I’ve been watching a lot of TED talks lately and a few things happened this week which reminded me of one of the first TED talks I’d ever seen. Delivered by Daniel Pink, the topic is on intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. I suggest you take 20 minutes to watch it, it’s quite enlightening.
You may be wondering what the events are? One is a conversation I had this week with our Economics teacher, Mr. Haag. Perhaps unbeknownst to some of his students, Mr. Haag is doing an incredible job creating an economy of grades in his classroom. His assessment tasks are all unique – students do not have to do the same work, they do not have to come from the same sources and the student do not get all the same material. Students grade the work themselves and that grade is standardized by the teacher. If students believe a written piece of work is worth a 7, the must defend it publically. Initially, many students disliked this approach, dismissing getting a “7” as an impossible task. They would submit work but since they couldn’t defend its quality, the top grade could not be achieved.
Granted, some students have still not fully embraced this approach, but in a meeting we had today, Mr. Haag took great pride sharing the story of 2 students who have. After choosing the most challenging task, working relentlessly through the details and meticulously drafting a written task, two students chose to defend their work for the top grade. They outlined their arguments, they communicated their thinking, and, they earned the 7.
This really shouldn’t be revolutionary. Often times I hear students talking about “getting” a 7. I chuckled the other day after two students had gotten tests back, they were in the hall and one exasperated girl said “…just give me the 7!”. It’s absolutely fascinating to me that we still think of marks as things that are given. They are not carrots (and sticks). Grades are earned, and if one does not know what a 7 “is”, cannot describe what it “looks like”, nor defend the quality of their work, then it simply cannot be of superior quality work.
What is interesting about this is that it is the exact opposite what most schools do. I often hear concerns that one teacher is ahead of another or that students are doing different things in so-and-so’s class. That’s good! Giving students choices on the types of projects they do promotes autonomy, mastery and purpose.
Conversely, if students all do the same work and are only motivated in a grade or GPA that they can neither describe nor defend, they will suffer the same fate as those in the candle experiment from the video; they will do worse than their peers. If students are truly interested in achieving their personal best they should strive to take the harder routes, not the easier ones. They should think deeply and meaningfully about the projects they undertake and they should be efficacious in the work they produce.
image taken from reflected.com
The other event is course selection. These lessons are of critical importance to remember as students make important decisions about what they intend to study. Time and time again I have seen people try and take courses that will get them the “best GPA”. Most times, it doesn’t work. Students should take the courses they are going to put the most into, not the ones they think will be the easiest.
On April 20th, students will be getting their reports and the week after is parent-teacher-student conferences. Please bring your children to the conferences and have them defend their work. If your children do not attend, consider asking questions of intrinsic motivations instead of ones about extrinsic rewards. For example, rather than asking “how can my child go from a 5 to a 6”, consider something like “what types of tasks do you think my child is best at”. I’m sure you will find the conversations more rewarding as well.
We look forward to welcoming you all on April 26th and 27th.