Motivation?  There’s an App For That!

Karen Feller | Dec 15, 2016 at 07:00 AM
Karen Feller

I recently ran my first 5K. Why, you may ask, am I telling you this? Fair question. See, I had always loved the idea of being a runner. The fantasy: I’m stretching in my driveway, then casually start out with a slow jog, hitting my stride as Tom Sawyer by Rush begins pulsing through my headphones. The reality: I just wasn’t very good at running. I couldn’t even make it to the end of my block! Over the years I’d tried many methods to improve. I’d keep at it for a while, but it was hard and the results came too slowly. I wanted to be racking up miles and instead I was struggling to rack up minutes. Ultimately, each attempt would end with my running shoes shoved in the back of my closet. So what made it different this time? This time, despite the fact that I was not a runner, never had been, and didn’t even much like running, I got motivated and stayed motivated. How? Well, there’s an app for that!

Take a moment to think about all the apps we use. Those that help us eat healthier, stay on budget, be more active, or even help us remember to relax. They all have a few things in common: they give us small, attainable goals, they recognize our efforts as well as our successes, and they give us actionable feedback. Most importantly, they help us find the real purpose behind achieving our goal. My 5K app helped me realize, and continually reminded me, that learning to run wasn’t just about finishing a race, but about setting myself up to lead a longer, healthier, and more balanced life. The most powerful apps help us discover that the goal isn’t the end, but merely a means to a bigger, better end.

When we set out to create our new student dashboard we did so with this in mind.


The student dashboard uses engaging visual designs to display complex information in simple ways. Students see and understand both their short-term and long-term goals. Personalized messages celebrate students when they reach these goals, but perhaps more importantly, recognize students for their efforts and grit along the way. As a teacher of students with learning disabilities, I've seen just how important this recognition can be for students. Of course, behind the scenes the program is automatically adjusting the student’s learning path in accord with his or her progress. However, the dashboard gives students immediate feedback that includes strategies that they can put to use on their very next lessons. Giving students the power and control to affect their own progress and learning is one of the key factors in motivation and was a guiding principle of the student dashboard.

Goals, recognition and feedback…and then the hardest part…purpose. In a world where information can be obtained with a verbal request and learned by watching a five-minute video, how do we help students see the bigger, better end of being lifelong readers?

We are grateful to have Dr. John T. Guthrie, the former co-director of the National Reading Research Center and a leading researcher in the field of student motivation, as one of our advisers. Dr. Guthrie passionately states, “Literacy is a gateway not only to recreation and breakfast, but also employment and higher education. To open all the gates, students need drive and desire. To help students grow their futures, we must nurture purpose.” The interactive Reading Profile is one of the most powerful parts of the student dashboard and it helps students discover the true purpose of reading. It's the student’s reading “thumbprint.”

Students actively participate in building their Reading Profiles and in doing so begin to see the connection between what they are interested in and what they are learning. I believe it can even open up dialogue between peers who discover (despite having little else in common) they have a shared interest in plants and animals: All Things Creepy, Crawling, Growing and Green, as the knowledge category is explained on the dashboard. Or they might find a shared passion for technology, math, and inventors who changed the world, and decide to start a new school club to promote student invention. We read for enjoyment and to gain knowledge, but we also read because it allows us to have rich conversations with others. To quote Dr. Guthrie again, students need to understand “the notion that reading is a social as well as a personal pursuit.”  

In my role as a teacher and as a Director of Education for Reading Plus, I work to help students discover and declare a greater purpose of reading, one that goes above and beyond passing a class or a test. When goals, recognition, actionable feedback, and purpose are perfectly woven together, they create the kind of motivation that turns reluctant runners into 5K finishers, and reluctant students into lifelong readers. So, is there an app for that? As a matter of fact, there is.


To provide more insights into increasing motivation, we’ve developed Tips for Building Lifelong Readers: A Teacher’s Guide to Understanding and Integrating the 3 Domains of Reading.  The guide provides simple, easy-to-follow tips to help you develop the Physical, Cognitive, and Emotional domains for each of your students and help them become not just better readers, but lifelong readers.

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