Need for Direction

Those of you who have attended my workshops or read my book, Tapping Student Effort…..Increasing Student Achievement, know that I focus on the need for students to have a “picture of the future” that motivates the effort that is necessary for achievement.

A recent article in Education Week (June 11, 2008) Eye on Research, featured the results of a study surveying 1200 12- 26 year olds over a 5 year period conducted by Stanford University psychologist William Damon. In his book, The Path to Purpose: Helping Our Children Find Their Calling in Life, Damon identifies that a majority of young people are struggling to make the leap into adulthood. (Click for article from Education Week.)

Students in the study were classified into four groups:


20% The Purposeful—found something meaningful to dedicate themselves to, have sustained interest over time, and express a clear sense of what they are trying to accomplish in the world and why

31% The Dabblers-have tried a number of potentially purposeful pursuits but have yet to find reason to commit to any of them

25% The Dreamers-can imagine themselves doing great things in the world but have yet to do anything to pursue their ideas in a practical way.

25% The Disengaged-have neither a purpose in life nor an inclination to find one.

Damon suggest that there have always been kids who drift, but he thinks we have a special problem today with the number of kids and the kind of trouble they are having finding a sense of direction.

What are the skills, practices and dispositions that students need to be developing in our schools? What implications are there for the work of teachers as advisors with middle school and high school students?

Since my first readings about the Met School in Providence Rhode Island, I was impressed with their strong focus on developing and tapping student interest. Elliot Washor outinles that focus in an online article:

Perspectives on relevance and the quest for rigorous student learning: balancing life to text and text to life
Every learner has interests that can be used to create relevant and powerful learning opportunities. We believe, however, that three core aspects of relevance are often overlooked.

Relevance begins with the individual learner. It is the learner who decides what and from whom he will learn. Relevance is about deep connections between the student, his emerging interest in a given area and the complex learning challenges that define that area. Relevance starts and ends with what the student really wants to learn and broadens out as the student makes connections and wants to learn more. Determining what is relevant is itself an essential part of each student’s learning.
Relevance involves a balance between student interests and the curriculum. Traditionally, schools and colleges have featured learning that employs an approach that could be characterized as ‘text to life’. They emphasize in their teaching the world of words in all manner of texts – textbooks most prominently, if not exclusively – in order to prepare students for the world of action. It is extremely important, however, to blend ‘text to life’ with ‘life to text’. The world of action, and the student’s interest in that world of action, will lead him to the textual knowledge he will need to deal successfully with future challenges in his life’s work.
Addressing what is relevant requires a special student–teacher relationship, in which the teacher establishes a relationship with the student through the student’s interests. As this relationship builds the level and quality of the student’s motivation to learn, both the student and the teacher can more successfully understand and pursue rigorous learning strategies.
Importantly, through this relevant and rigorous learning built upon a firm student–teacher relationship, the student will more readily recognize the inherent value of 21st-century skills such as literacy, numeracy, innovative problem solving and self-development. Because these skills will be deliberately grounded in the student’s own areas of interests, he will more readily recognize them as essential tools to master in order to think, learn and perform at high levels. In an ongoing cycle, life’s experiences lead the student to the text and the text leads the student back to life.1

Performance Learning Systems courses, Teaching the Skills of the 21st Century and Live Event Learning, help teacher explore strategies for planning for learning that supports learner interest and skill development.

1 Curriculum Leadership Journal, Volume 6 Issue 8
Perspectives on relevance and the quest for rigorous student learning: balancing life to text and text to life,Elliot Washor

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One Response to “ Need for Direction ”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    See the new book on “Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better”. This will help you be a better educator.

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