After putting on several kilos during my field survey in Bangladesh (due to stress, over work and less sleep) when I came back to Edinburgh on the last day of May, I felt devastated. I needed to get back to healthy life style to survive, to finish my PhD. I tried going to gym during my first year, but it was a total wastage of money as I ended up not continuing as many other people of the world do. So I discarded that idea first time it popped up in my brain. Luckily I came across a mobile app called C25K in NHS website which coaches a person to run 5 kilometre from a couch potato. To my utter surprise I continued with the program. Do you believe I finished it? The person who used to lose her breath just after running a minute can run for 30 minutes now at one go. Of course, its not easy to run for 30 minutes and every time just after 10 minutes I think I wont be able to continue and after 15 minutes I start panting and feel its impossible to continue for another 15 minutes. But you know I eventually finish the 30 minutes run, feel accomplished and get back to my PhD with an energised mind. What made me be able to complete the course and be a graduate on the 22nd of November? What motivates me to run? to keep going with the exercise?
While I was running (following C25K+ podcasts) the other day in the meadows, I was wandering in my mind and trying to find what actually kept me motivated throughout the whole time since beginning of the running in August. I was also trying to make a connection with the topic of my PhD which deals with children's motivation to learn. I figured out the following things that had an impact on my motivation to run.
The first and foremost thing is obviously my interest or willingness to live a healthy life. This is called intrinsic motivation or one's individual interest to do certain things. However, I had that interest previously too when I paid for the gym during the first year of my PhD. But I did not continue with it. My individual interest was not enough to continue with it, to accomplish the goal I wanted to achieve. But this time besides my own intention there were certain other things that triggered my individual interest.
1) Teacher/ Guide as Laura: First and foremost is the teacher or guide who helps you with the coaching. Well, I cannot see Laura, nor she can address me as an individual. A programme with the voice of a lady guides the interested runners thrice a week. One thing that struck me is when Laura says- "Don't worry. I will be with you" or "You have come so far, you can do it." Its only a computer program but those simple words kept me moving when I almost wanted to quit and no longer continue that day's run.
I was a bit sad when I was about to graduate that Laura wont be there anymore and I will have to run alone. But I felt really good that Laura gave her voice to C25K+ too which I am following at the moment.
If you think about how children can be more motivated to learn in a primary school, the teachers will of course come at the first point. The children follow the path guided by the teachers. If the teacher is good, the path will be full of knowledge, surprise and fun which will make children curious and at the same time show the way to feed that curiosity.
2) Peer Support- Health unlocked and Forever twenty something: Before starting C25K I have been a member of a facebook group where the members are keen to lead a healthy life. So they used to accept challenges and tried to achieve some weekly goals of exercise and healthy eating. I was so busy with my field survey and did not have any station. This group with its daily update reminded me at least once a day that I am committed to a journey i.e. healthy life style. Through NHS website I came across the site Health unlocked where I found people posting about NHS's 12 week guideline. Eventually I learnt about the C25K community in Health unlocked. I started posting once a week or right after finishing a weekly goal. The members there are walking the same path as mine, some has gone quite far and graduated and some of them only began and are looking for inspiration. Other people's comment on my post inspired me a lot. Its good to know that someone else is at the same week as mine and we all could share about our achievements or frustrations regarding the training. Those who already graduated inspired the beginners.
All these relationships are virtual I know. But they are my peers in the same class, and discussing with them helped me. The best thing could be if my husband would have been interested in the program and ran with me. All I missed during my first year was a company who is motivated the same way I am to go to gym and exercise.
Now lets see how it applies to children in primary schools. Children learn from each other in the school through interaction and an environment is needed to be created that will foster that interaction.
The underachievers can benefit from interacting with the good students, learn from them while working in group. The good students can further benefit co-operating with others. However, working in group in a classroom in a primary school requires some infrastructural arrangements too. The classrooms are needed to be large enough so that the desks and chairs can be rearranged for such activities. The children can work in groups in the outdoor environment of primary schools too. The outdoor environment if designed as an effective environment to foster peer relation will help in learning through working in groups and interacting with peers and mature adults.
3) Enjoyment: Whatever we do, its important that we enjoy that experience. I was enjoying the running on my way to office. First, it did not let me think about the distance from my home to office and second, by the time I reached office I had the feeling of accomplishment. I was of course sometimes interrupted by the pedestrian signs when I had to stop and wait until it turns green (there are quite a few on my way which makes the pedestrians wait quite long). Each week I was challenged with a new goal, first week, it was one minute walk and one minute run while in the second week it was 1.5 minutes run followed by one minute walk. The difficulty level increased every week and I was continually challenged. At the same time I enjoyed accepting that challenge.
While observing the children in the primary school I worked, the children were challenged by their teachers in every class. But they accepted that and if you could see their face when they felt that accomplishment. The children always faced some new challenge to work with a setting and explore some new things about that setting. But they used to accept the challenge, worked together and co-operated with each other to find a solution. You could easily know they succeeded in that challenge from their expressions. They used to giggle, throw their hands and legs in joy when they completed the task.
4) Confidence: When I started running I was not confident about finishing the whole 9 weeks program. But with passing of weeks, I could see confidence building in me. After reaching every week's running target I was eager to start next week with new courage and vigour. This reminded me the words of a girl in the primary school. When I asked whether their attitude towards study has changed because of the new learning environment she told me, "You can test.." While children generally are scared of the tests and exams, they were now confident to sit for the tests.
5) Environment/Running route: You have your running shoes, tracking suit and Laura, the coach; what else do you need? You need to go out and out and put your feet on the footpath/ running track and if indoors you need a treadmill i.e. you need the supporting environment for your activity. I always preferred to go out for any form of cardio training. During the preliminary days of the training I used to run from home to office. It worked well as it was a combination of walk and run. But as difficulty level increased with time, I needed a longer uninterrupted route for longer runs. There is a path right beside the canal several minutes walk from my home. I love to walk following that route on weekends. On weekdays I just step out of the office to the meadows and have a wonderful 30 minutes self-invigorating run. These environments were designed for walking, running or cycling beside an open space unlike the streets or the path towards my office. You need an appropriate environment for whatever activity you want to perform.
Similarly, we cannot expect children to be engaged in the learning process or motivated towards school if they are not provided with a well-designed environment built to hold that activity i.e. learning/teaching. The teachers also need an environment to be creative and practice teaching that is out of the box. In strength exercise Laura asks me to look for a bench or railing or something like that for certain training. I cannot do those workouts if I cannot find such an element in the environment I chose for that activity. The school ground and the buildings are needed to be designed with elements and settings that can offer both children and teachers the opportunities to learn, teach and be creative.
6) Less preparation time: I could continue with the coaching as the meadows was very near to my office and the canalwalk, to my home. If I had to commute for long or take bus to go to such open spaces I would have felt lazy about taking all the preparations. It would have happened only if my intrinsic motivation was huge enough to overcome my laziness. As I am not that much motivated from inside it was easy for me to find excuses and quit at the middle of it.
The school ground is right at your footstep. In UK or some European countries, forest schools are now being popular. But the many challenges and difficulties that were identified by the teachers and school authorities includes the preparation time to take children to distant places and safety and security related to that travel. If the school ground is well designed and rich with diverse elements and settings, the teachers do not need to fight with all these challenges. All they need to do is step out with the children right in the school premises.
Figure 3: The relation between different factors that motivate a person to run / a child to learn