Nicholas Taleb wrote a book called Skin in the Game which studies how risk improves performance. He noticed the principle of skin in the game when he was a stockbroker:
“When there was risk on the line, suddenly a second brain in me manifested itself, and the probabilities of intricate sequences became suddenly effortless to analyze and map. When there is fire, you will run faster than in any competition.”Nicholas Taleb, Skin in the Game
It’s tough to motivate students to do their best on a project that will only be seen by their teacher and maybe a few classmates.
Compare this to the social feedback that is provided when you post content on TikTok, Youtube, or Instagram…it’s not much of a competition!
To improve student motivation, we need to look for opportunities to provide an authentic audience.
There are some classes and courses that naturally have an authentic audience:
- Yearbook – I taught yearbook for a couple of years and it was easy to motivate these students because they knew the entire school would be analyzing their work!
- Sports / performing arts – players and band members know that their work will be seen by others, which provides motivation to put in the practice time to improve.
- Art / Vocational education – physically creating something includes the built-in motivation of knowing that this item will be displayed or used by others.
Other classes like English, Math, and science, don’t have a built-in audience. Adding an authentic audience adds an element of risk (“what will people think?”, “is this good enough?”, which can improve performance).
Here are five school-appropriate ways you can give students an authentic audience.
Podcasting is an interesting way to share student work. Because it is audio-only, you don’t have the issue of putting student photos / videos on the internet. Podcasting is fun but can be a lot of work.
- English 11 Podcast – a collection of essays written by students. This podcast is only updated once a year.
- Curious Kids Podcast – Each month, 3-4 elementary students work together to write and record the segments which the teacher combines into an episode.
- Teen News Talk – Short episodes (5-10 min) with 1-2 students who review a current event topic.
Podcasting is a great way to share written work with an authentic audience.
Make a list of particularly challenging topics and ask students to record a short lesson for other students. You can build a library of these tutorials and use them year after year.
This is exactly what Eric Marcos did with his MS math students. He now has an enormous collection of student-created math videos on mathtrain.tv.
Teaching a lesson is one of the highest forms of learning on Bloom’s taxonomy. Sharing that lesson with others is a great way to motivate students.
QR codes let you link physical items to digital content. QR codes are a great way to make book reports more interesting by physically linking them to the book in the school library.
I don’t know many students who like writing book reports, but if you told them their report would be permanently attached to the book they read, they might be more interested!
QR codes can also be attached to physical projects to provide learning reflections.
School website and social accounts
Does your school website feature student work? There are thoughtful ways that you can share samples of student work while being sensitive to student privacy requirements. School websites and social media pages should be filled with examples of classroom learning.
Brook Taylor is an amazing art teacher from Bridgeport, IL who does a great job curating and sharing student artwork on her class Instagram account.
Did you know that your IT admin has the ability to control the desktop wallpaper for your school Chromebooks? This digital space is a place to showcase student artwork and reward students who have gone above and beyond.
One of the schools I am working with this year set up a typing challenge in October to encourage MS students to improve their typing skills. Each week we updated the typing leaderboard which was pushed out as the background for all MS Chromebooks.
How do you give students “skin in the game?”
Providing students with an authentic audience adds intrinsic motivation which improves retention and engagement. I’ve outlined a few ideas that I have seen, but I would love to know how you are engaging your students. Leave a comment and share your ideas!
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