Monday, October 31, 2011

Grades: So bad as motivation?

Some colleagues and I got into a discussion about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation the other day.  We were in a discussion group about course redesign.  Most expressed a negative sense about grades and using them as motivators.  To be contrary, I disagree.

Grades are good motivators.  Why should a student strive for the highest grade he/she can get in a class?  I am not even sure I consider a grade an extrinsic motivator, for a couple of reasons.  It doesn't always translate into money, a real extrinsic motivator (I'm not sure it ever did for me), and often the grade is earned because the student is engaged and also wants to please the instructor and himself/herself (all intrinsic). 

To me, it is bad teaching if the student can earn the grade without the kind of deep, engaged, paradigm-changing-learning that we want for them.  Why are you giving good grades to students who haven't experienced this kind of engagement?  is the question I would ask.  The fault lies in our assessment methods (multiple-choice tests), not in the students' desire for good grades.  Asian students get awesome grades--do we assume they are motivated wrongly?  They are simply motivated, holistically. 

Because our students come to class with different levels of ability, grades sometimes reflect the deficiencies in their backgrounds.  But so would level of engagement.  We can't just measure how excited a student gets about a class period, either; not all of us wear our excitement on our fields.  This is why writing assignments, reflective practice, collaboration, etc.  are so important.  And what I am learning is that less is more.  Maybe by the time I retire I will finally understand that concept.  At the same time, read my Zero Sum Game post.  I think the students should, and could, work twice as hard as they do.  All the research says they spend much less time on class preparation and study than they should; the old rule of two hours for every one in class is not anywhere near what they do.  People rise to the level of (reasonable) expectations and responsibilities we place on them.

No comments:

Post a Comment