So… let’s start with a basic premise — on a warm day, I’d rather be outside playing Ultimate frisbee than in a classroom. I’d imagine that some version of that statement is true for most students as well. So we have to accept that there is some level of compliance to school – we all have to be there. But that doesn’t mean that we have to make the primary motivation of school compliance-driven. We can work to make school matter far more for kids than it currently does.

A simple thought: Given that we all have to be together – we should work to make the time as meaningful as possible.

We do that by thinking deeply about what we ask our students to do – and work to create the conditions where what they do matters.

There’s no one way to make that happen – and no one I know succeeds in doing it every day for every kid – but we can ask ourselves some smart questions that push us to get closer to that ideal every day.

So with that… some questions we can ask ourselves to push ourselves to think about how to make the work we ask kids to do worth doing:

  • Does the student have the choice to personalize the work to reflect their own ideas?
  • Does the work have an audience beyond just student to teacher?
  • Does the work lend itself to a performance task that gives the student a chance to create a unique artifact of their learning?
  • Does the work look different for different kids in the class?
  • Does the work empower the student to look at the world we live in today differently?
  • Does the work enable the student to do something in their world today?
  • Does the student understand how the work improves their ability in a skill they care about?
  • Does the student understand why the content is of value to them as a citizen of the world today?
  • Does the work give the student the opportunity to challenge or dig deeper into an idea or a belief that the student has held?

If we can ask ourselves these kinds of questions before we ask our students to do the work of our classrooms, we can create the kinds of classrooms where kids are asked to do authentic, meaningful work worth doing on a regular basis. And while we have to own that it’s probable that not every assignment will inspire every student every day, we can make sure that our students understand the “why” of what we do every day and, more often than not, believe in that “why” and work hard in service of our shared goals.