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“Be a STAR ACT”: A Student-Motivation Metaphor

Being a motivated person isn’t easy. Something’s always fighting it: sleepiness, distractedness, disinterest, disconnect, laziness, feelings of inadequacy, discouragement, or burnout.

I’ve thought a lot about this lately, and for many reasons:

  • I want my students to learn.

    Be a STAR ACT! Point Value Chart
    Be a STAR ACT! Award System Chart
  • I want my students to enjoy learning.
  • I want my students to know why we do what we do.
  • I want my students to rely on me less and themselves more.
  • I want my students to stop what they’re doing when they uncover interesting new things they want to learn, then to research them to satisfy their curiosities.
  • I want my students to not be like I was at times when I was a student (sound familiar, parents?).
  • I want my students to be competitive, but mostly with themselves.

So, I’ve created the Be a STAR ACT! student-motivation system for my classroom. Oxford City Schools (OCS) currently uses several assessment methods in different grade levels throughout the school year to measure growth in primary academic content areas. The Be a Star Act! Award System Chart (see above) was created with English 10 students in mind. OCS English 10 students currently take three key formative, interim, and summative tests:  Star, ACT Aspire, and OCS-constructed Common Formative Assessments (CFAs).

I have many very bright students. In fact, many of my students’s greatest strengths are not very similar. Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences suggests that virtually everyone has unique intelligence sets that aren’t always justly assessed by singular test methods. Unfortunately, the ACT and SAT aren’t in the multiple intelligences ballpark.

That’s okay — we’re not interested in ignoring weak skill areas. We’re interested in improving them. And preparing for various standardized tests helps my students to develop those weaker areas so that they can be better — better communicators, better students, better leaders, better readers, better thinkers, better solution-finders, better writers, better pre-professionals.

Okay, just one more time: Better.

The Be a STAR ACT! student-motivation metaphor is built around Alabama’s favorite sport (even to my slight hoops-loving disdain). A look at the visual metaphor of a football field (marked off every in 10-yard increments) has the potential to psych any true or wanna-be athlete up for whatever it takes to move the chains downfield. In this case, moving the chains requires a student’s success in growing through the various year-round assessment measures of our district. In this system, each student has a personal laminated football that he or she will aspire to move closer to the end zone each time the teacher provides assessment feedback.

Breaking Down the Award System Chart

Take a look at the Award System Chart above. Notice there are basically four categories of success tracking: (1) Star Test (see video below for more information), (2) ACT Aspire (interim, or benchmark, and summative), (3) CFAs, and (4) parent attendance at a student-led parent/teacher conference.

In creating the award system, I made a point to ensure the following:

  • Tier 2 and Tier 3 students should have an opportunity to succeed as much as Tier 1 students.
  • Success should be measured by growth, not grades.
  • The final reward should not be a gimme, but it also shouldn’t be unreachable. It should be within reach for people who pursue it.
  • The Star test should not be treated with greater magnitude than the ACT Aspire. Star is diagnostic, formative, and summative, but is only taken at the beginning and end of the school year. So, Star awards are valued less than ACT Aspire awards.
  • Each time a student takes the ACT Aspire interim test, his or her score should rise as long as he or she continues to grow in knowledge throughout the academic year. Growth is vital to a student’s progress, so a student’s continual improvement in English and/or reading is awarded greater yardage values at each interim point. Of course, since grade-level benchmark is the goal for the interim and summative ACT Aspire tests, students are also awarded for this accomplishment.
  • The CFA shouldn’t be worth more than the ACT Aspire, and its OCS-created construction doesn’t have the same measurement bases for labeling X out of 10 = benchmark. It is used for departmental analyses, judicious evaluation of instructional strengths and weaknesses, and formative curriculum planning.
  • The CFA features two constructed response questions. I know when a student has made exceptional strides in writing, even when comparatively his or her skills might not be grade-level equivalent or the same as other students. The Teacher’s Choice award on the CFA allows me to identify students who’ve written a quality response based on their unique individual ability, sometimes even despite the rubric-based numeric score assigned to their response. This could be one student in a class, or it could be 15. It depends on each student’s growth and commitment to presenting his or her analytical and writing skills.
  • Ensure students have even greater reason to get parents involved. Remember that word? Motivation. Some students just don’t care to get parents involved. You can have the lowest grades in the class and get a an automatic touchdown for each time this year the district holds student-led parent/teacher conferences. But here’s the kicker: You might be the student who thinks he or she can just keep a low grade and show up to the conference for the seven points, but if you show up, you and your parents might just start caring a little more because of the opportunity you’ve sought to get them involved, give them feedback, and see just a little more closely how much your teacher wants you to succeed.


The top 30 students will celebrate their STAR ACTdom with pizza and games at a class achievement party near the end of the school year. This will be determined based on students’ scores (i.e. number of TDs + additional yardage).

Mr. Somers (aka S’mores)

Comment below: If you use a different method or if you begin using Be a STAR ACT! (or a variation of it), post a message here. I’d like to hear from you.

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