3. Are there opportunities for students to make their thinking visible?

We now have tools that can reveal what students are thinking. Research shows that one of the most important skills to improve student achievement is to teach them to self assess their work. In the case of writing an analysis of the “Iranian Hostage Crisis and the Conquest of the American Spy Den” students can be required to use a digital recording tool such as Kaizena to provide a voice recording of an analysis of their own writing. In this way, a teacher can gain insight into what the student was thinking about the flow of ideas he or she tried to represent with their writing. Of course, a side benefit is that some students will improve the quality of their own work when they are required to review their writing before they hand it in.

4. Are there opportunities to broaden the perspective of the conversation with authentic audiences from around the world?
While many teachers now have a website with forums for their own students to share their ideas, there are numerous blogs around the world and other publishing sites where we may want to encourage students to broaden and deepen their learning experience. For example, recently, I worked with a social studies teacher who was designing a lesson on immigration to the US. When she discovered that The Economist magazine blog had an ongoing discussion on immigration she realized that she could engage her students in a high level conversation with people around the world on this topic.

Many teachers have websites for students to share their work with the world. One of my favorites is the website of first grade teacher, Kathy Cassidy from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Her students continuously share their work with students around the world via her website and the official class twitter account (@mscassidysclass). Eric Marcos, 6th grade math teacher in Santa Monica, California supports his students to build tutorials in mathematics that they offer to the world.

Of course, one of the benefits of students publishing their work for a global audience is the opportunity to receive feedback for their work beyond the classroom. Many students can be more motivated to publish for a global audience than an audience of “one”—the  teacher.

5. Is there an opportunity for students to create a contribution (purposeful work)?

This one may be the most difficult qualities to build in to our assignments. A colleague in Istanbul has her Geometry students designing the Geometry curriculum for blind students by visiting a local center for the blind and working with the students to understand how to build tactile activities to understand Geometry. When her students finish their project they will publish it to the web for global access.

When I interviewed these students in their classroom in Istanbul many shared with me that they chose to extend their required 40 hours of community service. Many have given more than 200 hours to this project with no extra credit. Some students even continue their work the year after their course has ended. Their commitment to their work does not depend on an external reward or punishment system such as grades, but an intrinsic drive based on making a contribution.

While many teachers with whom I speak worry about the decline of student focus, we can immediately address this decline by adding “purpose” to student work. (See Dan Pink, Drive, for research studies on purpose.)

(Next page: How to demonstrate “best in the world” examples for students)