HVE Design YOUniversity

Design Qualities

What Are Design Qualities?

Schlechty Center on Engagement is the basis of the Working on the Work framework.

Schlechty Center on Engagement proceeds from a number of assumptions. Among the more critical of these are the following:

• The way school tasks and activities are designed introduces variances in the qualities that can be and are introduced into the work.

• Variances in these qualities produce variances in the level of effort that students are willing to invest in the task or activity.

• Student decisions regarding the personal consequences of doing the task assigned or participating in the activity provided result in five different types of involvement in these tasks and activities, as listed below.


• The student sees the activity as personally meaningful.

• The student’s level of interest is sufficiently high that he persists in the face of difficulty.

• The student finds the task sufficiently challenging that she believes she will accomplish something of worth by doing it.

• The student’s emphasis is on optimum performance and on “getting it right.”


• The official reason for the work is not the reason the student does the work—she substitutes her own goals for the goals of the work.

• The substituted goals are instrumental—grades, class rank, college acceptance, parental approval.

• The focus is on what it takes to get the desired personal outcome rather than on the nature of the task itself— satisfactions are extrinsic.

• If the task doesn’t promise to meet the extrinsic goal, the student will abandon it.


• The work has no meaning to the student and is not connected to what does have meaning.

• There are no substitute goals for the student.

• The student seeks to avoid either confrontation or approbation.

• The emphasis is on minimums and exit requirements—what do I have to do to get this over and get out?


• The student is disengaged from current classroom activities and goals.

• The student is thinking about other things or is emotionally withdrawn from the action.

• The student rejects both the official goals and the official means of achieving the goals.

• The student feels unable to do what is being asked or is uncertain about what is being asked.

• The student sees little that is relevant to life in the academic work.


• The student is disengaged from current classroom activities

and goals.

• The student is actively engaged in another agenda.

• The student creates her own means and her own goals.

• The student’s rebellion is usually seen in acting out—and often in encouraging others to rebel.

Teachers can enhance the prospect of students’ being engaged in the tasks and activities they want them to be engaged in by attending carefully to building into the work they provide those qualities that are most likely to appeal to the values, interests, and needs of the students involved.

Phil Schlechty refers to these as Design Qualities.

There are two distinct sets of Design Qualities to which teachers might attend. These are Design Qualities of Context and Design Qualities of Choice.

Design Qualities of Context are those aspects of tasks and activities that are ubiquitous and will affect student engagement even when the teacher does not intentionally take them into account.

Design Qualities of Choice are qualities that the teacher can choose to include or to omit, depending on the teacher’s judgment regarding

the needs and interests of students.