How a Bigger Purpose Can Motivate Students to Learn

A few years ago, psychologist David Yeager and his colleagues noticed something interesting while interviewing high school students in the San Francisco Bay Area about their hopes, dreams and life goals.

It was no surprise that students often said that making money, attaining fame or pursuing a career that they enjoyed were important to them. But many of them also spoke of additionally wanting to make a positive impact on their community or society — such as by becoming a doctor to take care of people, or a pastor who “makes a difference.” What’s more, the teens with these “pro-social” types of goals tended to rate their schoolwork as more personally meaningful.

Given this information, Yeager and his colleagues wanted to know: could such a bigger sense of purpose that looks beyond one’s own self-interests be a real and significant inspiration for learning? They believe the answer is yes. And they’ve devised a new social psychology intervention to foster a “purposeful learning” mindset as another way to motivate pupils to persevere in their studies. Yeager, now based at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin, conducted the work in collaboration with UT colleague Marlone Henderson, David Paunesku and Greg Walton of Stanford, “grit” guru Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania, and others.

They recently explored purposeful learning in a series of four studies and put their intervention to the test against one of the banes of learning: boredom. Initial promising results suggest the psychology strategy could encourage pupils to plug away at homework or learning tasks that are challenging or tedious, yet necessary to getting an education that’ll help them reach their greater life goals.

Can Drudgery Be Eliminated from Learning?

The idea of drudgery in schoolwork is anathema to many progressive educators these days. Game-based approaches to learning are far favored over “drill-and-kill” exercises. And while an emphasis on fortifying students’ academic “grit” and self-discipline in their study habits has been explored in depth, it’s controversial. Along with criticisms about deeper implications relating to race and poverty, some observers say the buzz over grit neglects the need to make dull classroom lessons more compelling to today’s learners. As education author Alfie Kohn has written, “not everything is worth doing, let alone doing for extended periods, and not everyone who works hard is pursuing something worthwhile.”

It’s complicated, though. At Stanford’s Project for Education Research that Scales, Paunesku believes that teachers and educators should make learning more engaging wherever possible. “However, the reality is that schoolwork is often neither interesting nor meaningful,” he said — at least, not in a way that students immediately get. “It’s hard for students to understand why doing algebra, for example, really matters or why it’ll help them or why it will make a difference in their life.” Yet, he noted, such work is often key in building basic skills and knowledge they’ll need for a successful future.

The Potential of a Purposeful Mindset

Next, a pilot experiment tested the sense-of-purpose intervention to see if it would improve grades in math and science (two subjects often seen as uninteresting): The researchers asked 338 ninth graders at a middle-class Bay Area high school to log online for a 20- to 30-minute reading and writing exercise. The teenagers read a brief article and specific quotes from other students, all conveying the message that many adolescents work hard in school not just to gain knowledge for, say, pursuing a career they like — but also because they want to achieve “something that matters for the world.”

Study participants then wrote short testimonials to other, future students describing how high school would help them become the kind of person they want to be or make an impact on society. As one teen explained, “I believe learning in school will give me the rudimentary skills to survive in the world. Science will give me a good base for my career in environmental engineering. I want to be able to solve our energy problems.” Another ninth grader wrote that having an education “allows me to form well-supported, well-thought opinions about the world. I will not be able to help anyone without first going to school.”

How Does It Work?

As with other kinds of academic mindset strategies, the benefit from the sense-of-purpose intervention “almost seems like magic,” Henderson said. But it’s not, (as Yeager and Walton have previously elaborated). The research team ran two other experiments (with college undergrads) that helped unpack how the intervention might work: by motivating students to engage in deeper learning, and by bolstering self-control in resisting tempting distractions from schoolwork (as measured again by Duckworth and D’Mello’s diligence test).

What a purposeful mindset does for students is that “when they encounter challenges, difficulty or things that could potentially be roadblocks to learning, it motivates them to persist and barrel through,” Henderson said. The psychology researchers don’t know how long the positive effects last, but they speculate that just a small shift in students’ attitudes could spark a chain reaction of stronger academic performance and confidence that builds upon itself and endures over time.

Finding Meaning in Schoolwork

The experiments with the new strategy beg the question of whether the researchers are implicitly endorsing drill-and-kill-style learning. They aren’t, Paunesku is quick to say. He’s all for project-based learning and other efforts to make school more relevant and alluring for students. Yet, he added, it isn’t practical or possible to render every lesson or assignment in K-12 “super fun and game-y” for kids — and even if it were, doing so could be a disservice to them later. What would they do when they get to law school and are faced with having to memorize long lists of laws? Or when they land a job that calls for mastering information that no one has “gamefied” to make it exciting to learn?

Students go to school not just to learn specific facts, he pointed out. They’re learning how to learn, how to practice self-discipline and motivate themselves through frustrating roadblocks, and thus are preparing for adulthood. That’s important even if it isn’t always fascinating, he said. But having that bigger sense of purpose, that personal mission of making a positive difference in the broader world, might help students to find meaning in difficult or mundane schoolwork. “If you think about it the right way, you can actually be motivated and you can find it interesting, even if on the surface it’s not fun,” Paunesku said.

Read the entire article from Ingfei Chen on MindShift at

Posted in Articles/Reports, Teaching and Learning | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

17 New Laws In 12 States Help Govern Educational Technology

Technology is becoming an invaluable tool in today’s classrooms. Yet, there is a lot more to education technology then just ensuring every student has access to a computer. Teachers need to be adequately trained in incorporating technology into the daily curriculum and instruction. Students will be better served if they are using technology as an on-going part of the learning process, rather than a separate activity. And while states are improving the infrastructure for education technology, some communities are still lacking the necessary capacity. 

Advancements in technology and productivity over the last decade also demand new ways of integrating current and future technological innovations into public education. Policymakers are working to provide all students with high quality learning options, regardless of where they live or what school they attend. The expansion of digital and online learning can begin to alleviate inequalities that currently exist between students who have access to high quality teachers and a diverse array of courses and those who lack such access because their schools struggle to attract talent or lack the resources to provide a variety of options.

Law makers are recognizing the need to create legislation to help navigate through the technological landscape. Data from the National Conference of State Legislatures reveals the new education technology policies that were passed into law in 2014.

It is clear that virtual education programs are on the rise. In 2014, 12 states passed 17 laws relating to education technology. The foremost goal of this legislation in many states was to strengthen existing online education programs in both K-12 and higher education. States enacted reforms related to distance learning or virtual schools, from tweaking attendance requirements for brick-and-mortar schools to removing caps for attendance of virtual charter schools.

This year, North Carolina passed two reforms relating to education technology. H23 directs the state board of education to develop and implement digital teaching and learning standards for teachers and school administrators, as well as ensuring all students in school administrator preparation programs demonstrate competencies in using digital and other instructional technologies. This law becomes effective on July 1, 2017, and it requires the North Carolina State Board of Education to “develop and implement digital textbooks and learning standards for teachers and school administrators.” 

A recent national survey found that 46 percent of teachers reported “lacking adequate training on the technology they use.” North Carolina also passed H44, which announces the transition from traditional textbooks to digital learning platforms. A statewide shift to digital education would represent a huge effort that could fundamentally change how students learn in North Carolina.

Oklahoma passed OK S 267, which relates to sponsorship of a statewide virtual charter school, a limitation on enrollment, State Aid funding for virtual charter schools, the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, the geographic boundaries of virtual charter schools, activities participation requirements, a prohibition against school districts from providing full-time virtual education to certain students, and certain charter school contracts.

Virginia’s new H115 is a particularly innovative new virtual education law that allows the department of education to contract with schools that create their own online courses, allowing the state to make these courses available to other schools through the Virtual Virginia Program.  The legislation also created a system for school boards to charge a fee to other schools to defer the costs of creating online courses. Ultimately, this program should encourage schools to have their best teachers work on developing virtual content and then spread it throughout the state.

Seven states in all, including Colorado, Tennessee, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, and Washington, each enacted legislation governing or redefining virtual charter schools or virtual education, while six states — Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, and Tennessee — have each passed bills regarding distance and higher education, demonstrating a trend towards cyber learning and educational technology, creating a need for VARs and other IT solutions providers to fill. 

Article by Chris Kern originally posted on Business Solutions at

Posted in Articles/Reports, Teaching and Learning | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

FCC Released New Data-Based Fact Base Resources for E-Rate Moderization Process

Yesterday, the FCC today released a number of new resources to help provide a data-based fact base to continue the E-rate modernization process. These resources include:

* A blog post by FCC Managing Director Jon Wilkins, “Moving Forward with a Data-Driven E-rate Modernization Process” at:


* An FCC staff white paper from the Wireline Competition Bureau and the Office of Strategic Planning and Policy summarizing what the FCC has learned to date as the result of an extraordinary effort to collect and analyze data, both about the current state of communications technology in America’s libraries and schools as well as the way the E-Rate program provides support at:

* Two maps providing a visualization of current fiber availability for schools and libraries across the country at

The intent of this information release is to help stakeholders and the public navigate the large and data-intensive record in the E-rate Modernization proceeding, particularly as parties respond to the sections of the E-rate Modernization Further Notice regarding long-term funding needs. This information will be valuable to states, schools and libraries in the midst of school/library broadband deployment efforts.

Posted in Announcements, Free Resources | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment



DA 14-1177
Released: August 12, 2014

WC Docket No. 13-184

On July 11, 2014, the Commission adopted the E-rate Modernization Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to update the schools and libraries universal service support mechanism, known as the E-rate program.[1] Using comments and data submitted to the record, the Order takes major steps to modernize and streamline the E-rate program, working to expand access to funding for Wi-Fi networks and transitioning support away from legacy, non-broadband technologies.[2] In the Further Notice, the Commission invited additional comment and further data from stakeholders on a number of discrete issues, including the short- and long-term funding needs for the program.[3] In particular, it invited further data on connectivity and pricing for services to and within schools and libraries.[4]

With this Public Notice, the Wireline Competition Bureau (Bureau) releases two items designed to provide a concise view of a portion of the large amount of data in the E-rate Modernization proceeding. This is consistent with the Commission’s efforts in this proceeding to provide open, user-friendly data to all parties.[5]

First, the Bureau releases a staff report jointly authored by the Bureau and the Office of Strategic Planning & Policy Analysis that seeks to assist parties in navigating the large and data-intensive record in the E-rate Modernization docket as they consider making comments in response to the Further Notice. The staff report summarizes the impact of the changes made to funding of internal connections in the E-rate Modernization Order, presents analysis on fiber connectivity and pricing for schools and libraries, and examines the short- and long-term impacts of phasing down non-broadband services. It is available at Datasets that were used in preparing the staff report are available on the E-rate Modernization data webpage at

Second, the Bureau publishes two maps on the Commission’s website that provide a geographic representation of the data submitted in the E-rate Modernization proceeding regarding fiber connectivity to public schools and libraries. These maps are available at The interactive fiber maps each have a mouseover feature that also allows users to view the percentage of public schools with fiber connectivity at the district-wide level and the number of annual visits to the library system.

These two fiber maps were created using publicly available data, including data submitted to the E-rate Modernization docket, representing about half of the nation’s public schools and about two-thirds of the nation’s libraries.[6] States, districts, schools, libraries, or any other party seeking to assist the Commission in developing a complete record are invited to provide additional connectivity data in comments to the Further Notice or by emailing or Those e-mailed comments will be used to periodically update the maps that are posted on the website(s) identified above. Those comments also will be included in the public record for WC Docket Number 13-184, and all information submitted, including names and e-mail and street addresses, will be publicly available via the web.

In addition to the websites listed herein, E-rate Modernization documents in WC Docket No. 13-184, including the staff report, are available for public inspection and copying during business hours at the FCC Reference Information Center, Portals II, 445 12th St. SW, Room CY A257, Washington, D.C. 20554. The documents may also be purchased from BCPI, telephone (202) 488-5300, facsimile (202) 488-5563, TTY (202) 488-5562, email

Stakeholders may review these materials as they consider responses to the Further Notice and submit additional data related to their own states.[7] Comments in response to the Further Notice are due on September 15, 2014, and reply comments are due on September 30, 2014.

Additional information about the E-rate Modernization proceeding can be found on the Commission’s E-rate webpage at Specific questions about the data may be sent to For additional information about this Public Notice, please contact Kate Dumouchel at (202) 418-1839 or of the Wireline Competition Bureau, Telecommunications Access Policy Division.

– FCC –

[1] Modernizing the E-rate Program for Schools and Libraries, WC Docket No. 13-184, Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, FCC 14-99 (rel. July 23, 2014) (E-Rate Modernization Order or Further Notice).

[2] E-rate Modernization Order, FCC 14-99, section IV.B.

[3] Id. at section VIII.

[4] Id., at para. 269.

[5] See E-rate Modernization Order, FCC 14-99, section VI.F.3.

[6] See Federal Communications Commission, E-Rate Modernization Data, (providing the full school-by-school and library-by-library datasets under the link labeled “White Paper Direct Access to Broadband Connectivity Datasets”).

[7] We note that neither the staff report nor the fiber maps represent formal agency action in the E-rate Modernization proceeding or otherwise.

Posted in Announcements | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

5 examples of blended learning success in New Hampshire

A s new educational models gain support among educators and students who want to learn in new and different ways, blended learning is perhaps one of the strongest among these new models. Now, researchers have discovered that some of these models work well…

Article by Laura Devaney in eSchool News at

Posted in Articles/Reports | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

5 Common Core priorities for the new school year

As schools gear up to dive back into learning, states that have adopted the Common Core State Standards are outlining their priorities and are identifying their top goals for the standards.
The Common Core State Standards have been, and continue to be, a hot-button topic, with some states deciding not to adopt the Common Core while still revamping their standards, and with others adopting the standards but later pulling out.
One of the biggest misconceptions lies in the fact that many people believe the standards to be curriculum–in fact, states are working to develop a curriculum that supports the Common Core standards and learning goals.
Five planning priorities could help educators and school leaders as they implement the standards for the coming school year.

It’s ultimately important to begin with the end in mind, said Kevin Baird, chairman of the board at the nonprofit Center for College and Career Readiness, during an edWeb webinar. This means the educator must identify the outcome to be assessed and to define what it looks like.
“Your content must look different,” he said.

1. Understand the goal
The Common Core’s overarching goal is college and career readiness, and educators can drill down to identify learning outcomes that correlate to career readiness. For instance, critical thinking and analytical reasoning, the ability to solve complex problems, and effective communication are all skills that today’s students will need in the workforce.
Alarmingly high drop-out rates and the percent of college freshman who need to take at least one remedial course mark an opportunity for school leaders and educators to craft a curriculum that supports these goals to the fullest extent.
“The goal is not passing anymore–the goal is making sure you don’t need remediation,” Baird said.
“Everything now is about the skill…how are you focusing your classrooms on skills and not content?”

2. Understand the standards
It may seem like a no-brainer, but in order to prepare students for a solid education, educators must understand the Common Core standards.
To truly effect change, everyone must be willing to jump in and do the work necessary to elevate teaching and learning.
Educators must understand what depth of knowledge looks like, and should align their goals so that students are achieving with standards written up to depth of knowledge 4 in English/language arts and up to 5 in math.

3. Know the student
Where does each student stand in terms of where they read and what their math skills look like?
Teaching students how to read a textbook, and how to read a math and science textbook, their math and science achievement on new assessments will improve.
If educators have progress monitoring data, they should use it, and bring it to department heads, department meetings, professional learning communities, and other outlets to get the most out of that data.
“This year will be the most important data-driven year of any, because it’s really about understanding where the student is to take that next step,” Baird said.
Librarians can examine Lexile ranges of items students are checking out of the library, or can analyze Lexile ranges of the areas where students seem to be proficient, to get an idea of whether content used in the classroom is appropriate and challenging enough.
Teaching math skills can be accomplished through text, in the form of math problems. Traditionally, students have not had enough time to master the math skills they’ll need to be fluent in math and succeed in later academic years.
“If you don’t know where your kids are, you don’t know where to take them,” said Baird.

4. Know the content
What is the content really like? There are a number of resources that educators can use to help connect students with resources, and giving students control over the core curriculum resources they access can help them expand their learning.
Always offer more than one resource or text, to give students variety, and ensure they’re accessing multiple things – charts, graphs, video, audio, and more.
When it comes to complexity in the classroom, having multiple texts, a range of texts, and different resources is key, Baird said.

5. Know the priority actions
The initial focus in English/language arts should be on reading acceleration and on building student capability with complex text and academic- and domain-specific vocabulary.
In math, intial investments should be focused on foundational skills and fluency in K-8. Time for depth is critical, and ensuring that students don’t have gaps in those foundational skills is essential.
“None of this happens without leadership development,” Baird said. Research notes that the key element in schools is the development of the principal.
“We must make sure that our principals are building leadership teams–that they know as much, if not more than, the classroom teachers know so that they can provide those supports.”

The article by Laura Devaney was originally posted on eSchool News at

Posted in Articles/Reports | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Five Reasons Competency Education Will Improve Equity

Chris Sturgis

Why do we think that competency education is a better strategy to serve our lowest achieving students, including low-income students, minority students, English language learners, and those with special educational needs? Here are my top five reasons:

  1. Competency education is designed to identify and address gaps in knowledge and skills. We will always have students with gaps in knowledge, whether because of poverty-induced mobility, recent immigration, military transfers or health issues. When we identify and address gaps, students have a better chance at progressing.  As Paul Leather, NH’s Deputy Commissioner of Education, has pointed out, “We learn by connecting concepts and building expertise over time. If we do not learn a concept, new learning cannot be built on it.” (from Necessary for Success).
  2. Transparency and modularization is empowering and motivating. They are the ingredients for student ownership. Success begets success, as students see short-term gains and clearly marked next steps. Transparency also challenges bias and stereotypes that may contribute to lower achievement.
  3. The focus on progress and pace requires schools and teachers to respond to students when they need help, rather than letting them endure an entire semester or year of failure. Many competency-based schools organize flex hours during the day to make sure there is no excuse for students going home without receiving the help they need.
  4. Competency education is a comprehensive approach that benefits vulnerable students as well as those in gifted and talented programs. Schools don’t need specialized programs that label students. In fact, students may advance in some disciplines and not in others, as flexibility is built into the core school operations.
  5. Competency education creates powerful learners. We can’t underestimate what student ownership means in the hands of students who have been denied a high quality education in the past. Furthermore, it prepares students to explore their talents, interests and the future that lies before them. Instead of differentiating students with a single number, their GPA, we see children differentiated by how they demonstrate and apply their knowledge.

Will competency education eliminate inequity? Will the achievement gap suddenly disappear? Of course not, given the economic inequality corroding our communities.

Of course not, given that there will always be cases of faulty or piecemeal implementation. Two scenarios that partially implement competency education will not be able to eradicate inequity and low achievement:

  1. Advancing upon mastery after sitting hours in front of an adaptive software program, a common sight in credit recovery programs, may allow students to be self-paced, but doesn’t allow students to apply their knowledge. Recall and comprehension are inadequate levels of knowledge. Schools need to design for higher and deeper where analysis, evaluation, and knowledge utilization come into play.
  2. Using standards-referenced grading rather than standards-based grading (although most will call it standards-based grading).  Certainly basing grades upon standards is more valuable than norm-referenced grading. However, low achievement is guaranteed if students advance to the next course despite low grades and gaps in their skills, as is done in standards-referenced grading. It takes a school-wide commitment to implement standards-based grading so that resources are deployed and more time allocated to help those students who started at a different point on the learning progression or need more help to master the material.

Personally, I’m comfortable arguing that if poorly implemented – without explicit measurable learning targets, meaningful assessments, adequate supports, deeper levels of learning and transparency – it isn’t competency education at all.

Competency education will help students who currently are passed along to acquire fundamental skills. Based on the gains made by the early innovators, competency education can significantly build the capacity of elementary schools to serve low-income students. Within three years of implementation, Adams 50 in Colorado lifted all of its seven elementary schools out of the lowest performing status, and the Barack Obama Charter School in Los Angeles saw record-breaking achievement gains, ranking first in California for academic growth[1].

At the secondary school level, competency-based innovators such as Carpe Diem Schools and Boston Day and Evening Academy are developing powerful personalized approaches to accelerate the learning and graduation of students who may be more than two years behind. New Hampshire’s Virtual Learning Academy Charter School offers competency recovery to students needing more time to become proficient in specific standards. Once researchers begin to explore competency education, we will be able to start the benchmarking process, understanding the state of the art and best practices that drive high achievement.

Competency education is not going to have all the answers, and it is certainly going to have its own unintended consequences. It is an essential step, however, in moving beyond our history of exclusion, sorting and tracking. Through competency education, we can discard the fixed mindset of yesteryear and embrace the growth mindset that is necessary for eradicating inequity

The article by Chris Sturgis first appeared on July 14 on CompetencyWorks at

Posted in Articles/Reports | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment