Check out this tweet that landed in my Twitterstream, y’all:
@plugusin I don’t know if you saw my other tweet but somebody said today if it’s not graded then students won’t do it. I wanted to barf.
— Brett Clark (@MrBrettClark) March 20, 2017
Brett’s right, isn’t he?
We SHOULD barf every time someone makes the argument that without grades, students can’t be motivated to tackle meaningful tasks.
More importantly, we should stop using grades to sucker kids into completing assignments in our classrooms:
(click here to view original image on Flickr)
So how SHOULD we motivate learners?
Easy: By rethinking the kinds of work that we are asking them to do. Any task that is worth doing should be relevant and interesting. Learners should be hooked by our assignments and should be convinced that every task will strengthen their knowledge and skills in important areas.
Any task that is worth doing should also be challenging. Create assignments that are too easy — or that seem completely impossible — and learners tune out. But create assignments that require kids to stretch just outside of their comfort zones, and they will invest completely in the work.
Finally, any task that is worth doing should help students to drive meaningful change beyond the walls of their classrooms. The simple truth is that today’s students want to be influential. They aren’t satisfied with work that has no clear purpose beyond filling their report cards. But if you can show your kids that the questions they are asking and lessons that they are learning can improve their families, communities or countries, and they’ll tackle anything.
Now don’t get me wrong: You CAN use grades to try to influence the kids in your classroom — and most will probably respond.
The vast majority of our students still want to earn passing marks. And they still feel pressure from their parents and their teachers to score highly on classroom assignments. After all, they’ve been buried in messages like “you’ll never get into college with those grades” and “for every A that you make, I’ll give you $20 bucks” and “make anything less than a C and you will lose your phone for a whole quarter” for most of their lives.
But don’t mistake those reactions with motivation.
If anything, what you are seeing when students put effort into assignments simply because they are being graded is compliance. Motivation begins when our classrooms become places where interesting, relevant, challenging, and powerful tasks become the norm rather than the exception to the rule.
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