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Friday / December 15

Cooling Off the Perspiring Student—Actions to Increase the Odds!

Contributed by Dave Nagel

Part 4 in an 8 part series. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
students and teacher search the globe in the classroom

In our last installment (Identifying the Perspiring Student), we examined Dr. Russ Quaglia and Dr. Michael Corso’s quadrant of their Student Aspirations FrameworkTM where students were demonstrating high effort or hard work but with very little connection to their aspirations or dreams past high school. As adults, we can relate to the helpless feeling of working very hard and not seeing the big picture to connect our work to either our school’s goals or our personal desires for growth and development.

School Level Action 1: Make Students Aware of School Goals

Quaglia and Corso challenge schools to create conditions that increase the odds of students connecting their current work towards their future goals and dreams—to have aspirations. In any classroom there is the likelihood some students are not as interested in learning the content as the teacher is teaching it. (OK, lets be honest, death, taxes, and this statement are all certainties in life!) The more students feel ownership and responsibility of helping meet the school’s goals, the more they just might see a connection between the work they are doing in any given class and the meaning behind it.  “Students who are aware of their schools goals are four times more likely to experience greater pride in their school than students who report being in the dark about their school’s goals (Qualia & Corso, P. 126).  These students are then:

  • 7 times more likely to believe school is preparing them well for their future
  • 4 times more likely to say they are proud of their school
  • 3 times more likely to put forth their best effort

School Level Action #2: Eliminate Mystery

In my former high school, we noticed a great deal of our juniors and seniors struggling with the secret society aura of our National Honor Society membership selection process. Good (I mean really good students) who had never been in trouble, had high GPAs (well above the school minimum cut of 3.5) were worried that if they dropped one extra-curricular activity or didn’t take every AP/Honors class possible, they could be voted off the island. Many were overloading their schedules (during and afterschool) and weren’t allowing themselves to focus on a few things they were passionate about. We convened a task force made up of students, parents, teachers, and administrators to determine a clear point system that allowed students to acquire NHS membership points based on GPA, advanced courses taken, and extra-curricular activities. After they acquired a certain number of points—provided they weren’t involved in any major discipline issue—they were in. No mystery, no need for unnecessary perspiration, and our upper level students could focus much more on what they were passionate about!

Classroom Level Action #1: Know Thy Students

The more we engage in finding out about what our students are dealing with outside of our classrooms—the more we might not miss the mark on making inferences about their behaviors.

Samantha, the student with the part time job trying to help support her family needs support from her teachers. Her teachers need to invest in finding out about what is going on in her life and then at least acknowledge they understand her reasons for doing what she is doing. Samantha may see her teachers as people who actually care about her current situation. Quaglia and Corso report that when students feel teachers care about them as individuals they are:

  • 5 times more likely to think what they are learning is connected to preparing them for their future
  • 3 times more likely to say they put forth their best effort in school
  • 3 times more likely to say they push themselves to do better academically

(2014, P. 67)

Mark, the student whose dad wants him to go to an Ivy League Medical school much more than he does is for sure a tougher one. There is a fine line teachers and counselors have to deal with when it comes to family dynamics. Now, the example here is an extreme one, but one that helps us look for similar situations in our schools. The more we know Mark’s plight and what he is dealing with, the more we can support him in his decision making and even become better communicators with his parents as an advocate for all of our students.

Classroom Level Action #2: Teacher Clarity to Promote Deeper Levels of Learning

Student 3, whom we will call James, was the student who was obviously cramming as much information right before a test just to answer a specific question. It is likely he was trying to memorize basic/surface-level information—vocabulary definitions, facts, etc. The more teachers create clear success criteria for lessons, units, etc., the more likely students will connect learning the vocabulary to the larger goals/tasks of the course. For example, let’s put James in a biology class, where his teacher has created the following success criteria for the unit:

After reading multiple articles on genetic testing, be able to form and support a claim whether or not parents should be made aware, prior to the birth of their child the probability of their conceiving a child with a genetic disorder. Develop a proficient 5-paragraph essay clearly stating your claim, three supporting points, and a detailed conclusion making a recommendation to expecting parents. Include use of key vocabulary accurately from unit.

Now, there is a very good chance James will be less inclined to just memorize the vocabulary then make his brain an etch-a-sketch after the test/quiz.


Dave NagelDave Nagel has over 18 years of successful experience helping schools grow and develop their staffs to best meet student needs. For over a decade, he has served as a middle and high school biology teacher and building level administrator. He has also worked as a professional developer, coach, and keynoter for the past twelve years. Schedule an on-site or virtual consultation, seminar, or workshop with Dave Nagel today!



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