Teaching, Learning and Motivation

Most people in the western world go through some sort of schooling at some stage, be it at a public school, homeschooling or a few other methods. I finished school last year, and was trying to think about what could be improved with how I was taught. Because, let's face it, school is boring.

Or rather, the material is interesting enough, but it is presented dryly and at a rate where I found myself sitting at a desk for 85% of the day with nothing to do. Oh yeah, there were exceptions, like maths class which gave use thirty thousand exercises to do a day and expected us to learn it, but that was equally boring for other reasons. So what could be improved?

Well, why was I bored? There is are two reasons: Pacing and motivation.


In Chemistry and Physics I did nothing. I spent the lesson with my mind in neutral, doodling or some other mind-relieving activity. The only time I payed attention was the first five to ten minutes where the teacher summarised the previous lesson for those that were away (or those like me who were there but not listening). English was different, where I had to actually pay attention, but the material uninteresting to me. Likewise, I had to do maths so I could show the teacher I had done the exercises he set. But the fact is that for Physics and Chemistry, I could have progressed much much faster.

I chatted to my parents about this a little recently, and we came up with a key difference between the way I was taught and the way they were taught several decades ago. Their classes were streamed, mine were not. One other item of interest came up, and that is that teachers are restricted by the slowest in their class. If you haven't put two and two together yet, it means that everyone in the class worked at the pace of the slowest. With steaming this creates a 'good' class that races through things, and a 'bad' class which goes through slower. But without streaming, all the classes are restricted to a slow pace, with some overworked kids, and some utterly bored ones.

Streaming also provides motivation. People in the 'bad' class want to work to be in a better one, and people in the good classes have to work to stay there.


Quite frankly I had none at school. I didn't do homework after year 9, I was satisfied with medicore grades (hey, I passed nearly everything with slighly above average). The people who were motivated did amazingly well, but I could never dredge it up. But you know what would have motivated me? For my grades to mean something. The story goes like this:

Student: Why should I work hard? Teacher: To get a good grade Student: What will that mean Teacher: You get more excellence credits Student: Meaning...? Teacher: You can get your courses endorsed with excellence Student: Meaning...? Teacher: Um, better change of getting into university Student: First year uni is pretty much open. If you pass everything, it's nearly gaurenteed Teacher: It will increase your chance of getting a job. Student: Really, so my employer will look at my school results and say 'I'm not going to employ him because he failed three papres at school, even though he got through uni fine' Teacher: You should do well so you can be satisfied with how you went. Student: How can I be satisfied with how I went when the end result is meaningless?

And on ad infinitum. The fact is that school grades are pretty much meaningless to everyone. The only difference they make is to potentially ... put you in a better class. Oh wait, we don't disciminate between people who do well and those who don't. Tough, your results actually are meaningless, as long as you pass.


No, this isn't advocating for people to bring back streaming. It has it's own problems. But there must be better ways. By we can change pacing and motivation.

We have computers. Let's say I'm trying to learn maths. I do ten problems. A computer grades these problems and tells me that I got some of them correct. Then it gives me more problems, balancing the ones I can do with ones that will extend the topic at hand. The teacher moves at a steady pace, teaching the base of each section. The computer deals out exercises. The faster kids move quickly, being extended by harder and harder problems. The slower kids work at the pace they can. Because students now have different abilities, they also have to be graded individually. You know what would be motivating? Being graded on motivation. You get marks for the ratio of correct to incorrect questions multiplied by the number of questions attempted. Since the computer makes sure each kid get's problems related to his ability, the people who put in effort will get more correct ones, and probably do more questions in a given time.

But really, I don't know. I just think someone should dedicate a few years to picking a proper way of teaching children. Because, let's face it, school was not the best.

What I think now in 2016

Well, most of my thoughts stay the same. I was bored through school, I was bored through university, and as a result, I didn't pay much attention and didn't get amazing grades (but still passed everything with above-average results). But what I did in the out-of-uni time is what got me a job. The 'soft' skills, character traits and all those other things have ended up being far more important than what I did or didn't learn at school.

It turns out that I'm not motivated for book-work at all. You can't put a bunch of exercises in front of me and expect me to do them without some incentive. But if you give me a problem that's actually challenging, such as designing a mechanical system, programming a computer game with some system no-one has done before, then I'll use my own inititive and motivation to do it.