I have read with interest the many posts about helping kids create work they can be proud of showing. The myriad of answers affirms the richness of experience this list provides. We all develop a bag of tricks that works for us most of the time. To develop our techniques we expend great amounts of energy. This is the "behind the scene" part of teaching that makes the job appear easy. I think the entire process of motivating and encouraging kids to do their best and achieve a level of success can be summed up in one word. Balance. For me this means providing enough structure and excitement so that the unmotivated, apathetic kids may want to at least try the project and will be able to experience some level of success given the parameters I outline. On the other hand, I want to provide enough ambiguity to spark the creative kid to push the limits of the lesson expectations. To encourage kids to excell, I accept any late work with no penalty. This provides incentive for those
kids who get into the project to see it to its completion without rushing for the sake of finishing.
Finally, the whole process in dependent upon your energy level. There are days when I am happy just to make it home to drink a coke and take 800mgs of Ibuprofen. I think any middle school teacher can relate to this scenario. What I am trying to say is cut yourself some slack when kids don't perform up to your level of expectation. Regroup and analyze mistakes and jump back in to the arena again the next day. Experience and time are great mentors.