Think Thank Thunk is a relatively new blog from Shawn Cornally, a high school math and science teacher. I have found his posts to be quite entertaining. In Shawn’s latest post, he talks about grades. You know I like to talk about grades. Shawn puts teacher into two groups in regards to their ideas about grades:
- Grades should reflect a student’s progress with course material. Where an A+ indicates mastery.
- Grades should be an amalgam of student’s knowledge, behavior, and anything else the teacher wants to control.
I was in the middle of posting a comment to this post, but it was getting a little long. Here is what I was going to say.
Should students be intrinsically motivated – you know learning because learning is a good thing, or should they be extrinsically motivated – learning because their grade depends on it. Oh – and not just grades, but behaviors.
Let me start by examining some extreme cases. Take graduate student in physics. Why does this student study to learn physics? I would hope it is not just because of the grade. So, in this case the student should be intrinsically motivated, right?
What about a 2nd grader? Why should this student learn to spell and add and read? Maybe reading was a bad example, but spelling and add could possibly be motivated extrinsically – by grades. Oh sure, there are some 2nd grades that just want to learn to spell (I know who you are). Also, the reading was a bad idea because there are tons of 2nd graders that want to learn to read so they can finally get to How to Train your Dragon or Diary of a Wimpy Kid (you can tell I have kids). The point is: maybe second graders need some extrinsic motivation.
What about kids? Should you just let them eat whatever they want (Fat Cakes) and stay up as late as they want? Probably not. Make them eat their veggies. It is good for them. So, I make my kids do things that they don’t want to do. What if they don’t eat their vegetables? Then the won’t get a bad grade, but they will not get desert – that is for sure.
So, maybe grad students are intrinsically motivated and maybe 2nd graders are a mix of intrinsically and extrinsically motivated. What does this have to do with me? Well, I am going to assume that at some point students need to switch to being intrinsically motivated. I don’t know when this should happen, but I am going to assume it happens before college. This means that I don’t have to use grades to motivate them.
I know the arguments – if you don’t assign a grade, they aren’t going to do it. That may be true, but I am ok with that. I am going to use the grade to assess their understanding of the material.
PS – check out Think Thank Thunk. Shawn has some really interesting calculus posts.