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The Just-Right Challenge

9 Strategies to Ensure Adolescents Don't Drop Out of the Game

By Stevi Quate, John McDermott

While the Common Core calls for increased rigor, how do we challenge students—especially reluctant students—appropriately? Stevi and John present 9 strategies that help you create classrooms where expectations—and support—are high.

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"We can and must create classrooms filled with pressing, transformative, and authentic work. We have to provide access to all learners.This has to happen now."
—Stevi Quate and John McDermott

If you don’t care about disengagement and the dropout problem, this isn’t the book for you. But if, like coauthors Stevi Quate and John McDermott, the disillusionment and disappearance of student after student tears you up, then find out what you can do with The Just-Right Challenge.

Challenge is supposed to motivate learners to grow. But imagine if school was like playing a game without knowing the rules. The unwitting mistakes. The frustration. The building hatred. Or a game so boring and divorced from your real interests that you dreaded showing up for it. That’s why The Just-Right Challenge is so important.

In an era when the Common Core standards call for increased rigor, how do we challenge students—especially reluctant students—appropriately? Stevi and John present 9 strategies and the experiences of teachers across content areas to help you:

  • create a can-do classroom, where expectations—and support—are high
  • help students embrace challenge with work that is authentic and transformative
  • provide every student with access to challenges just beyond their skill level.

As teachers, we are powerless over many of the factors that lead kids to disengage or drop out. But there are things we can do. Not radical things—shifts in our practice that yield tremendous results. With The Just-Right Challenge, we can do our part to make our classes must-attends and every kid a stay-in. Because we do care.

Preview the book. Download and read a sample chapter.

(click any section below to continue reading)


Introduction: Getting in the Game

Part 1: Teaching Stance

1. Classrooms to Linger In: Teaching Stance

  • Strategy 1 Live the Belief That Students Can “Grow Smartness” 
  • Strategy 2 Ferociously Commit to Students’ Potential 
  • Strategy 3 Maintain a Passion for Students as Intellectuals

2. Teaching Stance Daily

Part 2: The Nature of the Work

3. Work That at Matters over Time

  • Strategy 4 Make the Work Call for Academic Press 
  • Strategy 5 Provide Work That Is Transformative 
  • Strategy 6 Ground the Work in Authenticity

4. Work That Matters Daily

Part 3: Student Access

5. Opening Up the Access to the Tough Work

  • Strategy 7 Create a Caring Classroom Community of Learners 
  • Strategy 8 Check in to Move Forward 
  • Strategy 9 Build Autonomy Through Choice

6. Student Access Daily

Conclusion: Growing Impatient



“Far too many students drop out of school each year–one every 26 seconds. An effective, quality education for all is the economic, moral, and civil rights imperative of our time. And with schools throughout the country taking on the Common Core State Standards—and their focus on ensuring students have the skills and knowledge to succeed in a 21st century economy—The Just Right Challenge is a particularly timely resource for teachers who are on the front lines of the dropout crisis.”
—Michael Brown, cofounder and CEO of City Year