Are grades good motivators?

Dan Pink puts forward the fact that incentives at a workplace do not help in improving the work or achieving a task faster.  Moreover, sometimes they hamper the task at hand. In short, incentives are not a good motivator.  He further talks about the importance of Autonomy (desire of self-driven), Mastery (desire to learn and improve without any incentive or recognition) and lastly Purpose (something you can align yourself with, want to achieve through work and contribute to the world). These points made by Dan Pink makes me think that in a way grading and assessment at the school or university level are supposed to be motivators. The question is how good are they?

Well, getting good grades might land you a job but does not necessarily guarantee mastery, autonomy, purpose or even creativity. The only way these things can be achieved is if we start to adopt a new way of learning which focuses more on learning and mastery rather than grades. If we want students to retain knowledge and transfer it further, written exams and tests alone won’t help. Practical knowledge along with the use of creativity and problem -solving needs to be adopted as well.

There is no way we can get away with the exams completely. They have their place. But there is a need for change in student attitudes. There is a need to make them think that learning is also important and not only grades. This I think can be done by incorporating new assessment techniques. Group projects involving real-life problems is one of the ways. Group projects also lead to peer assessment which is very close to the real world job scenario. I also feel that exam questions should be set more in a practical way rather than a theoretical way. Real life situations in exams will make students think of the problem at hand, analyze it, question it, use existing approaches to solve it and identify the consequences. Self-assessment by the students at the end of the class is something that is gaining popularity as well. This is where students assess their performance in the class and submit the assessment to the teacher. In the end, it is all about adjustment and change for the betterment. It does not motivate students to do better but moreover, stops their creative thinking by narrowing their approach to learning. Bad grades may also sometimes shatter you completely. So, I think a mid-way approach (improving our current grading system) is the best way forward. I am of the view that grading and exams should stay but their importance should be minimal. Learning is the main focus and should always be.

What do you think? Are the grades necessary? Are they motivating students to perform better? Is there a middle way? Can we improve the current grading system and make it more learning-centric?



Mindfulness in Education

Ellen Langer explains beautifully why most of the human beings adopt mindlessness over time? She goes on to explain that we always take the safer route in life. We tend to learn things the way we are told. Take the example of school education. We learn things according to a set curriculum that a group of educators and administrators decided. Now think of a baby. A newborn baby who does not know how to stand, talk or even crawl on its own, learns to do so by observing at other people. A baby is not forced to follow a routine but is guided by the laws of nature. A baby falls, gets up and tries again until success. As babies, we are free to think, free to move, free to observe as well as free to take the risk. There is no feeling of fear in the mind of a baby. There is no past which guides life in the future. As the baby grows, there are increasing questions in the mind about the surroundings and life. There is curiosity. This is called Mindful Learning. Learning which involves being in present, engaging, observing and learning new things without the fear of past or the goal in the future.

But as one becomes a teenager, the rules and regulations in this world start to control the thinking. This is the beginning of the mindlessness. We start to follow a set routine of school learning, homework, exams etc. We forget to learn things innovatively and creatively. We do not question the set notions of the world. We start to lack self-esteem and self-satisfaction. It is important to live and focus on the things in the present. Future is unpredictable but that does not mean the easy safe way in life is the only way forward. The more one explores, the more learning and interesting it becomes.

Mindless learning in education is very common nowadays. Bookish knowledge is good but not everything. It is necessary to explore beyond the traditional classroom teaching. New teaching techniques which encourage discussions, activities, technology, different cultures, perspectives, and contexts are becoming the need of the hour. The students need to learn mindfully so that they incorporate skills like productivity, innovation, problem-solving and increased attention span. The teachers and the present education system which is generally slow in changing needs to catch up with the changing world for the betterment of human learning. What do you think are the different ways in which the teachers and educators can encourage mindful learning in the classroom?

Two Cultures of Education

The traditional classroom teaching approach is something that has been there for a long time. Listening to someone delivering a lecture and taking notes is the common way of education we have received. But it is changing slowly and if it is for the good or bad is a subjective question. We are shifting to the new active learning approach or better known as a learning-centered approach where various digital learning techniques in a learning environment are used. I personally feel both the techniques have merits.

Traditional lecturing approach is good for hands-on learning from the expert on that topic or subject. But taking notes by hands during lectures is not an effective way of learning. One tends to focus more on writing rather than learning and understanding new information. But then the new classroom teaching through presentations and fill in the blanks in the notes is a solution for that. If the teacher is able to deliver an interesting lecture without boring you, it is a good method of learning. But the truth is there is not enough practical, experiential or active learning. Classroom lecturing is a must for learning a basic set of information and worldly knowledge but other skills necessary to survive in this world like communication, teamwork, problem-solving, learning through competing etc. are missing.

Digital learning is a new culture in which technology is used as a medium for learning. Human beings learn the most when they are faced with a problem they have never seen before and are eager to solve. Computer games are one of the ways for effective problem-solving, teamwork and learning. Quest to Learn School  is an initiative in this direction. The curriculum involves game-based learning along with the traditional lecture-based learning. Developing individual games allow students to succeed by failing and trying on their own. It also allows them to think creatively and use their imagination  which we do not generally learn in a lecture-based approach

Students need an environment in which they can learn and experiment. A mix of traditional lecture learning, game-based active learning, communication through dialogues and discussion is the best way forward in my way. The world is changing and we need to accommodate to changes as well. Which approach do you like more? Feel free to share any experiences or thoughts.