be very useful in education as well. When used in the classroom, motivational questioning enhances the student-teacher relationship by relying on an individual’s motivation to change by reducing confrontation and increasing goal-setting.
OARS and FRAMES can strengthen student-teacher relationships
In her article “Using Motivational Interviewing to Help Your Students,” Sheldon explains the two important acronyms that drive motivational questioning:
- OARS (Open-ended questions, Affirmations, Reflective listening, and Summary statements)
- FRAMES (Feedback, Responsibility, Accountability, Menu, Empathy, and Self-efficacy)
She explains that OARS fortify the student-teacher relationship by empowering students to tell their stories and be rewarded for positive behavior while knows their instructor is listening to them. Subsequently, FRAMES allow students and teachers to move forward, focusing on positive momentum.
Author Dan Pink advises using this strategy to deal with student resistance. His books Drive and To Sell is Human both explore decision-making, motivation, and a concept he refers to as attunement — understanding power relationships in order to find common ground and therefore motivate people. Attunement requires understanding the point of view of the powerless in power relationships and exploring their decision-making process. Motivational interviewing is what helps that exploration.
Using the two-question strategy to help students find motivation
Pink suggests that teachers can use motivational interviewing to figure out why students fail to do homework. This can be done with the “two-question strategy,” as he explains in an interview: “The first question is this: ‘On scale of 1 to 10 — with one meaning not the least bit ready, and 10 being totally ready — how ready are you to begin doing homework?’
Chances are, he’ll pick an extremely low number — perhaps one or two. Suppose he answers, ‘I’m a two.’ Then you deploy the second question: ‘Why didn’t you choose a lower number?’
The second question catches people off guard. And the student now has to answer why he’s not a one. He might say, ‘if I did my homework, I might do a little better on tests.’ ‘If I did my homework, I might learn a little more.’ ‘I’m getting older and I know I’m going to have to become a little more responsible.’”
Tap into intrinsic motivation to break bad study habits
This strategy requires the student to explore what sort of intrinsic motivation he or she has to complete homework. Tapping into said motivation can often encourage changes in behavior much more than point rewards, punishment, or even a compliment during classroom discussions.
While it really seems to turn the traditional power structure on its head, it’s important to recognize that modern changes to information access and management as well as developments in pedagogy have already changed the power structure between teachers and students. Motivational questioning or interviewing is an important skill that can help students understand these changes — letting them know that their education is in their hands and is their responsibility.
Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.