Teaching? Find Your Students Motivation

One of the things I enjoy about my position is that my supervisor moves me around on the team schedule throughout the year, and I find myself sharing various skills and teaching clients different aspects that collectively make up a structured job search.

This week and last, I’m teaching a basic computer class. This class is composed of people who know zero about a computer other than perhaps going to Facebook when they arrive at a computer that is already turned on in our Resource Centre, plus a couple who know marginally more.

It’s been six days so far, and over those six days they’ve learned how to turn the thing on, some rudimentary terminology, the difference between software and hardware, how to use Microsoft Word 2010, basic functions like cut, copy and paste, ergonomics, proper keyboarding, made an email, made a resume, how to send, reply and open emails, and most importantly how to attach a resume and apply for a real job. Whew! That’s a lot in just six days.

Yesterday, one of the activities I had the group do was to use the computer to make a Christmas gift for someone whom they still have yet to get something for. I told them this gift wouldn’t be expensive, (in fact it would be free), and while it might not have the best wow factor on Christmas morning, it would show the person that they were thinking of them nonetheless and took the time to make them something using the new skills they acquired in the class.

Now you have to understand as I have said many times in previous posts, that the people I’m working with during the day are exclusively in receipt of social assistance. Pay their rent and buy food and there’s not much left for other necessities such as transportation, clothing and a structured job search. Throw Christmas presents into the mix and those presents are going to be few and far between and have to be cheap. So the idea of making a present and doing it for free has great appeal. And there’s your hook.

By hook, I mean motivation. If someone can see the direct application of whatever they are being taught, the likelihood of mental commitment to the learning process rises, and by way of this, learning gets imbedded. So if the learning is fun, not only will the skills be learned, but the use of the computer becomes a positive experience, rather than something to dread or simply endure.

Let me share the activity with you. It’s not an earth-shattering, oh-I-can’t-believe-you-got-me-this-for-Christmas idea I remind you, just a small thoughtful gift that requires using some learned skills to pull off. You could do this too if you want.

What I had the group do first is open up a blank document in MS Word and extend the margins to a narrow setting. After minimizing but not closing the document, I had them navigate to the internet and start at a search engine of their choice, Bing or Google – for we learned the pros and cons of both engines. Once there I had them search for, “This day in history”. Now of course there are many results that will come up and I had them all go to the same one I use for this exercise, but really any number might do.

On the site I had them land on, each person entered a month and day that corresponded to the birthday of the person they wanted to make their gift for. After having done this and clicked on the enter key, the engine quickly displayed significant births, deaths and events that happened throughout history on the birthday of that person. What I had them do was to highlight, copy and paste the births and events from that page to their blank Word document, plus the thought for the day at the bottom of the page.

Next, I personally typed, “Hope you enjoy this small gift. Merry Christmas.” at the top of a page, jazzed up the font and printed one copy for each person. They then took this single page, put it on the bottom of the pages they printed off but turned over so the writing on the last page was on the back. I had them then roll all the pages together like an old-time scroll or diploma, and we tied them up with a coloured ribbon I bought at a dollar store in the mall.

Now each person had a zero cost, personally made gift to either slip in someone’s stocking or give them as a stand alone gift. Doesn’t sound like much does it? It was for some however something instead of the alternative which would have been to give nothing at all – and so it became everything.

This exercise really was about putting new-found computer skills to use. No it’s not a job search exercise. It does however use many of the same skills used in making a resume, a cover letter, copying and pasting data – the same skills needed in a job search. Are they motivated to work? You bet. The resume and learning the online application process we covered as well. But everybody needs a mental break, new stimulation and some divergent fun when sitting in a class for hours on end learning something like computers.

Teaching a skill? Find the hook.


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