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Motivating learning: "Nobody ever washes a rental car"

I started off the morning looking for some motivational words of wisdom and fell upon Scott Simmerman‘s LinkedIN contribution saying, “Nobody ever washes a rental car.” And, “if you want a teenager to wash the car, make it hers or his.” The reality is, we’re more motivated when we understand what’s in it for us and why it matters. After considering Scott’s words, I recalled Kim Marshall‘s synthesis of the “Mentor Me” article by Cryslynn Billingsley.

Billingsley suggests that learners view a few short motivational video clips at the start of learning event, then write letters to themselves describing what they will do to have a successful learning experience. If and when their motivation wanes, the group is asked to re-read their letters and reconsider their aspirations. Following is Marshall’s more complete synthesis of the article:

  • At the beginning of the year, she shows three video clips: Michael Jordan talking about how his many failures made him try even harder; scenes from The Karate Kid showing the boy becoming a skilled fighter despite multiple distractions; and a Nike commercial showing athletes falling down, being defeated, and rising up stronger than before.
  • Right after the clips, Billingsley has students write a letter to themselves describing what they will do to have a successful school year, a successful academic career, and a successful life. “Their letters turn out pretty great,” she says. “At the same time, I’ve motivated  them, gotten a writing sample, and have found out a little bit more about their currencies – the things in their lives that are important to them.”
  • When motivation sags in the middle of the year, she has students get the letters out and think about whether they are meeting the goals they set for themselves for the school year – and what they need to do.
  • Billingsley also has students keep a graph of their progress on the specific learning targets of the course. That graph, plus her monitoring of students’ ongoing percent totals, keeps students focused on how they’re doing and spurs them on if they see the numbers dip. “At the end of the school year, students are always amazed at what they have accomplished and they know specifically how they were able to make progress,” she says.

 “Mentor Me” by Cryslynn Billingsley in AMLE Magazine, April 2014 (Vol. 1, #8, p. 40), www.amle.org; Billingsley can be reached at cbillingsley@pkwy.k12.mo.us.


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