How to Get Students to Care About Learning


Allison Zmuda—coauthor with Robyn Jackson of the article “Four (Secret) Keys of Engagement” appearing in the September 2014 issue of EL—outlines four ways that engagement is intricately connected to motivating students to care about what they’re learning.

Beyond Bureaucracy

Zmuda EL

Why should I care? This question can send chills down even the most veteran teacher’s spine. Students want to do work that matters rather than feel as though they’re trapped in a bureaucracy, doing their due diligence until the bell rings. A bureaucratic learning experience is tedious, wearisome, and predictable–and it’s one where students are always just along for the ride. An engaged learning experience is demanding, inspiring, and sometimes exasperating–and it’s one where students are in the driver’s seat because they care about the question, problem, project, or idea.

So how do we move from bureaucracy to engagement? By design—and by focusing on what we call the 4 Cs:

  • Clarity. Provide short-term learning targets (focus on the task at hand) and long-term goals (focus on the broader aims of schooling) to establish what quality looks like.
  • Context. Know what matters to your students. Use authentic problems, challenges, and questions that experts, communities, and families wrestle with.
  • Challenge. Have students show you their best work as a starting point. Provide opportunities to grow their strengths and improve needed areas.
  • Culture. Establish an environment in which it’s not just OK but also expected that learning is a messy endeavor full of dead-ends, mistakes, and rough drafts.

Want to read more about the 4 Cs? Check out my article with Robyn Jackson–“Four (Secret) Keys of Engagement”—in the September issue of Educational Leadership.



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