I was in the third grade sitting near the front of the bright, cheery classroom. Intermittently, throughout the day, I would glance over my shoulder at the big, beautiful glittery stars that hung on the back wall of the room. I wanted one of those stars badly and by darned I was determined to get one. Unfortunately, only the students who learned their complete multiplication tables (and recited them before the entire class) were able to get a star. Week by week, I watched the number of available stars decline as other students who were quicker to demonstrate their proficiency took the stars home. Desperate to get one of the last two remaining stars, I recall practicing feverishly at home and asking my parents to drill me as if I were standing in front of the classroom. The proudest day of my third grade experience was standing in front of the classroom reciting my complete multiplication tables and receiving the last glittery star as my reward. Ironically, I do not remember my third grade teacher. I only remember the learning environment she constructed that incentivized me and others to work hard to reach the desired goal. This learning environment encouraged student participation, challenged us to perform, identified specific learning goals, and created an incentive structure to spur learning. It was a learning environment that encouraged me to reach for the stars…literally.

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