Slackers Better at “Fun” Activities is an unfortunate headline for a short, useful article at Scientific American.

It describes a study that tried to determine if how a class assignment was described would affect how much effort students put into doing it. Here is what it found:

Simply reframing a task as “fun” caused the underachievers to outperform those who usually excelled—indicating that the way an educator describes an activity might have a powerful influence on how well students do on it.

I know when I teach clozes (fill-in-the-gap) or sequencing activities, I always describe them as puzzles in an effort to help students look at them almost as a game. It seems to have some positive effect. I also think, though, that knowing what student’s goals are and helping connect what we’re doing to helping them achieve those goals can have an equally positive effect. Of course, in order to know their goals, we have to have a relationship with them where we’re regularly asking them what they’re hopes and dreams are — both for this year and for the longer-term future.

Thanks to Kevin Washburn for the tip.