Jadi Miller, EdD, is director of assessment for Elkhorn Public Schools in Nebraska. She has experience as a teacher and an administrator at the elementary, secondary, and district levels.

Never Mistake Unmotivated for Unsure

As I write this, I’m looking out my window to see green grass and flowers everywhere. It’s the time of year when we are enjoying final concerts, awards ceremonies, and the other typical end-of-year events. If you ask teachers about this time of year, they talk about trying to keep students engaged when the warmer weather and other distractions are competing for students’ attention. Thinking about my own efforts as both a teacher and a principal to keep the focus on learning until the very last minute made me think about student investment.

The book Essential Assessment (2017) has a fantastic chapter about student investment. At the end of a school year, we are thinking about keeping students focused on learning as a reactive need. This is also the time we should be thinking ahead to next year and how we can be more proactive about it. Teachers should strive to create opportunities for students to be engaged in their learning and also reflect on it. Student investment is not just about students sitting compliantly in a classroom and not disrupting others, but in fact when students own and take responsibility for their own learning. When students are truly invested in their learning, there is a symbiotic relationship between assessment and self-regulation. As I reflect on my own experience as a building principal, I recall that the teachers who had clarity about learning, well-planned lessons, and effective assessment practices never had issues with student behavior at the end of the school year.

There is not a teacher working today who would not want his or her students to be fully invested in their own learning. Getting there is another story entirely. I often hear educators say that we teach students responsibility when we give them homework or long-term projects and deadlines. I would argue that we are giving students opportunities to practice being responsible when we provide those tasks. Students need to be taught how to be responsible before, after, and during practice. This requires a mind shift about a teacher’s role in these all-important skills.

Student investment should be the same way. If we believe that it is valuable for students, both today and in the future, to be the owners of their learning and to learn about self-regulation, then it is our responsibility to teach it and to provide opportunities to practice. The authors of Essential Assessment identify four characteristics of classrooms where assessment and self-regulation work well together to create student investment: a vision for learning, meaningful and valuable work, asset-based focus, and action and impact (p.121).

Four Characteristics of Classrooms that Promote Student Investment

  1. A Vision for Learning

    When we have a vision for learning, the learning goals and targets are clear both to us and to our students. This means much more than posting an objective in a classroom. It means using that objective throughout the lesson, explaining it so everyone has shared understanding of what success looks like, connecting that objective to what has been learned in the past and what will be learned in the future, and providing opportunities for students to self-assess their own progress toward that objective. That is when that vision comes alive and is shared by all of the learners in the classroom―teachers and students.

  2. Meaningful and Valuable Work

    Meaningful work is thoughtfully created and planned by teachers to help students attain that objective. The work provides students with practice toward meeting that objective. Teachers provide feedback on that work so that students and teachers alike can monitor progress toward the objective. Saphier (2017) talks about creating “student agency” or self-regulation through providing students with frequent feedback and data about their learning and that students should be involved in self-assessment and error analysis to identify areas of strength and need.

  3. Asset-Based Focus

    This feeds into the asset-based focus. Students should know and be able to describe what they can do and where they still need work. Feedback is such an important part of self-regulation, and that feedback cannot only be about deficits.

  4. Action and Impact

    The action and impact should include both the teacher and the learner. Teachers should be providing feedback to individual students and also using the data from the entire class to potentially make adjustments to instruction. They help learners understand their progress and provide guidance about next steps. Learners must take an active role in understanding their learning and reflecting on their work.

Creating these types of opportunities for student investment, which integrates assessment and self-regulation, cannot be done incidentally. This requires thoughtful planning and reflection on the part of the teacher. Hattie (2012) describes how teachers must consider the needs of students when planning, paying particular attention to self-efficacy, self-motivation, and self-dependence. These are skills that can be taught and learned. If we want students to be invested in their learning, from bell to bell and start to finish, then we must create the opportunities for students to learn these skills and practice them. We should not assume that a student is unmotivated, when in fact he or she may just be unsure of the next step to take.



Erkens, C., Schimmer, T., Dimich Vagle, N. (2017). Essential Assessment. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Hattie, John. (2012). Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. New York: Routledge.

Saphier, Jon. (2017). High Expectations Teaching. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Participate in hands-on assessment training from education experts. August 1-3 in Denver, Colorado.



  1. Laurie Sammons

    Right on, colleagues!!!

  2. Lynn Fuller

    I’m going to use this!


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