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Using Motivational Interviewing to Help Your Students

by Lisa A. Sheldon

M y goal as a teacher is to facilitate student learning, encourage academic momentum, and promote goal attainment while teaching about human nutrition. On many occasions, though, there have been opportunities for students to learn life and career lessons far removed from my nutrition curriculum. The key to developing this other kind of learning has been within the framework provided by motivational inter- viewing.

Motivational interviewing, which began as a counseling technique in addiction recovery, is a client-centered tool for making changes, increasing helpful behaviors and decreasing unhelpful behaviors.1 It relies on an indi- vidual’s intrinsic motivation and interest in change, using a non-confronta- tional approach to frame goals in a practical, attainable fashion.2 Teachers who use motivational interviewing enhance their listening and problem- solving skills to become more effective communicators and as a result cre- ate better rapport with students.3

In my experiences, what separates successful students from the less suc- cessful is their ability to navigate obstacles and maintain motivation toward their goals. Getting “derailed” is a common problem for many college stu- dents, either in individual courses, for a semester, or even longer. For some of these students, a professor who can guide them toward their goal, despite unforeseen obstacles, is the key to success. Motivational interviewing is an invaluable tool toward this end.

The essence of motivational interviewing is captured by the two acronyms OARS (open-ended questions, affirmations, reflective listening, summary statements) and FRAMES (feedback, responsibility, advice, menu, empathy, self-efficacy). Here are examples:

Open-ended questions are those questions that cannot be answered with a yes or no. They allow the student to “tell his/her story” and provide

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