Apprenticeship and Intrinsic Motivation

I am drawn to the idea of the cognitive apprenticeship, mostly because of the accuracy, the tightness, of the concept. As Collins et al explains, “apprenticeship” implies a work relationship between a novice and an expert, in which the novice watches the expert model certain tasks, then, with practice, the expert “fades” and the novice takes responsibility for the task in its entirety. This seems a perfect word for what we hope our students can accomplish in our classrooms. We hope, for example, that while they might need us early in the semester, that by the end of the semester they have the tools not only to exercise the skill (like writing, or reading) but to employ that skill in other disciplines. That they’ve acquired some domain knowledge and heuristic and control strategies and that they’re at least on their way to thinking about how their learning process happened.

While the rest of the article seemed obvious to me (even the part I’m going to discuss next), it still got me thinking. I have this problem in my Comp 101 class this semester: the community just doesn’t want to build. This is the first time I’ve instructed a class that is this slow to engage, and I think (as Collins et al. attest), that the lack of community seriously affects the learning environment. And I get it—as a student, it’s frustrating to attend a class that doesn’t seem to work socially. But as an instructor, I’m struggling. They say, “it can’t be forced,” and I agree.  Despite my best efforts (fun group work, early community building exercises, and a few class laughs) I can’t seem to get them to stay engaged or interested—in the material, or in each other. I was left, after reading the article, thinking about how much we, as instructors, can do right, yet how quickly and easily a botched learning environment can make our efforts seem to go wrong. Am I sounding jaded? I have a hard time NOT taking a class’s disinterest personally!

I guess what I’m looking for here, is a few amen’s and a couple of thoughts about how to conquer this one. While the article provides a (stilted) example of how to lead students through a discussion, the answers in the example come readily (and with some strange southern twang), and in my troublesome section, even when I call on students, answers are short, disinterested, and sometimes don’t suggest that the student has actually read the material. I almost wonder if I haven’t spent enough time thinking about the intrinsic motivations of this PARTICULAR group: the fact that maybe these students aren’t engaged because they don’t see a clear purpose outside of the more lofty goals of “learn to write,” “get a good grade,” “be clear communicator at future job” etc. While we’ve talked about the practicality (dare I say pleasure?!) of being a good writer/reader, and most of the class activities we do are focused on real-world writing/reading and furthermore ask students to think about their cache of already-learned and well-used writing/reading skills as they might apply to the classroom, I almost feel like I’m not speaking their language. That these purposes I’ve identified aren’t the ones that motivate them. So where to? What does motivate people to read or write well?