Sunday, February 19, 2012

Removing rewards, getting rid of grades

If we accept the argument that rewards and grades are extrinsic motivators and therefore serve to demotivate students, the teachers may well ask how students will react if they are removed.  In a comment to an earlier blog post about awards and rewards Mr G. (@educatoral) wrote:
Students are saying that they would be angry if we got rid of awards! They've been ingrained to believe that awards is how we show appreciation. They feel like we would not be showing appreciation if we get rid of awards. 
In general students shouldn't need to be motivated if the environment at school is a stimulating and  encouraging one, and if the focus is on what students are doing as opposed to how they are doing.  I suppose if a school has relied on awards to extrinsically motivate students, then simply removing them without putting other factors in place that contribute to motivation (curriculum and climate) may cause anger.  This is simply because students have spent years receiving awards for good work, and if the awards or rewards are appealing the students may well resist the sudden withdrawal of them.  Alfie Kohn response to this situation is:
If they're that far gone, we haven't got a minute to waste in trying to undo the damage that rewards have done!
OK, so we get rid of awards and rewards, how about grades?  Many teachers would be reluctant to give up grades because they think that students perform better if they hope for a good grade.  It also allows teachers to sort students based on their performance (for example placing students into the appropriate level of foreign language class at school is currently based on a written assignment that the students do).  Grades also give feedback to students about how they are doing, although I've read many other books and articles about how giving a grade is not helpful when compared to giving a comment (in fact studies show that giving a grade and a comment makes the comment less effective).  Alfie Kohn argues that comments should replace grades altogether:
The problem is not just that grades don't say enough about people's performance; it's that the process of grading fixes their attention on their performance.
Kohn writes that competent teachers don't need tests and grade to tell them how a student is doing, and that tests can make students feel unsafe and unwilling to take risks:
Grades and test, punishments and rewards, are the enemies of safety; they therefore reduce the probability that students will speak up and that truly productive evaluation can take place.  Actually some students - the most self-confident - will speak up  ... to impress the teacher and improve their standing.  This has nothing to do with speaking up to try out new ideas about which they may feel tentative, to ask a question in order to learn, or to let teachers know when they are struggling.
Kohn recognises that there is a lot of pressure on teachers to grade.  Parent as well as teachers need to be educated about the demotivating effects of grades.  He writes, "We will have to reconsider what learning is about, where it comes from, and whether we are serious about promoting it."  A better way for parents to assess how well their children are doing is to look at their interest in learning.

In an earlier post I wrote about the 3 things that Kohn says motivate workers:  collaboration, content and choice.  These factors are just as motivating for students as they are for employees - more about these in an upcoming blog post.

Photo Credit:  Red Pen by Mad African! AttributionNoncommercial

1 comment:

  1. Georgia RichardsonJune 1, 2012 at 3:31 PM

    I should tell some Long Island tutors that I know about this idea. I agree about removing rewards because it can do a big difference to the grades of a student. Doing something for a reward but not for the cause of just having a great achievement is two different things.