Before the first bell even rings, senior Alex Wilson is either in a jazz band rehearsal or has rushed straight to her International Space Station Program class.
Every year, when school gets into full swing, the same events seem to happen. Students who once thought, “Yes, of course I can take that AP class and play a sport and sleep too!” begin to realize the time commitment they’ve made. In the morning, bleary eyed students can be seen trudging up the front steps, clutching their coffee, or in Wilson’s case, coming in before school for extracurriculars. During flex, the campus room becomes less crowded as students study in the library, or the students hanging around can be heard complaining about the amount of homework they have.
Homework, and work in general, is not seen as something pleasant. Few to no students are happy to go home and force themselves through what they view as busy work.
However, while everyone has to work on homework, there are some students who excel at their work, and even take their passion for a particular subject far outside of school.
What is it that makes these students work harder at what is commonly seen as drudgery?
Many students who view homework as drudgery use incentives such as grades as their primary motivation. Although these students view homework negatively, others have an internal motivation to get it done.
In addition, some do homework to learn new things about the world in order to understand more about the complexities of life.
“I’ll try [homework] even if I don’t get it, but sometimes I just get really frustrated,” said sophomore Eli Smith.
“[Homework] is usually not enjoyable,” said sophomore Emrik Mundschenk, “I usually cram it all in on a Sunday.” Mundschenk, and many other students, view homework as a chore and procrastinate while doing other things that seem more enjoyable to them.
As many students have experienced, Sunday night can come sooner than is expected, and the time comes when homework must get done.
Students need to find the motivation to do this homework at times like these. The motivation to actually do homework, even when it is not due the next day, comes in many different forms.
“I think I’m a pretty self-motivated person, and from a young age I was able to see the long-term benefits that would arise from working hard and getting good grades,” said senior Sam Carlen. “There’s also that personal satisfaction.”
Senior Alex Wilson describes her mind set when she receives an assignment. “When I’m doing an individual assignment, there’s never a question of ‘do I do the assignment, or do I not do the assignment?’ I just do the assignment.”
This internal motivation is hard to define and learn. In addition, some students view learning in and of itself as motivation.
“I thoroughly enjoy learning, because I feel like it enriches my life,” said Carlen. “When I know things I feel like I can see the world in a whole new perspective. Learning new things about politics, for example, has really shown me the complexity behind the way we get things done in government. I would just say [learning] enriches the way you look at the world.”
Learning outside of school is something that anyone can do to become a more well rounded person and learn about things that interest them personally.
“I think I’ve always enjoyed learning to some extent, but it used to be because I just enjoyed working hard and getting good grades. I think lately I’ve been doing more self-initiated learning in terms of my own political path and searching out and learning outside of school frequently,” said Carlen.
“When you think about overall quality of life, everything I do is so that later on I can have opportunities to do something else,” said Wilson. “Maybe if I get a [good grade] now, more colleges will accept me than otherwise. That’s more opportunities, more options to pick from. You can choose to do what you want, but you’re going to have more options available later if you choose to do the work now.”
Depending on the student, some homework can be enjoyable if it appeals to the student’s interests. Smith, who can get frustrated, does like certain parts of the homework he does.
“Really, I think in math, if you know what you’re doing, it’s fun,” said Smith. “I like to write papers, actually, and I enjoy when I do work that I’m proud of.”
An idea that gives people the freedom to learn in and out of school, both Carlen and Wilson agree, is that of a growth mind set. The growth mind set, Wilson explained, is a belief that through hard work and guidance, anyone can understand any concept. This is opposed to the fixed mind set, which is a belief that you are stuck with what you were born with.
For example, many people who say they are “bad at math,” and therefore give up and don’t do their homework, may just not have the right mind set, or the right guidance. They, according to the growth mind set, could understand calculus eventually they just need to work at it.
“I legitimately believe that people can understand [any complex concept],” said Wilson.
On the other hand, a widely used motivation is voiced by Mundschenk: “[I do homework] to get grades.”
“My goal for high school is to end high school with a 4.0 GPA,” said Wilson. “In my view and conceptualization of the grading system, I need to get every point I can, in order to maintain my grade at what I consider a high enough standard. That being said, I realize that system of incentivizing is extremely flawed. The idea that I should do busy work that I already know how to do or that isn’t useful to me at all in order to get points toward the end goal of a grade is one that certainly rubs most people the wrong way. The thing with me is that it does give me the motivation to finish the task.”
“I’m not inspired enough to just do [homework] even though it’s hard,” said Smith. “I’m not internally motivated to do any homework that’s not graded, but any homework that is graded I am motivated because if you don’t do your homework you can fail the class.”
Through internal motivation, some students get their homework done. Others look to the promise of a reward for motivation. Grades are an incentive to some, knowledge to others. The concept of knowledge as a reward can also be applied to out of school learning: the accumulation of knowledge that interests you and can enrich your life for as long as you live.