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Rethinking Motivation: Extending the Quit Point

Educators love inspirational quotes, and with the hopes and potential of the new year, those inspirational quotes once again soar across the Twittersphere and fill up the home pages of fellow educators as we prepare to return from an extended break. It’s (nearly) midpoint of the school year for most of us, and we need something to respark that fire and enthusiasm that good educators start the school year with. Quotes from Lincoln, Gandhi, Edison, Franklin, Jobs, any of the Roosevelts, or any other notable historic innovators are shared in an attempt to light that fire. While these quotes might be enough to help you persevere, be careful not to assume our students are as easily inspired.

Perseverance and grit are not taught through a single quote or inspirational story of how you prepared for your summer half marathon. That does not stick with the average student who is concerned with THEIR situation, and usually lack the life experience to have significant periods of perseverance. So instead of starting this new calendar year with an inspirational quote or story, we would like to suggest a new strategy for preparing our students to work hard and persevere through adversity: recognize and extend the quit point.

We all have quit points, and those quit points vary depending on the interests and skill sets that we bring to the equation. Someone who is skilled and interested in a sport can more easily tolerate (if not find enjoyment in) the mundane drills of practice. A student who has a natural interest in European History may be thoroughly engaged in a lecture about the Battle of Hastings while students who do not share that interest reach their quit point quickly, leading to disengagement and a lack of learning. Rather than convincing the students that they must persevere because what they missed is important, recognize the quit point and structure your classroom to extend that quit point.

We suggest that perseverance is more likely to be learned by gradually increasing expectations and ensuring that students can achieve classroom goals instead of with inspiration. When our heroes have persevered it was not due to enthusiasm, but through the focus and understanding that just a little bit more would yield the results they desired. Do our students see their teachers model the ideas on the classroom posters? Do they see their teachers overcome difficult obstacles to make sure their students learn? Does an inspirational teacher hold more value than a teacher who has structured their class in a manner that provides students experiences that help the student discover the value of working just a little bit longer and harder?

So for the new calendar year, rather than urging students to push through boring lessons and mistaking compliance for learning, try extending your students’ quit points. Use games to start lessons rather than content driven bell-ringers. Use student teams to build a learning community rather than posting grades for students to compete over. Allow students the opportunity to develop their skills at their own pace through scaffolding and differentiation. And finally, recognize that even the best lessons and best teachers can’t make every student persevere. They must learn that on their own by being given the opportunity to not quit.

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