Thursday, August 11, 2011

RSA Animate: Do Grades Motivate?

I have a lot of memories from school of teachers dangling extra credit points as bait to get students to do what they want.  Grades are very important to many students.  In tenth grade my Algebra 2/Trig teacher offered extra credit points for anyone who could explain how a student in class was cheating (she did not mention a name and told them they did not have to give her a name).  Half of the class told her not only how the cheating worked but who was involved.  "You guys would step on your own mother's backs for extra credit" she would say.  Though she had no place to criticize, she capitalized off of that tendency in college track students.  This was in a magnet program designed to get students into as many AP classes as possible and that would every year send some students out to ivy league schools.  If class were Foundations of Math would she get the same response?  How effective are grades at motivating average students or students whose performance is below average?

Another question to ask is about how good grades are at getting the best work out of students.  Students may bring in a relevant newspaper article or sell out their friend for extra credit points.  But do grades motivate students to really think about the material?  Can the incentive of good grades promote first order thinking about the subject matter?

I do not know if there are studies done on grades' abilities in this area.  I will have to keep my eyes out for one (if anyone still reads this and you know of any data here feel free to comment).  I did, however, find this RSA Animate interesting.  This is what got me interested in thinking about grades and if they motivate students the way teachers would want them to.

If financial incentives help mechanical tasks but not cognitive tasks what can that tell us about grades' ability to help motivate students to learn?  We can use points that contribute to grades to get kids to sell out their friends.  We could classify that as a mechanical task.  It is different than figuring out who is cheating and how, we assume the students already know that, so the task is analogous to pulling a lever because it is simply a matter of providing the teacher with the requested information.  UCSB's construcivist philosophy of education is far too sophisticated to see learning as anything but a cognitive task.  The first order learning that we especially want to provide middle and high school students with will require more than grades to motivate them.  The question becomes this: how do we give students the features than Dan Pink says are motivating to get them to learn the subject matter?

1 comment:

  1. I feel sad that I was not challenged to "think" in depth for my grades until high school. Good grades were easy to achieve without first level thinking. Now, I believe that all students should have the opportunity to learn how to think by teachers who model, provide feedback and challenge students to demonstrate thinking skills across the curriculum. All students benefit from metacognitive strategy instruction, but it is especially beneficial for student who have unique learning needs. Evidence of first level thinking should be required for the self-motivated, grade-seeking students in AP classes. For other students, more careful cultivation of thinking skills and reinforcement of student effort is required to develop independent thinking skills.