Friday, March 16, 2012

You Can't Know It Until You Know It

What to do about grades? Researchers suggest that extrinsic motivation doesn't work as well (certainly not in the longterm) as intrinsic motivation--but what to do in the case of tasks that must be done, and yet are not as inherently appealing as other tasks? 

 UCSC tried to address the grade trap by using a narrative evaluation system (NES), but capitulated to the demand for grades in 1997, when the university began to offer a letter grade option, and then rolled over on students gave up joined the herd in 2000, as a result of faculty voting, began to require letter grades for all courses. (I imagine faculty were tired of writing, writing, writing all those evaluations.)

My alma mater, the College of Creative Studies at UCSB, did not offer letter grades. I transferred into the College as a sophomore. The absence of grades was a shock to my constitution. Eventually, that absence allowed for a pathway to greater achievement. Because I wasn't afraid of receiving low grades, I stopped pandering to what I thought my professors wanted. (Yes, I was shameless. It was all about the A. It was not so much about learning.) CCS pushed me into taking risks in my writing and in my thinking, risks I certainly would never have taken if I knew I were going to be graded on the efforts. I was always a hard-working student, and this didn't change; if anything, I worked even harder because there was no ceiling to what I could do.

Which sort of points out the biggest problem with a letter grade system: how it inhibits learning.

Learning requires failure and bumbling and getting things wrong. Students accustomed to getting As begin to feel that they should never fail--that they should know everything before they even learn it. That's crazy, isn't it?

I'm very interested to see how my daughters will respond to receiving evaluations instead of grades, especially as I've often been concerned about the value they place on grades, and about the choices they've made to do what they know is acceptable, rather than to launch into unknown territory.

From a study at the University of Poitiers, France via GOOD:
. . .new research in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Experimental Psychology: General concludes kids might perform better in school if teachers and parents sent the message that failing is a normal part of learning.
As Einstein said, "A person who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new."

Happy Friday.

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