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Support students’ confidence through instruction that includes clear expectations; challenging work that is calibrated to the knowledge, skills, and abilities of students; and informational and encouraging feedback

Organizing for Motivationally Supportive Classrooms

Effectively supporting student motivation throughout the year requires a strong foundation in positive classroom relationships and overall learning climate that cuts across disciplines and the five motivation design principles. Below are recommendations for how teachers might organize their classrooms at the beginning of the year to create this foundation for motivationally supportive instruction that can then be revisited and reinforced throughout the year. Recommendations are provided in two categories: the physical set-up of the classroom and “first-weeks” activities that are best introduced to students early in the academic year and then revisited periodically. Ideas are tagged with color-coded dots showing the alignment with MDPs.

Confidence Classroom Organization

Physical Organization and Set-Up of the Classroom

Facilitating Student Work
Create flexible seating arrangements so that students can work together in different configurations, on differentiated tasks to ensure appropriate challenge, and to have sufficient space and access to materials for carrying out investigations.
  • Individual desks allow students to focus on individual tasks
  • Partnered desks allow students to work closely with a partner or to check in with a partner for assistance/feedback during individual work
  • Clustered desks or group tables support partner and group work
  • A circle or “U” of desks can support class discussions
Create and post anchor charts[1 ] with strategies or scaffolds to support students’ making sense of phenomena and/or solving design problems, including talk moves or sentence/question stems and help-seeking strategies. This can both help students feel more confident about tackling new tasks in these areas, and normalize the use of resources and supports in completing work. Add to the posters throughout the year as students use new strategies successfully.
Display images and examples of a diverse array of people in science, engineering, and related fields/careers with whom students in the class can identify, including local examples where possible.
  • For example, highlight a different scientist each week, taking student nominations and being sure to include diverse representations of gender, race/ethnicity, culture
Make sure that all students in the class can have their work represented in public postings of student work and consider how any displays of student work can be focused on recognizing qualities like creativity, thoughtful revision, risk-taking (i.e., doing something outside your comfort zone), rather than grades, scores or social comparison.
Dedicate space on the board/wall to post learning targets/performance expectations/objectives and the lesson agenda each day so that this becomes a familiar part of the classroom where students can gain a clear idea of expectations.
Select or create posters that promote growth mindset and risk-taking (i.e., doing something that takes them out of their comfort zone) through positive messaging around challenge and risk-taking, effort/strategy attributions over innate characteristics, and historical examples of scientists/engineers learning from errors, iterating their designs, or advancing their understanding over time.
Post or otherwise make available extension/challenge prompts and tasks that push students to think more deeply about a phenomenon or design problem or that are available to all students at any time.

Foundational Activities for Classroom Climate

Use a familiar or high-interest topic as the basis for an early class discussion in which to introduce Accountable Talk[2 ] practices or similar science discourse routines[3 ,4 ,5 ] focused on active listening skills, evidence-based discussion, and acknowledging and building on each other’s ideas. These kinds of skills are most effective when introduced early in the year and continually practiced.
Learn about and adopt strategies from equitable teaching frameworks (e.g., culturally responsive pedagogy, anti-bias education) to help build a respectful, inclusive, and supportive classroom community that honors all student experiences, collectively agrees upon and upholds classroom norms, and establishes and promotes safety to share ideas and acknowledge personal values. For example, Learning for Justice offers a free, self-paced professional development module on using principles from culturally responsive pedagogy to develop classroom culture[6 ].
For more information, see Motivation as a Tool for Equity
Create a consistent set of terms to convey standards/objectives/goals for the year and take time early in the year to explicitly define what these terms are, provide examples, and explain how students can use them to understand what they should be able to do by the end of class. As the year progresses, regularly remind students to reflect at the end of a lesson if they achieved the objective and why they think they did or did not.
Introduce routines or activities that will be used frequently throughout the year and provide explicit messaging to students about the purpose of the activities and how they promote science learning.
  • For example, if a nonverbal formative assessment will be used in class (e.g., fist-to-five[7 ] or a thumbs up/down), students need to understand that this activity supplies important information about the class’s current level of understanding so that a teacher can recalibrate instruction as necessary. Early in the year, also thank students who raise low numbers/give a thumbs down for providing that information, so that students do not “inflate” their level of understanding to try to look smart or avoid looking less capable than their peers
  • Students also need to understand that classroom talk will focus on reasoning, deep scientific understanding, and students talking to each other, and that teacher talk moves during discussions are intended to further those goals. Otherwise, students might interpret a neutral teacher response (e.g., “Hmm,” or repeating the comment verbatim) as a sign that their answer was wrong and become discouraged or confused
Take the time to explicitly describe the purpose of any charts around the room and how to use them. For example, when the class is going to have its first discussion, go over the purpose of the discussion and how the sentence starters can be used to help them participate.
Create a standards-/competency-based grading system,[8 ,9 ] feedback system/policy, and/or descriptive rubrics that provide students with information about the skills they’ve demonstrated and the quality of thinking, rather than emphasizing the score/percent correct. This is important to do and explain to students early in the school year so that there is consistency throughout the year in referring back to these rubrics.
Plan assessment policies and routines in advance. Consider including:
  • When and how to provide interim feedback on drafts and early iterations to help students focus on progress and areas for improvement instead of a grade
  • Allowing students to revise and resubmit work
  • How to recognize students for personal improvement within the overall assessment/grading system
Include explicit instruction in growth mindset/learning orientation as an introductory/community-building activity at the beginning of the year[10 ]. Ideas include:
  • Provide students with a simple reading about growth mindset and discussing it, and inviting students to make connections between the reading and their own lives
  • Provide students with stories about scientists or engineers who overcame struggles through effort, strategy use, and a learning orientation
  • Invite students to share or write about a time when they learned from failure or a mistake, and/or improved at something by learning new strategies and working hard
Learn about and adopt strategies from equitable teaching frameworks (e.g., culturally responsive pedagogy, anti-bias education) to help invite all students into science, including those who may not have a well-developed science identity or who may feel alienated from science. For example, Dr. Kathy Chen from Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s STEM Education Center has compiled a list of anti-racism resources and articles for science educators[11 ]
For more information, see Motivation as a Tool for Equity