ImageWhile in college, a good friend of mine would start a paper by typing his name at the top of a document and then staring at the screen. He would stand up, do something else, and then return to the blank page. For days, sometimes a week, that is how the document remained—a name followed by white space—until one or two nights before the due date, when my friend would stay up late, drink too much caffeine, work himself into a frenzy, and complete an insightful essay. Needless to say, my friend is now a middle school English teacher, with—by now—somewhat different work habits for creating his lessons.

ImageRegardless, there is something about a deadline that instigates action, and higher stakes often lead to greater action. When I taught ninth grade at Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy, I would organize public presentations for my students, when they would talk to state politicians about issues concerning their local watershed. The week preceding each presentation would be hectic but efficient, with students working diligently and staying after school to finish their products and refine their scripts.

Something similar happened a few weeks ago at Four Rivers Charter Public School, when my ninth grade students had a week to prepare tri-fold boards and presentations for the culminating event of their three-month-long independent research project. Without much time to spare, students stepped up, and amid the flurry of activity, even the most lethargic of workers turned productive.

ImageThis heightened focus seemed to come, at least in part, from higher stakes. This year, for the first time ever, students presented their work at Greenfield Community College, where college students and faculty could wander among the displays and talk with the Four Rivers students. In my opinion, and in the opinions of many others, my students’ products matched the venue: their displays were beautiful and their words eloquent, high school students impressing a college audience.

An authentic audience and a pressing deadline. Expectations to remember whenever producing high-quality work.