Author Archives: Andy Baker

Fear as Motivator

This week, a student from one of my classes reached out to me via email. She wrote, “Dear Mr. Baker, I just got the great news that I get an extra chance to do my exam. I was wondering if you could give me some tips on how to study and what to study.”

I’d heard about this extra chance. I’d been asked to grade the extra chance, but someone else is going to do a pile of exams, so they’ll just add hers to those. I’m happy for the young woman. She’s smart, she’s nice, and she’s appropriately respectful. However, she’s failed the exam twice. She is getting to take the exam again at an odd time (before the school year begins), as she needs it to complete her ‘propedeuse’ so that she can move on to university, which was her intention all along.

After I explained to her what was on the exam (as I had done during the lessons, and as she knew from having taken the exam twice already), I reminded her that she’d already taken the exam (and failed it) twice. I reminded her that if she happened to fail it again, she would not get into university and would likely be a second year student at our school (a hogeschool, which is where students in the Netherlands get a very focused bachelor’s degree.) I reminded her that she has five weeks to prepare for this last chance, encouraging her to not waste that time, as so much is riding on it.

I wrote that to scare her a bit. I wanted her to be able to taste the failure, to know what the cost of her slothfulness would be if she chose to be lazy and, like so many of her fellow students, use the ‘cross your fingers and hope really hard’ method of studying.

I don’t love doing that. In fact, I actually apologized for doing it, and I suggested she focus on how great it would feel to get into university and finally be studying alongside students who were on her intelligence/motivation level. I suggested she think about how good it would feel to tell people she was now studying at university, as opposed to hogeschool. I told her to think about graduating with a university degree and about the possibilities that would hold for her. I ended by telling her that she is a bright young woman with a great future.

That said, I hope she was listening when I tried to scare her. Somehow I feel like the fear of failure might help her more than hopes and dreams of success. It works that way with me sometimes. Sometimes the idea of success is scary and not that appealing to work towards. Sometimes what will really move me to the next step is the fear of staying in the situation I’m in.

Motivation is a complex thing. We should always be aware that there are lots of options.

End of Year Survey

The end of a school year always feels to me a bit like the end of a long journey. Everyone’s a bit weary, but there’s still quite a bit of work to be done. There are certain fellow travelers who I’m  looking forward to being away from.

I find that this is the perfect time to get a bit of feedback about the year. There are two great reasons for this:

  1. It breaks up the relative monotony of a regular class period.
  2. Students have experienced enough school to have reasonably well-formed opinions about the year that has just happened as well as ideas about what could have been.

The basic questions I use are the following:

  1. What did you like about what we did in the lessons this year?
  2. What did you not like about what we did in the lessons this year?
  3. What would you like more of or what do you think could be added to this class (or program) to help prepare you for your future?

Keeping the questions open and simple gives them room to expand on the parts they feel inspired to expand on. Limiting the number of questions makes the task feel less daunting. (I am, after all, still asking them to think and write.)

There are basically two ways to do the survey:

  1. Online – using one of several tools, many of which are free
  2. Small groups


Survey Monkey is a well-designed, easy to use website. The free version is somewhat limited, but if you can live with not downloading your results and limiting the number of respondents (currently 100), it’s great.

Typeform is a beautiful website that has a free version, the CORE plan, that offers unlimited questions, unlimited answers, and you can export your data when you’re done.

Google Forms is pretty amazing. It’s got tons of options, unlimited questions and answers, and you can add collaborators and work on it with other people. If the other two are well-designed automobiles, this is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!

Small groups

My preferred method of getting feedback is small groups. The downside is that the information isn’t neatly gathered in one spot. However, the upside is that students are encouraged to interact and come up with a list. I believe that while discussing the questions, new ideas are sparked. I also ask them to present their findings at the end, which gives them an opportunity to present in front of the group.

  1. Present the questions to the students. Tell them why you want to know what they’re thinking: Their opinions matter. Also, you are always trying to improve the lessons and the program.
  2. Ask them to discuss the questions and come up with a list of five to seven answers in each category.
  3. Have one or two students present their findings.

Having the write their lists down neatly is probably a good idea. It will prevent you from having to take notes, and you can interact and ask follow up questions.

Letting your students know in concrete ways that you want their feedback and that you value their opinions. Give them a clear message that you care what they think and that you are doing your best to give them what they need. It my experience, this helps end the year on a hopeful note.