Maslow’s Hierarchy of Feedback & Assessment?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs comes from a 1943 paper that Abraham Maslow published in the Psychological Review, but he fleshed out the idea in the 1950s, when he published Motivation and Personality. In some ways, Maslow was a positive psychologist before there was such a thing. His research on motivation was based on studying people who were widely recognized as exceptional. While it doesn’t get as much attention in the contemporary discourse about motivation, his hierarchy, especially as represented in the well-known pyramid, remains a useful tool for thinking about the needs that informs the motivation of learners.

Recently, as I was working on some book chapters for what I hope to be a forthcoming text on assessment and learning pathways, I found myself reflecting on the connection between Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and what takes place in the assessment exchange between teacher and learners. From the perspective of Maslow’s hierarchy, failing to have more basic needs met may inhibit one’s ability to have motivation or interest in seeking other needs. For example, if one is not getting adequate air, food and sleep; it risks diminishing the perceived need for getting lost in a rich and engaging creative or problem-solving learning experience. Similarly, if one does not experience safety, that may well overwhelm a person’s attention so much that there is little room for experiencing the rewards of other academic pursuits. Of course, there are ample exceptions to this, cases where people lacking food and safety somehow flourish in academic and intellectual pursuits, which is partly why other theories of motivation have largely replaced Malsow’s hierarchy.

Maslow HNNonetheless, I’m curious how Maslow’s early work might inform our approach to assessment. For assessment (and I am referring mostly to the formative sort) to be helpful to a learner, the learn must see a need for it. So, what is the value of an assessment plan that ignores the craving for basic physiological needs, the need to be and feel safe, the need to belong, and the need for confidence and respect from others? All of those needs are likely to dominate one’s attention and motivation. And yet, many of our goals in education are about that which shows up in Maslow’s final stage of needs, that of self-actualization. That is where one recognizes a need and pursues a desire for creative experiences, the ability to solve increasingly complex problems, even the need to learn and accept declarative knowledge. If we are going to create assessment plans that benefit students, perhaps we need to design plans that first takes into account the more fundamental human needs .

Consider how some assessment plans critique learner’s performance without recognizing that a person’s need for confidence precedes the need for feedback on solving a problem. So, how will an assessment plan help a learner if it decreases confidence? Or, consider the idea that a learner is likely more able to benefit from rich feedback on work after there is a trusting community and relationship with the teacher.

These are rough draft thoughts, even rougher than many of my other musings on this blog, but I remained convinced that there is something critical to this line of thinking. Even if Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is not the most useful vehicle for this exploration, it at least gets us going in a positive direction, thinking about and recognizing that assessment plans must take into account a broader understanding of human needs and the human condition.

Education is a deeply human endeavor that calls for our attention to the many facets of a person’s lived experience. To overly mechanize assessment plans risks moving away from this humanness. It is why I’ve more recently considered not only the benefits of rubrics, but also the limitations. If there is any consistent message in my blog, it is about the importance of reflecting on both the affordances and limitations of technological systems, including things like assessment systems. With each system, there is something gained and something lost. There are winners and losers. There are values that are amplified and those that are muffled. From that perspective, perhaps there is some value in reflecting on the intersection of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and systems for assessment. What do you think?


The Only Way Through the Common Core Debate

Debates continue about the Common Core State Standards. Proponents and advocates write and speak with equal passion and conviction, and both sides offer important points as we reconsider the purpose of schooling in the 21st century. However, few debates about the CCSS actually discuss the purpose of schooling explicitly, which is a mistake. Few also address a second critical discussion about the role of purpose of standards in a school. Without a clear understanding of what we believe about the purpose of education and the proper role of standards; schools, parents, and educators will continue to be swayed back and forth, often taking a position on CCSS that is founded in conjecture. How can we agree upon which standards to use for a given school (or if we should use any standards) unless we are clear on the purpose of education?

Regarding Purpose

With this in mind, what is the purpose of the Common Core State Standards?  From the CCSS main web site, they state:

High standards that are consistent across states provide teachers, parents, and students with a set of clear expectations to ensure that all students have the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life upon graduation from high school, regardless of where they live. These standards are aligned to the expectations of colleges, workforce training programs, and employers. – from Why are the Common Core Standards Important?

These are standards based upon the belief that school exists to help young people, “succeed in college, career, and life.” Or, if we look further into the documentation about the standards, this is one of the only places where “life” is emphasized.  Notice the latter part of the quote. The CCSS are tied to skills important for college and certain jobs (I write “certain jobs” because there are clearly hundreds or thousands of jobs that can be fulfilled without one meeting the CCSS.). If CCSS is also about preparing young people for life beyond college and career, what data did the developers of CCSS use for this part of the stated purpose? For example, what math and language arts knowledge and skills best help one to “succeed in life”?

If we reduce life to little more than going to college and getting a good job, the answer is clear. However, what else is there in life? What about life with family and friends, hobbies and interests, financial life, community life, spiritual life, the moral life, and more? Many will point out that nothing in the CCSS is against these parts of life, but that is much different from being designed to help people thrive in these ares of life. For example, the Council for Economic Education and similar organizations have aligned their curriculum on financial literacy to the CCSS. They likely did so to survive. If a curriculum provider does not align to CCSS, that reduces the provider’s ability to sell products to schools. The Common Core Math Standards only explicitly reference a concept tied to financial literacy once (in second grade). Proponents might note two reasons for this. First, financial literacy is not usually part of the math curriculum. Instead, it belongs in social studies, consumer education, or high school economics. Second, it could be argued that the underlying math skills for financial literacy are all over the place in the CCSS.

These are valid points, but it is equally true that it would be possible to meet all the CCSS math standards and still lack the ability to apply those math concepts to one’s financial life. So, the math standards may help prepare one for the demands of college, but are they also going to help students figure out how to use those concepts to address the challenges of college loans, credit card companies selling them “amazing deals”, and life skills related to budgeting and saving? It can be argued that financial life is one of the areas where most adults are in the greatest need of math skills, but nothing in the common core explicitly leads toward such an outcome.

Many independent schools are also grappling with what to do with the CCSS. As they look at new curricular resources, most of the high-quality resources they find are aligned to these standards now. Yet, many private schools have stated purposes that will be undermined if they did nothing more than design a curriculum that carefully aligned to the CCSS. For example, the language arts standards in CCSS have little or nothing to say about reading religious texts for spiritual edification, or how to read a text and compare/contrast it to one’s religious belief system.

This is because the CCSS is not a curriculum. A curriculum is the entire learning experience provided by a school. The CCSS is a set of standards that one can use as a resource when designing a school curriculum. In fact, CCSS is only two sets of standards: one for language arts and another for math.

A school based solely on the CCSS would be, in most people’s judgment, a sub par education. It is possible that some schools are building a curriculum that has the primary goal of helping students score well on tests aligned to the CCSS, and that is one of the problems with how standards are being used or abused. There is nothing inherently in the idea of using the CCSS that demands this type of flawed thinking.

Rather, thoughtful schools reference many sets of standards in the design and redesign of a school curriculum. The CCSS is not adequate. Giving the example of independent schools tied to a religious organization, the CCSS says nothing about the educational goals and values that align with that religious tradition. Yet, such a school is obligated by their stated reason for existence to design a curriculum that is aligned to more than these standards. It has religious goals and desired outcomes that have implications for college, work, and the rest of life. Such schools must be able to articular how their curriculum is not only informed by something like CCSS, but also by the other standards and sources of guidance. I come from the tradition of Lutheran education. If a language arts teachers in such a school could say nothing more about her curriculum than how it aligns to CCSS, that person would fail to meet the standard and expectation for teaching in a Lutheran school. They must also be able to articulate how the specific knowledge and skills emphasized in their language arts curriculum aids learners in their spiritual life. The same would be true for a math teacher in such a context.

This is not specific to faith-based schools. Public schools often have stated school or district goals for learners that will not be met by simply teaching a curriculum aligned to the CCSS. For example, the district in which I live has the following vision statement:

The vision of the Mequon-Thiensville School District is to be an exemplary educational leader that supports and challenges all students to achieve their full potential. -

This vision calls for a curriculum that is focused upon helping students, “achieve their full potential.” If taken seriously, this demands a drastically different type of school curriculum. Since each student’s potential is different and focused upon varying areas of strength, interest, and ability, I would expect to see a curriculum that is highly personalized. It would be a curriculum that allows learners to spend significant parts of their school day building knowledge and skills specific to their distinct gifts, interests, goals and abilities. I would expect that every teacher could articulate this vision and how their work and efforts are focused upon this main goal of helping students reach their full potential. The CCSS does nothing to make sure this vision will become a reality for the students in the district. CCSS is just a list of benchmarks for language arts and math. It based upon nothing more than basic research on what it takes to succeed in college and and some workplace environments (and only as it relates to math and language arts). It isn’t an adequate guide for the larger and more significant purposes of schools or an overall curriculum. It is just one potentially useful resource.

The more I follow debates and conversations about the CSSS and standards in general, the more I realize that part of our struggle in these conversations is that parents and educators have an inadequate understanding of the vocabulary associated with the conversation (curriculum, standards, goals, outcomes, objectives, competencies, assessments, etc.). Most have an even more inadequate understanding of curriculum design and development. For many, you send your kids to school to get an education. Educators, school leaders, parents, students and community members need to unpack this.


  • What kind of education?
  • What is the purpose of this education?
  • What are the goals and desired outcomes for this education?
  • What is the vision for learners who get this education?
  • What standards and resources can we use to help us design a school learning experience that leads toward these goals and outcomes?


These are the types of questions that we must take seriously if we are going to make progress in the conversations about the proper role of CCSS in education. In fact, these are the questions we must explore if we are going to provide schools high-impact 21st and 22nd century schools.

The Benefits & Limitations of Grading Rubrics

Every assessment technology has affordnaces and limitations, and grading rubrics are no exception. While many of us have become well aware of the limitations and increasingly outdated role of letter grades in schools, we continue to grapple with alternatives. This is where rubrics seem to be gaining continued attention.

Those of us in education are often driving by competing values. There are realities to consider like the fact that some teachers are working with large class sizes and schedules that make it hard to devote significant time to each piece of student work. From this perspective, we look for assessment strategies that decrease grading time and increase efficiency for the teacher. What assessment technologies will help me fairly but quickly work through a large amount of student work? Of course, while teacher workload is a reality, the purpose of assessment is not about teachers. It is supposed to be about student learning. From this perspective, we ask questions about which assessment technologies will best promte increased student engagement and learning? Which practices promote deep learning and help students grow in competence and confidence?

With the balance of these two values (teacher time and the desire to provide meaningful feedback to students), many have turned to rubrics. The list of proposed benefits are many.

  1. They often provide clear expectations, stating explicitly what is expected of students.
  2. In doing so, they can remove the anxiety that comes with student’s having to guess about what is or is not expected of them.
  3. The decrease ambiguity in grading practices, making it easier for a teacher to justify an assessment and a student to understand it.
  4. They make it easier to communicate student performance to students, parents, and others.
  5. They allow for detailed feedback while managing the time needed to grade student work.
  6. They make it easier to provide consistent feedback from one student to another, and one class to another.
  7. With practice, it becomes possible to have good inter-rater reliability between different teachers who may assess the same student work.
  8. They can be used for student self-feedback and peer-feedback.
  9. In doing so, rubrics help students develop a vocabulary to talk and think about their work.
  10. Expanding on this, they can also help promote self-awareness and self-reflection on work.

Grading Rubrics Painting by NumbersAnd yet, there are limitations to rubrics as well. In our age of standardization and people championing a culture of assessment, rubrics have an increasingly honored role in education. Having such a role, it can be easy to ignore the fact that when we use rubrics, like all technologies, there is something lost. There are risks and limitations.

  1. They have a bias toward that which is easy to measure and document.
  2. As a result, they can be reductionist about student work.
  3. Without care, rubrics can place more emphasis upon the technical aspect of student work, missing deeper and more difficult to articulate aspects of student ideas.
  4. They risk turning projects and papers into exercises in simply following the rules and addressing the required elements of the rubric, even when that might result in an inferior project or paper. They can create narrow, rule-following dispositions among leaners.
  5. Tied to number four, they sometimes leave less room for creative and imaginative approaches to papers and projects. What if Shakespeare or Poe wrote their poetry and prose based upon a teacher rubric? Would anything be lost? To what extent do rubrics encourage the future Picasso in our classroom to spend his days simply painting by numbers?
  6. They can be used as a substitute for rich conversation and nuanced narrative feedback to students.
  7. They risk turning the role of the teacher into that of grader, leaving less room for the teacher to be an authentic “reader” of student work. When I read an email from a colleague, I don’t evaluate it with a rubric. I read it for meaning. If I have feedback, it consists of questions, follow-up comments, requests for clarification. These are all authentic parts of communication. There are times when this can work well in a teacher-student relationship as well.
  8. They decrease the time and reflection needed for a teacher to assess student work. While this is a benefit, it also means spending less time with the student’s ideas.
  9. They can turn assessment into a deficiency-approach to education, focusing feedback on student weaknesses and errors. If we are not careful, this leads to learners who complete work just to avoid errors and/or to perform for the teacher.
  10. When tied to points, they can result in overall point values for student work that do not accurately represent student learning, progress, or competence.

Part of teaching is coaching and mentoring. Much great coaching and mentoring is about more than filling out rubrics and checklists on the other person’s performances. There is both and art and science. There is a deeply human, hands-on, messy, organic part of great coaching and mentoring. The same is true for teaching and learning. While many point to the affordances of rubrics, I find it helpful to take a step back and consider this other side. Assessment is part of teaching and learning, and I contend that one’s assessment practices say much about one’s overall philosophy of teaching and learning. However, too often, we find ourselves embracing a practice without carefully considering how it fits with our core values, vision and philosophy for learning organizations. Perhaps rubrics fit nicely. Perhaps they do not. However, this exercise in reflecting on both the affordances and limitations can help us to be more thoughtful and intentional about a cohesive and internally consistent approach to our work in education.

7 Insights on The Impact of Multitasking in Education

Multitasking is a reality of education in the digital age. Even if teachers limit it during classes, it happens while student engage in homework and throughout the rest of their day. Similarly, multitasking is not simply influencing students. It is an increasingly global reality. Of course, there is also much debate around the subject. Some focus upon how multitasking decreases retention and attention, while others speak about it as a critical work skill in the 21st century. Regardless of one’s focus, we can learn from good research and think pieces about the topic. While there is a significant existing body of literature, this is a topic of personal interest and there are always new and interesting publications on the subject. With that in mind, I usually set aside a few hours once or twice a year to find out what is new. Below is a selection of seven of the more interesting findings or commentaries on the subject. 

1. Motivated Students Multitask Less? – When studying multitasking habits of college students, the researchers in this study found less multitasking and shorter duration when multitasking among those with high homework motivation and self-efficacy.

Calderwood, C., Ackerman, P., & Conklin, E. (2014). What else do college students ‘do’ while studying? an investigation of multitasking. Computers and Education,75(June), 19-29.

2. It isn’t black and white. - The impact of multitasking on performance depends upon things like the difficulty of the task.

“The results show that when the primary task was considered difficult, subjects forced to multitask had significantly lower performance compared with not only the subjects who did not multitask but also the subjects who were able to multitask at their discretion. Conversely, when the primary task was considered easy, subjects forced to multitask had significantly higher performance than both the subjects who did not multitask and the subjects who multitasked at their discretion.”

Adler, R. F., & Benbunan-Fich, R. (2014). The effects of task difficulty and multitasking on performance. Interactive Computing, online. Retrieved from

3. Multitasking is not just a concern for educators. - Advertisers have a a keen interest as well, because they realize that multitasking results is less persistent memory of the advertising message and experience.

Duff, B. R., Yoon, G., Wang, Z., & Anghelcev, G. (2014). Doing it all: An explanatory study of predictors of media multitasking. Journal of Interactive Advertising14(1), Retrieved from

4. Multitasking might be on the rise? - In a study of 12 undergraduate students (obviously too small of a sample from which to generalize), researchers found significant increases in the frequency of switch tasking compared to earlier research.

One striking result was the quick pace of switches relative to reports in prior literature. One-?fth of all content was viewed for5 seconds or less, with 75% viewed for less than a minute. However, much of the existing literature on task-switching reports switches on the scale of several minutes. For example, Judd and Kennedy (2011) note that more than 20% of the computer sessions they observed involved students switching tasks, on average, at least every 2 minutes. Our results suggest that for devices with content selected serially on one screen, the effects of task-switching, both positive and negative in?uences, may be ampli?ed. On the downside, this suggests more concern that multitasking will deplete attention and diminish productivity. On the upside, for those who believe that multitasking practice has perceptual bene?ts, multitasking on a personal laptop may confer even greater advantages than presumed (p. 185).

Yeykelis, L., Cummings, J., & Reeves, B. (2014). Multitasking on a single device: Arousal and the frequency, anticipation, and prediction of switching between media content on a computer . Journal of Communication,64(1), 167-192. Retrieved from

5. If you can’t beat them, join them? - The article describes the reality of cell phones in college business classes, recognizes the impact on attention, but provides six practical ways that teachers can engage college business students with smartphones.

“Setting a balance between multitasking and mono-tasking is a vital step toward overcoming a potential drop off in production due to distractions created by multitasking. Unless instructors successfully ban all phones, they run the risk of phones being in use and having a detrimental effect during classes… …instructors can take the opposite approach. They can create ways to make smartphone usage contribute to the learning environment.”

Grinols, A. B., & Rajesh, R. (2014). Multitasking with smartphones in the college classroom. Business and Professional Communication Quarterly77(1), 1-7. Retrieved from

6. Students multitask more when they are stressed?

“We logged computer activity and used biosensors to measure stress of 48 students for 7 days for all waking hours, in their in situ environments. We found a significant positive relationship with stress and daily time spent on computers. Stress is positively associated with the amount of multitasking. Conversely, stress is negatively associated with Facebook and social media use. Heavy multitaskers use significantly more social media and report lower positive affect than light multitaskers.”

Mark, G., Wang, Y., & Niiya, M. (2014). Stress and multitasking in everyday college life: An empirical study of online activity.Proceedings of ACM CHI 2014, Retrieved from Camera-Ready Submission4.pdf

7. Multitasking shifts how our brain processes a learning experience. – This is not an empirical study, but a think piece that summarizes current research.

“Since encoding is the first of three successive memory stages (storage and retrieval are the other two), the quantity and quality of memory can be profoundly affected by multitasking. If a task is performed without multitasking, the hippocampus?a region of the brain involved in sorting, processing, and recalling information, and critical for declarative memory?remains active. Any distractive element (for example, a beep) shifts activity away from the hippocampus to the striatum, which is necessary for procedural memory (habitual tasks, such as riding a bike). Interestingly, memories in the hippocampus are easier to recall in situations different to that in which they were learned, whereas those stored in the striatum are tied closely to the specific situation. The implication is that learning with the striatum leads to knowledge that cannot be easily generalized in new situations (Foerde, Knowlton & Poldrack, 2006).”

Gruart, A. (2014). The role of neuroscience in education..and vice versa. International Journal of Educational Psychology3(1), 20-48. Retrieved from

8 Online Resources to Help Your Students Learn to Code

We live in an increasingly programmed world. Our cars, computers, phones, television, healthcare, movies, music, and education are all influenced by programming languages. Yet, many of us don’t read or write in a single programming language. We can certainly have thoughts and opinions about each of these areas, but understanding what goes on beneath the hood might help with those thoughts. Of course, there is the added benefit of being able to program parts of the world around us. As Dan Crow wrote, “Software is the language of our world.” So, why not learn about this language?

Consider the following ten benefits of learning to program.

  1. It helps teaches logic, systematic and analytical thinking.
  2. As a result, it is excellent training for developing problem-solving skills.
  3. It gives us insight into the programmed world around us.
  4. It gives us a useful skill in today’s world.
  5. We can write our own programs. How fun is that?
  6. Of course, unless you devote significant time, there will be far better programmers out there, the people you want to write some of the most important programs in your work on life. And yet, learning to program will help you learn how to communicate more effectively with those programmers.
  7. It opens doors to new career opportunities or might enhance current careers (sometimes in unexpected ways).
  8. It is wonderfully rewarding and confidence-building to create something with your ideas, even if it isn’t a masterpiece or the foundation of the next Microsoft.
  9. It might give you insights on how software works…the software you use each day.
  10. Not that this is a great reason, but programming is certainly as valuable of a skill and many of the others that are emphasized in schools around the world.

In full disclosure, I’m far from a professional programmer. Nonetheless, there are countless free or inexpensive resources that can help us and/or our students explore the world of programming. As an instructional designer, I personally stay clear of Edx and Coursera for programming guidance. There are too many superior options online that give a far more personalized learning experience. The outdated modes of instruction in some of these courses from supposedly elite schools do not, from a course design perspective, compare to the potential learning experiences of other free and accessible online platforms. Here are eight great options to consider.

  1. Kahn Academy – You will find clear and helpful tutorials for learning JavaScript. Why learn JavaScript? This article provides a couple of reasons.
  2. Udacity – This service provides a number of programming courses from Universities and other organizations.
  3. CodeHS – This one works especially well for teachers who want to learn programming with their students. Check out the testimonial page for a sense of how people are using it and how it is helping them.
  4. LearnStreet – You’ll find well-designed courses on learning Java, JavaScript, Ruby, and Python.
  5. TreeHouse - This one is not free and I’ve not used it, but I’d heard and ready great reviews about the service.
  6. Code Avengers – Are you looking for a project-based approach to programming? If so, Code Avengers is worth a try. They also do a nice job catering to different audiences: home schoolers, teachers with classes, as well as individual people want to learn some programming. They have a couple of free courses and others for a fee.
  7. CodeSchool – I just started dabbling with this one, but I’m impressed so far. It includes a mix of video explanations and hands-on programming exercises.
  8. CodeAcademy – This was one of the first sites that I tried, and it worked well. They include tutorials, but I love the exercises where you get to do a bit of coding and then see if it works.

Let the programming begin!

Bartle’s Gamer Profile for Designing Learning Experiences?

What is your gamer profile and what does it say about you as a learner? Is it possible to use gamer profiles of learners to design more high-interest lessons and learning experiences? Last year I learned about Richard Bartle, creator of the first Multi-User Dungeon, author of Designing Virtual Worlds, part-time professor of game design at the University of Essex, and originator of the research behind Bartle’s Gamer Psychology Test. Based upon his MUD, Bartle noticed that there were four types of players. There are killers, achievers, explorers, an socializers. Kyatric provided a simple explanation of these profiles:

Achievers are diamonds (they’re always seeking treasure).

Explorers are spades (they dig around for information).

Socialisers are hearts (they empathise with other players).

Killers are clubs (they hit people with them).

While these were intended to describe interactions in a MUD; game designers, educators and those interested in gamification have used these categories for everything from instructional design to marketing campaigns. There are challenges and proposed alternatives to using these four categories, but the profiles offer an interesting lens through which to look at learning experience design, considering distinct motivational and personality profiles of participants.

As an example, in my last MOOC (Learning Beyond Letter Grades), we decided to experiment by using Bartle’s profiles to inform the types of features and experiences we built into the weekly learning experiences. We provided forums, Twitter, and a Google Community for ample opportunities to socialize. We also leveraged many activities where the participants collectively generated important knowledge from which we could all learn. We built a collection of suggested resources (including some for those who want to go deeper into a subject) for the explorers, but we also used the forums and other places for those explorers to display their findings for the rest of the group. For the achievers, we built a digital badge system, offering participants the opportunity to earn open badges by demonstrating a baseline skill with each of the learning modules. Finally, for the killers, we added a competitive feature where participants could see who already earned a badge for a given module, generating a leader’s board (although we had a glitch with this part and ended up disabling it).

This was more of a creative exercise and I have little evidence to show that learners were more satisfied or engaged as a result of using these profiles to shape the design. Nonetheless, it drove us to spend more time on the learner analysis of our instructional design. As any good instructional designer knows, the best designs need to take into account the needs, motivations, background, interests, and profiles of the intended audience. This can include psychological profiles, and Bartle’s categories served as a playful tool for building with the learner’s mind in mind. At minimum, it led us to design greater variety in the activities, adding a number of potentially high-interest experiences. We ended up with largely consistent activity through most of the MOOC (where activity dropped off more sharply over time with our first MOOC).

I have no research to argue that Bartle’s profiles can or should be used to increase student engagement or learning, but the research solidly supports designing learning environments and experiences that take into account the distinctives of individual learners and groups of learners. From that perspective, I see his profile as a fun and interesting way to start thinking about designing learning experiences that are multi-faceted, connecting with learners based upon their motivations and profile as learners.

What do you think? Would you consider using Bartle’s four categories to design learning experiences for the killers, achievers, socializers, and explorers in your learning organization? Might this help you think about more variety in the design of these contexts? Or, perhaps you could use this to invite learners to think about their own profiles as gamers and learners. If you’ve used Bartle’s profiles in one of these ways, I would love to hear your thoughts. Or, if you decide to give it a try, please considering letting me know how it goes.

A Compelling Vision for Education from an 8th Grader

There is so much we can learn from young people. It is why I appreciate Howard Rheinhold’s approach when he refers to his students as co-learners. I was reminded of what we can learn from young people as I read this article from Velammal Vidhyashram, an 8th grader who lives in Chennai, the capitol city of Tamil Nadu in southern India. Velemmal is a motivated and accomplished young man, already running his own business. However, what impressed me about the article was his perspective on life and his advice to other young people. He finished the article by writing the following:

My message to other young people is this: “Look for problems around you, and get inspired from them. You’ll see a lot of opportunities to use your (own) skills to make this world a better place to live!”

I’m intrigued by this simple approach to loving his fellow neighbors in our global neighborhood. I’m also intrigued by how the three parts of his advice sets the foundation for a wonderfully rich approach to education.

1) “Look for Problems” 

What are the needs in the world? What about your local world? What are the problems that impact the people in your family, community, state, country and world? Start by learning about the needs that exist. While many state these as problems, I also like to think of it as exploring both the problems and the possibilities in the world.

2) “Get Inspired for Them”

As you consider these problems, which ones inspire you? Which ones capture your interest and compel you to do something about them? I like a phrase shared by Bill Hybels. He calls it your Holy Discontent. This need not be some great awakening or a “Road to Damscaus” experience. It might just be a real need in the world that you care about, something that inspires you to act.

3) “Use Your Skills to Improve the World”

Now that you’ve identified a problem, do something about it.  If you already have knowledge and skills that can be used to help address the problem, by all means, use them. Or, perhaps you find that you need to gain more knowledge, develop new skills, or build up existing ones.  Go for it. This a wonderful motivation for learning.

Some approach a phrase like “improve the world” with skepticism. The world is big place and there is so much wrong with it. The danger is to misue this reality so much that it overwhelms and leads us toward inaction. You don’t have to save the world. Just think of specific people who have the need that you identified, and learn to help them. As one very wise person said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Which neighbors in this world need your help?

Problem Inspired Help

While this is a rich perspective on life, it is also a compelling vision for schooling. What if learners were invited to spend part of their time in school working through these three steps? Identify a problem. Grow in your passion for and interest in that problem. Use or gain the knowledge and skills needed to do something about it…and then do it. This could be a beautifully simple but profound way for young people to spend part of their school day. I’m not talking about a teacher playing a

video about starving children and then having the kids put together care packages. While that may be admirable, I’m referring to an invitation for each student to identity a problem or need, and work toward addressing it. Along the way, students will likely need to gain new knowledge and skill, and this becomes a generative curriculum.

This is not to suggest that all schools should become full self-directed leraning centers. I’m simply arguing for setting aside part of the school day for this type of experience. What do you think? Is there room is our packed school days for students to invest a little time in addressing the needs of the world?