Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

How Broccoli Can Teach Us about Student Motivation

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

How Broccoli Can Teach Us about Student Motivation

Article excerpt

Parents use positive framing to get kids to eat the vegetable and teachers can use the same technique to get students working

MARIE ANTOINETTE is famous, albeit possibly unfairly so, for pronouncing "Let them eat cake". In the US-based KIPP schools, their self-control inspired clarion-call is, "Don't eat the marshmallow." I have a new food metaphor to add to the canon: "Eat the broccoli."

Bear with me.

Teachers, like most other adults, are naturally inclined to implement negatively framed strategies in order to quickly solve problems in the classroom. Take homework. A missed homework from a student can see a bad comment or a detention issued.

It doesn't really work. For example, consider those students who have been given a fistful of detentions for missed homework and never change their bad habit. Rather perversely, it can solidify their resolve: it can make them feel alienated from their academic work, but feel safe in their peer group.

So, why might broccoli help? Allow me to digress, a little, into personal territory.

Being a parent has given me a rather unique insight into the daily psychological battle that is dinnertime. Some kids will take their parents through hell rather than eat a scrap at home but, lo and behold, sit them next to their friends in the school dining hall and suddenly they happily tuck into their hated food. That hated food is usually broccoli.

We know that peers strongly influence one another, for good and for ill. Research into the dietary habits of children has shown the power of peer influence, especially when it comes to the sensitive spell of adolescence when fitting in trumps most other influences in students' lives (see

So, even with young children, we can make them eat broccoli if we do certain things that make eating it seem like the thing to do. We can:

Tell them that all of their friends are happily eating broccoli.

Show them that their friends are happily eating broccoli.

Give them bite-size portions of broccoli to help them adjust to the taste.

Group them with people who enjoy broccoli.

Present different options for eating broccoli at lunchtime.

Model the eating of broccoli at home.

Implicitly send messages about the benefits of the super food on a regular basis.

Give students attainable goals for how much broccoli they can and should eat.

Give them clear time parameters in which to eat their broccoli.

Keep reminding them about the best ways to eat broccoli and give them lots of different broccoli recipes to try themselves. …

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