Quit Point: Preventing Apathy and Increasing Engagement
A discussion with authors Adam Chamberlin and Svetoslav Matejic
I had the opportunity to speak with Adam Chamberlin and Svetoslav Matejic, authors of Quit Point: Understanding Apathy, Engagement, and Motivation in the Classroom, which examines student engagement and motivation. The origin of the book goes back nearly seven years to when Adam and Sveti collaborated as teachers at South-Western City School District in Ohio on a one-to-one pilot program looking at kids’ interaction with devices. Together, they were hopeful that the engagement issues facing their classrooms would be cured through the use of technology, but they discovered other problems emerged. “We found that there were new obstacles with the technology and it didn’t cure all those engagement issues that we had. So we started dabbling with trying to diagnose why these kids were shutting down in the first place and addressing the situation from the back end,” explains Adam.
The concept of a “Quit Point” came from trying to diagnose the elements causing students to have a lack of motivation. By honing a personalized approach for each student, Adam and Sveti realized they could work toward increasing engagement on an individualized basis. There’s a point that a student will quit a task and rather than saying an entire lesson is a failure, Adam and Sveti decided to look at the “why” behind the disengagement. According to Sveti, “Quit Point became our bridge for us looking at the process of learning and the process of engagement effort in a more authentic way.”
Quit Point also evolved from experiencing ineffective Professional Development (PD) practices. School administrators are very busy and when it comes to PD, as Sveti explains, “It’s the ninth thing on their list to find a PD provider, and usually, it’s the one that sounds good with the buzzword.” After experiencing suggestions from many talented educators through the process, it became clear that the answers to classroom success were often vague encouragements to improve. Adam and Sveti started noticing quitting as a throughline and set out to pinpoint its effect on technology and lesson engagement for students.
One of the early premises of the book was de-emphasizing the negative connotation around the idea of quitting and recognizing that even adults suffer from the emotional reaction. If a subject does not pique our interest, or we do not feel positive about our ability to complete a task, adults tend to give up. Applying that principle to student learning, Adam and Sveti recognized various triggers and tendencies occurring with kids in the classroom.
According to Adam, “all students are susceptible in one way or the other” and determining how they are disengaging is important. “Sustained quit” is the more traditional disengagement observed where the student might put their head down on a desk or be distracted by friends and technology. But there is another type of disengagement happening in classrooms, termed “effort rationing.” Receiving information passively and ignoring participation in a lesson is a telltale sign of a student deciding to “run out the clock.” Adam gives the following example: “We had just got done with state testing and had an altered schedule for two weeks. So even though the schedule stayed the same for two weeks, the students would start class and say, ‘When do we get out of here today?’ That’s an immediate sign. It’s not that they’re trying to be rude or disrespectful, but they’re trying to gauge the moment class starts, ‘How much do I have to pay attention here today? Am I running this out for a half hour or thirty minutes? What am I doing?'”
There are a variety of factors at play when diagnosing students’ apathy and distraction, and Adam and Sveti are choosing to dig deep rather than coming to conclusions based on symptoms. Adam offers the analogy, “If I took my four-year-old into the doctor for a fever, I’m not taking him in simply because of the fever; that’s not the problem. The fever is a symptom of something else. So we’re trying to diagnose what is causing the fever in this child.”
Technology and cellphone use are not the entirety of the problem and a strict approach or harsh discipline around device use may not necessarily get to the root of the issue. It’s important to look at learning from a student ownership perspective and not only a teacher to student approach. Sveti sums it up best, “We need to be much more aware of ‘Are the kids putting forth energy today to learning?’ as opposed to ‘Am I just putting forth energy towards teaching in the classroom?'”
Adam Chamberlin and Svetoslav Matejic’s book, Quit Point: Understanding Apathy, Engagement, and Motivation in the Classroom is available from Times 10 Publishing, where educators can find a wide variety of professional development books addressing the most important topics affecting their practice.
About Adam Chamberlin and Svetoslav Matejic
Adam Chamberlin earned a B.A. in Communication from Cleveland State University and M.Ed. from The Ohio State University. He has worked in both private and public sectors of education and currently teaches high school social studies at Franklin Heights High School in Columbus, Ohio. He continues to serve on leadership committees at both building and district levels, as well as a national presenter at professional education conferences. Adam is the co-founder of Pomme LLC, an educational consulting firm. He lives in central Ohio with his wife and two sons.
Sveti Matejic earned his B.A in 2002 and M.Ed. in 2004 both from The Ohio State University. He continues to teach history at Franklin Heights High School in Columbus, Ohio, where he began his career in 2004. He is a recipient of the Teacher of the Year award and District Ambassador Award for his frequent presentations at professional conferences. He is also a department chair and member of the district curriculum committee. Sveti also pursues his interest in teaching and working with young people through coaching. He has 16 years experience in youth soccer and currently coaches with Ohio Premier. Sveti is also the co-founder of Pomme LLC, an educational consulting firm.