What If You Knew Every Student’s Quit Point?

Quit Point. If there were a dictionary definition for the phrase, it would most likely say, “The moment when something or someone stops.” Pretty simple, right?

What if there’s more to this concept? What if educators knew their students so well, they could predict exactly when kids would quit? Imagine how easily you could propel learners forward, if you had this incredible power.

Longtime classroom teachers Adam Chamberlin and Sveti Matejic say that understanding Quit Point is the key to unlocking the full potential of teaching and learning.

Intrigued? Keep reading and see if quitting takes on a whole new meaning.

What is Quit Point?

Teachers learn to define success through the achievements of their students. Relying on others isn’t easy because students learn at different rates and in different ways based on their individual talents and interests. These factors are considered when teachers are planning lessons, but some students will still demonstrate little to no learning at the end of the day.

Teachers tend to be a hard-working and resilient group, so they try to reach every student in the classroom—even the ones who are a daily challenge. But hard work and persistence aren’t always enough. Eventually, teachers start to wonder if their students are a more significant challenge than the lesson planning. They begin to question why their students aren’t working harder.

This question became our focus during the 2013–2014 school year, when we started to ask how we could reach more students more effectively. We believed technology could inspire students to show more engagement and effort in the classroom, so we pushed to be part of a pilot program using Chromebooks. We believed that the possibilities of a 1-to-1 classroom would allow us to embrace 21st-century learning skills and tools.

Perhaps we could even leave the obstacles of traditional teaching behind. Our students would have the limitless resources of the internet at their beck and call, and we hoped that would excite them more than a textbook could. We hoped, in fact, that our experience would look more like the magical videos we’d seen in professional development sessions, where every student showed the engagement and maturity of a college student.

We knew the change to 1-to-1 would include challenges, and that we would have to be open to the kinks that would inevitably pop up in a digital classroom. But we kept a positive attitude through those challenges because the opportunities for collaboration and engagement allowed students to take more ownership of their learning. We reassured students who complained because they wanted the passive environment they had grown accustomed to, and encouraged the students who were excited to be part of a technology-driven class.

No longer did students need to borrow pencils or worry about losing their papers. Our technological classroom was a breath of fresh air for students who were tired of walking into a room and listening to an adult talk—and we hoped it would change everything.

Despite our hopes and good intentions, though, it soon became clear that merely switching to a technological classroom wasn’t enough to achieve the momentous change we had anticipated. Daily learning looked different, but learning outcomes still lagged.

Call it naiveté or ignorance, but we were caught off guard by the number of students that continued to give lackadaisical effort during class. Student engagement increased, particularly from the highest-achieving students, but two months into our experiment, we were still seeing the same frustrating results for our lowest-skilled students. We’d made a monumental change … and it hadn’t made any difference.

Discouraged by their lack of engagement, we decided to make additional changes. Our digital classroom provided better resources and more personalized instruction, but something was missing.

Many students needed an extra push. We sought and received advice ranging from, “You have to motivate the students to work harder” to “Make the lessons more engaging and the students will care more.” The first approach passed the blame onto the students, while the latter shifted the blame onto us, implying that we were not already doing everything possible to engage students.

And then we had an epiphany. We realized that our focus had been so set on the resources, technology, and new instructional strategies that we had neglected to consider motivation. But instead of classic carrot-and-stick approaches to motivation, like our colleagues suggested, we began to explore the difference between the more motivated and less motivated students. How did our pupils become one or the other?

Next, we fell back on a tried-and-true concept: What should we do when we don’t like the answers given to a question? Ask a different question! The new goal was not simply to motivate students, but to answer the question, “What makes students quit?” Our new approach unlocked possibilities that we had never considered in the classroom. Many teachers discuss motivation and effort when they’re out of solutions to long-term problems, and when they themselves begin to lose motivation.

But we realized that focusing on the challenges of student apathy and motivation didn’t have to be the final step before giving up on our goals. Studying the moment when every student chooses to either quit or  continue productive effort, which we call the Quit Point, could help us find new ways to address apathy and motivation in the classroom. This was our new beginning.

Everything we learned from then on started by looking at that Quit Point.

Now, Quit Point has become the driving force for how we view, analyze, and interpret engagement in our classroom. Accounting for Quit Point provides the tools we need to better understand the challenges and solutions related to motivation. We find that many teachers look at student effort and motivation as constant elements—part of what makes up an individual student, like hair color, blood type, or dominant writing hand. But a closer examination of how people work shows a much greater range of motivation and effort than many of us realize.

For example, consider how your motivation and effort vary when you read a book. Maybe the book starts slowly, so you read in smaller chunks or with limited enthusiasm while you wait for the exciting part to begin.

At other times you can’t put the book down, and stay up late to finish an extra chapter, putting more effort into reading than you did when you started the book. Every task we complete works the same way, with peaks and valleys of effort and motivation. Looking for those peaks and valleys is a fundamental step in incorporating Quit Point methodology.

Awareness of student Quit Points is only the first step in affecting student motivation and effort. Exploring their interests, goals, and skills gives the teacher a basis for preparing the best and most efficient ways to teach them.

Embedding goals and activities in those practices allows students to take even more ownership over their work. We all have moments when it’s hard to avoid procrastinating, or we know we could put in better effort or more focus.

These may be professional responsibilities like grading student work in a timely manner, or household duties like mowing the lawn. Effort isn’t simply a faucet we can turn on and off whenever we want. Lots of factors can make it easier or harder to be at our best.

Seeing productive effort as a process and a product of healthy habits, instead of something to be turned on or off, helps establish a mindset in which quitting isn’t a default decision. Quit Points are responses to those situations when people cannot maintain their effort and experience a sudden decrease in focus and energy.

Understanding Quit Point also provides opportunities to motivate and engage low-motivation, high-quit students. High-quit students are more likely to withdraw than to attempt to overcome an obstacle.

They often have a significantly different mindset about work, and much lower confidence in positive outcomes than their teachers. This often means that the concepts that motivate us as educators, such as believing we can “fail forward” and trusting initiative and effort to overcome obstacles, have a negative effect on the high-quit student.

They often see our belief in students and ourselves as a trick and become even less confident in their abilities to succeed. If you are not an experienced runner, the idea of running a marathon because “you can do it” will give you a similar feeling to what low-optimism, high-quit students feel when we use ineffective motivational strategies.

Just as a hot, humid day can make it harder to put effort into mowing the lawn, or the constant PA notifications at an airport can make it hard to focus on reading, the wrong motivational approach will make it harder for anyone to “turn on the faucet” and sustain focus and effort on a task.

Once we understood the lessons we learned from students quitting, we were able to discover strategies we could use to manage, delay, and avoid that point of quitting. This book collects many of the lessons and strategies we learned through our exploration of Quit Point and attempts to provide readers with ideas to immediately apply in their classrooms.

We’ve broadly organized the strategies around concepts that increase student task value and optimism, and we’ve provided readers with examples that will encourage students to sustain a higher level of effort and engagement as part of their daily practice. Our goal is to help all educators immediately apply the lessons we’ve learned through our study of Quit Point, to make a significant, positive impact on student effort and motivation.

One final thought for this introduction: We wrote this to improve our approach to learning for all students, so they may find success in a real world that is ever-evolving. Our understanding of human psychology continues to change, while our access to data provides amazing opportunities for analyzing social interactions such as learning.

The simple answers of the past are not necessarily complex enough to address the needs of 21st-century learners. We often hear our colleagues tell students what awaits them in high school, college, or the workforce, but the reality is that we try to prepare our students to succeed in a world that is changing every day in terms of technology, and we can’t possibly foresee all of the needs and challenges in their futures.

Instead of teaching them to meet set goals, we must teach them to overcome all challenges, and refuse to quit.

While presenting at a technology conference, we shared this extraordinary quote from science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. It is both beautifully haunting and passionately optimistic at the same time. “Trying to predict the future is a discouraging and hazardous occupation. If by some miracle a prophet could describe the future exactly as it was going to take place, his predictions would sound so absurd that everybody would laugh him to scorn. The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic.”

If we want to prepare our students for the future, we can’t expect our classes to look like the schools of the past, or use education strategies of old, but should instead be ready to embrace anything, including the absurd and absolutely fantastic. It is our hope that the concepts included in this book are a key to unlocking just that.


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