Many students enter mathematics classrooms with a sense of trepidation. For some, their discomfort reflects a larger sense of detachment from school. They may not feel welcomed because of the gaps they experience navigating between their home language or culture and the expectations at school. The social milieu of school may make them feel like an outcast, as they see peers who seamlessly “fit in” while they remain on the outside. Unlike the sports field, their community center, or the stage, academic settings may make them feel untalented and incompetent. For other students, school itself is fine, but there is a distinct dread upon entering math class. Math has never made sense—or it made sense when it involved whole numbers, but as soon as the variables showed up, all hope was lost. A standardized test score that deemed them “below grade level” may have demoralized them. They may get messages at home that “we’re not good at math,” setting up any potential success as familial disloyalty. For some students, they love the subject, but must contend with others who do not see them as fitting their ideas of “a math person.” They have to combat stereotypes constantly to be seen as a legitimate participant in the classroom, as they defy expectations.
Students tend to weigh the social risks before taking any kind of action in math class. Staying silent tends to feel safer. So it’s important to create climates where students feel a sense of belonging and want to join in. In her new book, Motivated, Ilana Horn explores connections between the five motivational features of math classrooms—illuminating strategies that can make math more meaningful and foster students' sense of belonging.
We started our conversation with social risk. In Motivated, Ilana, who goes by Lani, opens the book with an examination into the big question of why students don’t want to talk in math class?
In her new book, Motivated, author Ilana Seidel Horn outlines the features of a motivational classroom. Based on her research, Horn has found that a motivational classroom attends to the following five features:
students’ sense of belongingness
the meaningfulness of learning
structures for accountability
Teachers can foster all of these through deliberate instructional design as they tinker to motivate their students. Here's where to start: