Effort from Interest and an Audience - Steve Barkley

Effort from Interest and an Audience

In the September 2013 issue of Kappan, an article by Bergin, Bergin, Van Dover, and Murphy, Learn More: Show What You Know, explores how a program implemented at an elementary school documented that student effort increased when opportunities to “perform’ were provided. (pages 54-60)

The program titled, Above and Beyond, asked students to work on a project that was of interest to them and perhaps their family. Projects were of students’ own choosing, done on their own time outside of school, following their own schedule. The program was voluntary and students could do as many or as few as they wished. (Averaged 3). Projects included writing an initial proposal and a personal reflection at the end. Each project was unique with no overt comparisons, no criteria for success, and no deadlines.

Here are the motivation elements the authors identified from interviews with students, parents, and teachers:

Stickers— students had a booklet called “passport for learning” and received a sticker in the passport for each project completed.

Praise from principal– when projects were completed, students were invited to share it with the principal who provided a “pat on the back”.

Photo display– students were photographed with their projects and posted on the school Above and Beyond board.

Intrinsic interest– some students found the projects they chose intrinsically motivating: Quoting one student:” I like being creative and just using the skills that I know I have to use and coming up with different ideas.”

Performances— students presented their projects at assemblies attended by parents, teachers and students.

I was reading about Above and Beyond as I prepped to facilitate a teacher workshop for Cranford Schools in New Jersey.

Effort, Engagement, and Learning 

Learning results when students invest in the learning opportunity. What do we know about teacher decisions and actions that can generate the needed student behaviors? Explore the possibilities with Steve and your colleagues.

Engagement: The student is attentive and focuses on the task with commitment and persistence and finds value and meaning in the task. This learner volunteers personal resources of time, effort and attention. (Schlechty)

 My power point for this workshop is available.

 Here are some statements from the Cranford School Board Goals that encourage teachers and students to develop interest based, personalized learning.

We, the members of the Cranford Board of Education and the Superintendent, embrace the ideals of empowerment and encourage the empowerment of our students at every opportunity.  We support the provision of classroom instruction for our students that enables them to reach their maximum potential by recognizing and acting upon their individual talents both inside and outside of the classroom.

 We, the members of the Cranford Board of Education and the Superintendent, embrace the ideals of empowerment and support the empowerment of our teachers at every opportunity.  We encourage our teachers to find joy in their daily work giving them the freedom to design quality instruction that infuses advanced levels of critical thinking, promotes curiosity and creativity, and develops the imagination while fostering personal acceptance and the discovery of individual passions and talents for both students and staff alike.

I find the board’s statements awesome commitments and challenges to students and teachers. Pushing personalization in an era of standardization requires swimming against the systemic tide. But, the good news is that it means swimming with the natural tide of student passion and talent.

Two critical findings from the authors who explored the Above and Beyond program:

*Students from all cultural and socio-economic groups became engaged in the program. Numbers of projects from each sub-population matched the percentage of that group within the school.

*When the program reached its highest level of student engagement it was decided to drop the performance element while retaining all the other motivators. Participation plummeted. It appears that the opportunity to perform was the key motivator.

Should more of school look like the extra-curricular program?

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2 Responses to “ Effort from Interest and an Audience ”

  1. Mike Says:

    I love your final question. It is a concept to ponder. As I was looking at your PowerPoint slides I like your references to Sir Ken Robinson and Dan Pink. I also am thinking about how the idea of intrinsic motivation also applies to teachers. Shouldn’t professional development also be offered in this format? Wouldn’t teachers be MORE engaged if they were not told what room to go to, who else is going to be there, what the discussion/work should be doing, and how long they were to remain in this room?

    Interested to hear your thoughts about how this also applies to educators…?

  2. Steve Says:


    I read about a school giving teachers open ended days they called Fed Ex days…. deliver something at the end of the day that benefits your students…

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