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Gearing Up for the Second Semester: Motivation, Critical Thinking and Academic Growth

Are your students (and teachers) in the “January Doldrums”? Coming back from the holiday break can be a challenging transition for students and teachers alike. Many students find motivation lagging at the start of the second semester. How do you get them re-engaged? A focus on critical and creative thinking makes learning more fun and meaningful.

How Higher-Order Thinking Improves Motivation

Learning is most enjoyable when it has the right type and level of cognitive challenge. Memorizing a list of terms is boring. Solving a puzzle is fun. Increasing the level of cognitive complexity can, when done right, make learning both more engaging and more effective. 

Engaging learning tasks require students to think critically and creatively as they analyze and connect concepts, solve problems, and apply what they know to new situations and challenges. This type of thinking is more interesting and rewarding, creating feedback loops that keep students engaged and motivated to learn more. Paradoxically, the secret to re-engaging disconnected students is often to give them more (and more interesting) things to do, not less. 

The key to maximizing engagement and motivation is to provide tasks that are challenging enough to stretch students’ capabilities without being so difficult that they are frustrating. Students should feel a sense of accomplishment and success while working. To make sure students are successful with higher-order tasks, teachers need to provide support and scaffolding in critical thinking skills.

Re-engaging Students with Thinking Maps

Thinking Maps can help teachers address the “Second Semester Slump.” Thinking Maps support student engagement in several ways. 

  • Thinking Maps activate critical thinking. When students create Thinking Maps as part of an assignment, they are engaging with material on a deeper level and exploring how concepts are related. Making a Thinking Map is intrinsically more interesting and challenging than simply filling out a worksheet. 
  • Thinking Maps support creativity and self-expression. Unlike canned graphic organizers, Thinking Maps require students to design their own Maps from scratch. This both requires a higher level of thinking and allows for more creativity. Students can use pictures as well as words, choose different types of media when drawing a physical Map, and even create 3D Maps using physical objects. Map Builder allows students to create online Thinking Maps with full control over colors, text formats and even embedded multimedia elements. Giving students opportunities for choice, control and self-expression is another way to increase engagement with learning activities. 
  • Thinking Maps allow all students to be successful. Thinking Maps can be easily differentiated for students with different language and academic backgrounds and abilities. For example, students with higher language skills may write in complete sentences while completing a Thinking Map, while other students may use pictures or short phrases to get their ideas across. But all students are activating the same critical thinking skills and engaging with the same material. Providing students with opportunities where they can be successful keeps motivation high. 
  • Thinking Maps provide structure and scaffolded support as students develop critical thinking skills. Because they are used consistently across all grades and content areas, Thinking Maps give students a set of portable strategies they can call on for all kinds of learning tasks. That means they don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time they need to activate a particular kind of thinking. Instead of feeling stuck on an assignment before they even start, they can use keywords to determine what kind of thinking is called for and the right kind of Thinking Map to activate it. This lowers the barriers to success for students and eliminates the “don’t know where to start” problem that is at the heart of many cases of student disengagement.

Get Ready for a Successful Second Semester with Thinking Maps

If your students could use a motivation boost for second semester, it may be time to get back to basics with Thinking Maps. For Thinking Maps schools, the beginning of second semester is a great time to reintroduce Thinking Maps to students or recommit to using them as teachers. Strong, consistent use of Thinking Maps sets students up for academic success and keeps motivation and engagement high. 

If your school isn’t using Thinking Maps currently, second semester is a great time to set up training and plan your implementation. Many schools send their teacher leaders to the virtual “Training of Trainers” sessions in late winter and spring. This allows time for teachers to start trying Thinking Maps out in their own classrooms before rolling them out to the whole school. Here’s one great model for implementation: 

Check out upcoming virtual training opportunities in the training calendar. Or, contact your rep for help in designing your implementation plan.

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