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Wednesday / August 15

Losing Steam at the End of the Schoolyear? Time to WOOP It Up

The final months of the school year can feel pretty sloggy. We’re tired, kids are restless, and it often feels like it doesn’t matter much anymore. After all, the year is nearly done! Summer is practically here! The standardized tests are over! Cue the Moviefest.

The problem with this, of course, is that we didn’t get in to teaching to mail it in for the final weeks or days of school. We became teachers so that we could promote the long-term flourishing of kids — day in, day out, investing our efforts toward our students’ long-term good. But what can we do, given the uniquely challenging motivational conditions of the final days of school?

I think there are a variety of answers to this — for example, we can plan for pop-up toasts on the final day of school, or we can work toward creating moments of genuine connection with each kid, one last time — but in this post, I’d like to hit one simple recommendation: we ought to WOOP it up.

How to WOOP it up

WOOP is a goal-setting methodology that helps students — and teachers! — not just set goals, but actually do the things it takes to achieve them. Developed by a researcher at NYU named Gabrielle Oettingen, WOOP’s impact on goal-striving behaviors has been demonstrated in numerous studies. (For a wonderful WOOP toolkit designed by Oettingen and Character Lab, click here.) It’s just a four step process: Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan.

Before I explain how it works, I’d like to propose three ways you could use WOOP between now and the end of your school year to increase motivation in your classroom — both your motivation and that of your students.

First, we can have students WOOP for what they’d like to accomplish between now and the end of the school year. This can help kids internalize the mentality of “in this class, we finish strong.”

Second, we can have students WOOP their summer — say, what goals might they set to better themselves intellectually between the end of this school year and the start of the next one?

And finally, we teachers can WOOP our summer as well. What might we like to get accomplished, outside of teaching, during those precious, few months?

In any of these scenarios, the WOOP method is simple. Let’s look at how you can use WOOP with students right now:

Wish – Set a goal

First, you lead students in setting a goal (a Wish). It helps here to coach students in setting goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-sensitive. If we’re setting goals for what we’d like to accomplish between now and the school year, then, we might have students set a goal for how many study sessions they’ll put in between now and exams, or what unique challenges they might like to take on for a final project, and so on.

Outcome – Visualize success

Next, we want students to do something that sounds a little corny: visualize success. Specifically, what would it be like to achieve the goal — what would the best possible Outcome be? Perhaps students might answer, “I’ll improve my GPA by doing well on the exam” or “The project will make me proud and be something I can share with my grandfather.” It’s important in this step to encourage students to picture what it would be like; we want them to create a mental image of success.

Obstacle – Face present realities

Right after this, we want to come back to present realities — this is the Obstacle step. What is the biggest problem inside of ourselves that’s most likely to keep us from our goal? It’s not “I’m going to be busy this weekend”; it’s “On the weekends I play tons of video games, and I always leave my school work until late Sunday night.” Visualizing the obstacle is key.

Plan – Create a simple solution map for success

Finally, we have students create a “when-then” Plan: When [obstacle happens], then I will [specific, measurable plan]. Some examples:

  • When I’m tempted to turn on my video game, then I will unplug it and complete five practice questions for the exam.
  • When I’m finding it hard to write my 1000 words for the day, I will sit down and write 100.
  • When I finish eating dinner, I will quiz myself using flashcards for 15 minutes before I do anything else.

Finish strong!

WOOP activities at the end of the school year do a few things for us and our students:

  • They get us focused on goals (Wishes) that we’re interested in, and this increases the degree to which we value the work that we’re doing. Value is one of the key beliefs beneath motivation.
  • When we mentally contrast the Outcome of our goals with the Obstacles, we create a mental association that motivates us to put forth the effort it will take to succeed.
  • When we create a when-then Plan, it makes it more likely that we’ll follow through, and that increases the impact of our final days in the classroom.
  • Using this strategy at the end of the year gives you practice for using it all throughout the next one.

At the end of the year, our goal is to finish strong for the sake of our students. As you finish up the school year, I hope WOOP can help you and your students break free from the “we’re all done growing for the year” spell. After all, teachers like us and kids like ours are never finished doing the good work of growth.

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Written by

Dave Stuart Jr. teaches high school in Michigan, and he blogs at DaveStuartJr.com. His book, These 6 Things: How to Focus Your Teaching on What Matters Most, will be available from Corwin Literacy in July 2018, and includes an entire chapter with practical takeaway strategies to increase student motivation. Check out his all-online, schedule-friendly PD, The Student Motivation Course.

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