Sharing assessment & grading strategies that help students learn
Ok - which would motivate you more... A chance to win a date with Angelina Jolie or a chance to win a date with Brad Pitt?
Weird question, right? I was watching a TV discussion about Hollywood's "most beautiful couple", and for some strange reason, I saw an educational corollary buried beneath it.
Here's the point: If you would be motivated by a chance to win a date with Angelina Jolie, then a chance to win a date with Brad Pitt probably wouldn't do much for you. And if you'd do anything for a date with Brad Pitt, you probably don't care too much about a chance to go out with Angelina Jolie. This got me thinking about external motivators and how they're often used - or misused - by educators.
External motivators don't cause people to be motivated if they don't already care about the external motivator. External motivators don't create new motivation - they just reinforce motivators already in place.
The purpose of this post is not to encourage or discourage the use of external motivation. The purpose is to challenge educators to look at such motivators with a dose of reality - not all motivators will work for all students and not all are appropriate to use in all situations.
As I have worked with teachers around the country on the topic of assessment and grading, it is rather easy to help people reach a level of cognitive agreement with the concept of making sure that a grade assigned to a student represents mastery. But many teachers struggle with the fear that if they assign grades based on mastery they will lose the "carrot and stick" of rewarding with points or assigning low grades and zeroes. I don't pretend to have the answer to every hypothetical or potential grading and assessment situation - and I definitely don't believe there is a one size fits all solution that works in every class with every student. But I do know the following to be true:
It's really hard to blame teachers for using grades as carrots and sticks. After all, it's been done this way forever. We are all products of an educational system that operates as though everyone is motivated by the same external factors and that trains students to only work for external motivators. Our teachers did this - our universities taught us to teach this way - our school divisions' grading systems are usually set up this way - it's just the way it's always been.
But that doesn't mean it has to stay this way.
While it's fine to come up with carrots and sticks that work in your classroom with individual students it's not fine to:
I really don't have specific answers to share - just some things to think about.
If you think there might be a better way, then you can't keep doing what you've always done. If you're wanna change, then you gotta change. Don't expect to keep everything the same except for your allocation of points and then see a revolution in your classroom. If you're looking for a place to begin, try exploring the concepts of Standards Based Learning. I'd suggest taking a look at some of the resources on http://rickwormeli.net and following the Twitter Chat #SBLchat - Wednesdays at 9:00 pm EST.
I apologize if I've muddied the waters more than I've made them clearer, but sometimes answers aren't simple. Asking questions, though, is essential. Try asking yourself these:
If they don't want to hang out with Brad, see if they'd rather hang out with Angelina...