Authentically Motivating Students

Willems, P. P., & Gonzalez-DeHass, A. R. (n.d.). School – Community Partnerships : Using Authentic Contexts to Academically Motivate Students, 22(2), 9–30.

School-Community Partnerships: Using Authentic Contexts to Academically Motivate Students by Patrica Willems and Alyssa Gonzalez-DeHass discusses ways which the school and community can work together to form a partnership where students can learn by engaging in relevant learning activities.  They ideas are supported with research from three different models; authentic instruction, problem-based learning and service learning, that provide students with an environment with real, interactive life examples for learning and allows them the opportunity to participate in the learning made possible by community partnerships.

The research is very well organized and is separated by headings and subheadings. The writing and lay out is plain and easy enough to follow that it could function as a How To book on building school-community partnerships.


The content of study by Willems and Gonzalez-DeHass is a windfall of information that contributes to the field of research that I am interested.  This is exactly the type of research I imagined prior to starting classes. As it relates to what was discussed in class, this is the narrowing of resources in the midst of the breadth of material we’ve covered so far.  There are several factors I have yet to explore. For example, “which methodologies have the best chance of addressing teachers’ needs to meet significant curricular objectives amidst pressure for accountability and time demands associated with statewide standardized testing?”(Willems and Gonzalez-DeHass, 2012, p.25) There is also “limited time to meet, identify, and contact community members” (Hands, 2005, p.71) not to mention the   There is still more to uncover and that will require an even more narrow focus but this is an excellent start on my journey to gathering resources and gaining perspective.


The theoretical framework, “student academic success is best achieved through the cooperation and support of schools, families, and communities” (Willems and Gonzalez-DeHass, 2012, p.9) aligns perfectly with my topic of inquiry.  I want to bring the school where I work and its local community together for the benefit of student motivation.  I’d like for the community to witness results like the Problem Based Learners who had “higher levels of intrinsic goal orientation, task value, use of elaborative learning strategies, critical thinking, and metacognitive self-regulation in comparison to students instructed in a more traditional teacher/textbook-centered fashion” (Willems and Gonzalez-DeHass, 2012, p.21). I believe this research is timely, which will carry  weight in attempting to create change.  Its relevance is demonstrated by the service learning model, which is “increasing in popularity, with some estimates showing that approximately 30% of all public schools and 50% of high schools include service learning as part of their curriculum.” (Willems and Gonzalez-DeHass, 2012, p.23)


The study by Willems and Gonzalez-DeHass did not discuss their own collection of data.  Instead, they were informed by a collection of research from a variety of sources. To begin, the discussion connected and fit together references to “the literature that address the social contexts of learning, including that of situated learning, social constructivism, and learner-centered education.” (Willems and Gonzalez-DeHass, 2012, p.10)  Next, Willems and Gonzalez-DeHass provided a section titled, “Suggestions for School-Community Partnerships” (Willems and Gonzalez-DeHass, 2012, p.13) which revealed some of the pitfalls and necessities of establishing partnerships.  Finally, three different models; “authentic instruction, problem-based learning and service learning” (Willems and Gonzalez-DeHass, 2012, p.9) were discussed which actually inspired me to make notes and begin planning some details for my own innovation that I may otherwise have over looked.  I have a model now of how I will communicate my intentions to the stakeholders which will be invaluable for coordinating their efforts.


Some of the examples that are compelling are the ones that teach students through doing instead of observing through the words in a textbook.  The advantage is that students have the school to support their access to areas of the community that would otherwise be unavailable. As students in the youth participatory action research “by learning what resources and opportunities other schools offered, the school visits gave them a context to understand their own schooling experience” (Bautista, Bertrand, Morrell, Scorza, & Matthews, 2013, p.9), it will be my goal to provide similar experiences at my workplace for similar results. In view of equitable education there is no text books required.  Students will have real world tools at their disposal. Lastly, the impact a program like this will have on the students is beyond measure. There is a benefit in every aspect of the program. First, students will be more intrinsically motivated from their experience and exposure to achievable possibilities. And “By including students in identifying genuine needs in the community, they are more likely to see their involvement as making a significant difference even as they further their own academic learning” (Willems and Gonzalez-DeHass, 2012, p.24).   Second, students will get to experience a variety of opportunities to help them to define their interests. More importantly, “infusing these opportunities for contextualized learning into academic activities will help students begin to see the meaningfulness of academic subject matter and its relevance beyond the classroom setting.”(Willems and Gonzalez-DeHass, 2012, p.25)


The study by Willems and Gonzalez-DeHass did not conclude with any result to reflect on.  They make a very reasonable case to move towards building partnerships. The final comments are proposals for future work that will need to be done “that will require ongoing discussion and reflection in the educational community.”(Willems and Gonzalez-DeHass, 2012, p.25)  Some new ideas that I will have to consider will be how to present this innovation to the district office level.  While brainstorming ideas I suspect that their primary concern will be the expenses involved, and what the implications are on testing and student achievement.




Bautista, M.A., Bertrand, M., Morrell, E., Scorza, D., & Matthews, C. (2013). Participatory action research and city youth: Methodological insights from the council of youth research UCLA, 115(100303), 1–23.

Hands, C. (n.d.). It ’ s Who You Know and What You Know :  e Process of Creating Partnerships Between Schools and Communities, 63–84.

Finally, Equitable Education for Indigenous Students: Creating a Successful Cohort

Campbell, A. (2007). Retaining American Indian/Alaska Native students in higher education: A case study of one partnership between the Tohono O’odham Nation and Pima Community College, Tucson, AZ. Journal of American Indian Education, 46(2), 19-42.


In Retaining American Indian/Alaska Native students in higher education: A case study of one partnership between the Tohono O’odham Nation and Pima Community College, Campbell (2007) describes a successful nursing partnership program between the Tohono O’odham Nation (Nation) and Pima Community College (PCC) in her case study. What is exciting about this article is that the Nation saw a need to educate members of the Tohono O’odham community to take on nursing and care positions for the elder care facility that was being built and reached out to the local community college to assist in this endeavor. The Nation wanted to train its members to work in the facility caring for their elders in a way that outsiders could not—speaking the language, sharing the culture, and being productive citizens of the community. The case study outlines the process in which the partnership developed with the development of culturally responsive curriculum and support that led to success for the students in the program. The study is clear on identifying the factors that led to student withdrawal and student persistence. Faculty, administrators, and the Nation addressed several factors to ensure students had the tools to succeed in the nursing cohort. The partnership suggests that Indigenous students will succeed when they are completely supported as students and community members by college administration, faculty and their Nation as they pursue their education.

Contribution to field

Initially, I was unclear about the research method; however, when I reviewed the title a third time I realized the article was a case study. The article was organized in such a way as to walk the reader through the process of setting up a partnership program for students. This is valuable in that it reads like a “how to” manual for program development. I have not read an article that showed the step-by-step process for setting up a program for postsecondary Indigenous students in such detail. The treat was that the program was a partnership between an Arizona Indigenous nation and a local community college, which is my interest area. I am surprised that there are not more programs like this one. The article demonstrates the program was successful and illustrated the lengths the college and Nation went to ensure student success. I was disappointed that the article did not indicate whether there were other partnerships of this type in existence. I am left to assume that this is the first of its kind.

Literature Review

The author includes research on drop out rates of American Indian and Alaska Natives (AI/AN), education statistics of AI/AN compared with racial groups, and factors that lead to staying or leaving school. The contribution was situated in a context of institutionalized racism and lack of cultural competency on the part of predominantly white institutions and educators. I would have liked to see included in the article similar programs as the Tohono O’odham/PCC partnership or a statement that there is nothing like this particular program to date.

Theoretical Framework

The author uses a functional-collaborative lens to situate the development and success of the health/nursing cohort program. She described how the Nation, the college administration, the faculty, and students all worked together to apply their knowledge and expertise to make the program a true partnership. Each group was involved in the planning, design, and implementation of the cohort and each contributed much needed resources whether in the form of staff, finances, or feedback on the cultural relevance or irrelevance of curricula. The functional-collaborative model is a community-based approach that values and utilizes the input of students, teachers and the community.

Data Collection

There was no data collection section included in the article. The author, who holds a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction, described a process of program development. The author does not share how she obtained the information to write this case study.


The program was detailed enough to duplicate if one wanted to start a culturally responsive partnership program. Again, this study was more descriptive than analytical.

Implications for equitable education

The partnership between the Tohono O’odham nation and PCC can be duplicated across the nation if stakeholders are willing to provide monetary support, creativity and flexibility in program development and student support. This program requires commitment in ways that are not traditional for colleges and universities. Providing housing for families in another city, changing textbooks mid-semester, providing study space in the students’ community, hiring a liaison to facilitate paperwork and be the voice of students as well as paying full tuition, books and living stipends. Many might think this excessive, however, we attend classes and live on the homeland of the Akimel O’otham people, and culturally responsive curriculum and tuition is minute compared to appropriated land and assault on spirit and identity that Indigenous peoples have endured.

New Ideas

This study relates to the way I envision my practice- working with stockholders to create programs that meet the holistic needs of Indigenous students. I envision programs where Indigenous students are nurtured from elementary school through college wherein they develop the skills necessary to succeed in both their home communities and dominant culture. Campbell’s case study offers an example of how I might create programs to impact the success of Indigenous students in college. Though this article is about a partnership between a Nation and the nursing department, I envision programs based on the needs of local nations and the career choices of students. Placing students in cohorts to develop foundational knowledge as scaffolding to succeed in college is viable if all stakeholders are committed.


Campbell, A. (2007). Retaining American Indian/Alaska Native students in higher education: A case study of one partnership between the Tohono O’odham Nation and Pima Community College, Tucson, AZ. Journal of American Indian Education, 46(2), 19-42.

Building Partnerships: Communities and Schools

Hands, C. (2005). It ’ s Who You Know and What You Know : Process of Creating Partnerships Between Schools and Communities, 63–84.

The journal article, It’s Who You Know “and” What You Know: The Process of Creating Partnerships between Schools and Communities by Catherine Hands is a guide to research in forming school partnerships with its community. Two schools were examined for their success in forming partnerships. The perspective of community members, teachers, parents and principals were collected and discussed. Hands explains the necessary components of forming a partnership and the pitfalls that may challenge a partnership from becoming successful. There are many benefits to be had by both the school and the community member which is fully discussed. Furthermore, Hands goes on to describe some of the unintended benefits. Throughout the article parallels are made that relate the elements of ecology to elements of forming a partnership and how they are each interdependent. Hands organization is excellent. She makes use of bold and headings to lead the reader sequentially through the steps of forming a partnership. Beginning with the introduction she describes how the need for her research is adjoined to the needs of schools that “are finding it increasingly difficult to create educational programs to address the diverse needs of the students” (Hands, 2005, p.64). In my own experience I see a greater need for change because of the rapidly expanding and diverse population. Schools are working on a paradigm designed over a hundred years ago for a population one quarter the size and even less diverse. Simply stated, schools today are not equipped to effectively engage students or supply their needs required to be successful in the world. Next, Hands outlines the problem and poses questions to the reader. This technique of using questions gives the reader a purpose to focus on as he/she reads. The questions also highlight what is important in the article. Finally, it supplies the opportunity for repetition of concepts. Hands continues by defining essential terms and ideas, followed by describing the framework of the partnering process. The reader is never left to figure out what she means. This topic is identical to what I intend to research. I don’t know whether to be happy someone else has thought of it or if I should be sad because my idea is not as original as I thought. The upside is that I plan to take it a step or two further. I want to investigate how the community partnership affects the school community and student achievement. Currently I notice “students see many academic tasks in terms of short-term learning necessary to secure a grad and do not grasp the learning’s utility in the real world beyond the classroom.” (Willems & Gonzalez-DeHass, 2012, p.10). Hands research is easy to read because of how organizes it visually and through her use of anecdotes. She takes two pages to discuss her methodology. She makes use of an easy to read graphic organizer. She reiterates the goals of her research and then discusses her findings and more data collection. The article is so well organized; I compare it to following a street map. Hands makes use of repetition which is a valuable tool to help the reader digest the material without having to go back to recall a concept. During a recent class, our guest speaker from ASU, Dr. Audrey Amrein-Beardsley just briefly mentioned qualitative versus quantitative research in her discussion. I understand what each of those two types of research mean but I work better when I have examples. I have some familiarity with quantitative research after having taken a statistics class where we worked with numbers and values to support our findings. Now this article offers an excellent example of qualitative research. I see how data collected by interviews and relationships that work or fail. Data is collected by the success of “feedback loops resulting from communication within the networks and resultant maintenance or changes made to the relationships” (Hands, 2005, p.66). Hands breaks down the components and mechanics of how to build partnerships” with another researcher’s theory on partnership, “the relationship between systems such as schools and communities. The theory posits that there is a flow of information and resources across the permeable boarders of open systems in a way that is not hierarchical; this flow is bi-directional across the borders” (Hands, 2005, p.66). The flow of information is the communication between the school and the community. The resources are the agreed upon services that will help to accomplish a certain goal. The goal agreed on between the school and the community was that “the needs of the students were the focus and the basis for all partnership efforts.” (Hands, 2005, p.70) The next component is initiating partnerships and the first question to be answered from the community would be “”Well, what’s in this for me?” So, rather than waste people’s time, you have to present it like, ‘This is a situation which will benefit us both.’ So, yeah, I think there has to be some reciprocation. And it has to be obvious”(Hands, 2005, p.71). The schools Hands interviewed made clear that forming partnerships required a measured and well thought out approach. Businesses, organizations and social services have time pressures just like teachers so it’s important to know the needs of the community. It’s a lot like sales. I plan on selling the community with the idea that, in the classroom teachers give grades as a measure of performance and students receive them as payment for work completed. However, the rewards will be much greater when students see the work from a partnership of community and school side by side. “Children learn through a variety of social and educational contexts, and the goals for student academic success are best achieved through the cooperation and support of schools, families, and communities” (Willems & Gonzalez-DeHass, 2012, p.9) My concern is that students do not have the role models or the exposure to the opportunities with-in and outside their communities. There are so many variables to consider in helping students to be college or career ready. Many students have not been outside of their neighborhood. In further study of how community partnership will benefit students I hope to describe how students explore career opportunities, how to involve parents in partnering with the school and community, how to encourage businesses to create scholarships or apprenticeships, and how schools can help businesses to grow.

References: Willems, P. P., & Gonzalez-dehass, A. R. (2012). School – Community Partnerships : Using Authentic Contexts to Academically Motivate Students, 22(2), 9–30.