EFFORT v. MASTERY – What is the balance for grading?


EFFORT v. MASTERY . . .Where is the balance? If grades are only a reflection of mastery, how do we keep students who want to try hard motivated? Do you reward hard work?

Certainly the outcome of hard work is a reward in itself. I believe this and have told both my own children and other people’s children this fact.  Yet, there is so much emphasis on an extrinsic reward. Don’t trounce a child’s self-esteem. Perhaps it has gotten just a bit out of hand.

Teachers for the most part are natural-born nurturers – or at least let’s hope they are. (I think the system is trying very hard to rid itself of those who aren’t). So the instinct is to reward those who try hard whether or not they have mastered the content.

A student must learn the content however that happens and however long it takes. Memorizing facts and repeating them, such as in a spelling test, have a very limited value in my mind. Learning math facts and then using them to apply to a practical problem and solving it, on the other hand, has great value. It takes some students longer to do this than others and sometimes different methods. Everyone blooms at his or her own speed and educators must differentiate to meet these variables in learning.

I am not a fan of extrinsic rewards even though I admit I have done it. It’s okay to do sometimes, but what students must learn is the intrinsic value of learning and acquiring knowledge, and as a result the reward that learning and understanding brings. This purpose is most important-the joy of learning and discovery. It is motivating and exciting and I believe all students can find this value in some way.

I do not agree with those that bribe equating it to being paid for a job in the adult world. It is not the same thing. If you are waiting for your boss to continually throw you “treats” for you to take pride in the work you do, it is very sad. By continually encouraging rewards such as this, parents and teachers only discourage real work. Teaching pride in a job well done and work ethic do have value.

Pre and post-tests work well to show students what they have learned. In addition, I like self-assessment and I wish it were more a part of the evaluation system from a young age. Assessing learning is not necessarily how well a student performs. It depends on the task-a student may be great at memorizing, but has no depth of knowledge. Some students are motivated by the grade rather than what they can learn and what they can do with what they have learned. Again, learning should provide a reward for extrinsic purpose. Understanding what you have learned and knowing how to apply it to something new shows a demonstration of learning.

I think teachers do often go above and beyond to recognize effort. The truth is that in a quality assessment, effort will show. Students who try harder or put forth more effort will do better on tests. A critical thinking question with a written reply shows effort and can also show mastery. I believe this to be one of the most accurate indicators of progress.

I loathe teachers giving students better grades for bringing in cookies or paper or whatever and this happens A LOT!  Such actions can also affect teacher evaluation and on and on. A well-done pay for performance plan includes perks from the district or building administrators as in a corporate environment. It is not simply more money for better test scores. That fact is broadly misunderstood.

My problem with effort grades (and as I said, there should be some allowance for effort) is that effort is vague; it is intangible and may be akin to “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” There are all kinds of personalities and all kinds of effort-some of it is not real and some of it is.  Please do not mistake this for me ever thinking that a child, all children, should not be encouraged. Motivation and discovery are a huge part of teaching.

There is more to all of this as some subjects, for example music, art and PE, cannot totally be graded by mastery. Those are thoughts for another time. What are you thoughts about GRADES?

Categories: 21st Century Education, arts and business, Arts Integrated Education, Bullying, Education reform, extrinsic rewrad, foster workforce readiness, Innovation, mentors, motivation, self-esteem, social/emotional wellness, student blog, UncategorizedTags: , , , , ,

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