Winning the grade game

Should assessment be used as a motivational tool?

The way our grading system is set up feels like we are telling students that if they learn (or memorize) enough material, they will be rewarded with an A.  That is a very strong motivational tool for students who place a lot of stock in grades, which is many of them.  Personally speaking, this system worked just fine for me and several of my peers.  We were good a playing the grade game and winning with good grades.  However, several of us who get good grades also enjoy the process of learning (see any grad student), and thus the motivation shifts somewhere along the way to the process of learning the material, not just winning the grade game.

However, this system clearly does not work for everyone, and even may have done those who got good grades a disservice along the way.  The grade game can be a stressful one, and that stress leads to even higher stakes put in the grades students get.  Rapid inflation of the A may lead to an effect described by Dan Pink where the person can no longer think critically and that seems like it may be an issue in education.

So… is assessment a good motivational tool in education?  I do not think there is an easy answer to this.  Perhaps there is a place for grades in a classroom, but used in such ways that don’t stress students out.  For example, less testing and more emphasis on projects and problem solving may be a good way to incorporate autonomy, purpose, and mastery into the assessment process.  In this way, assessment may be an appropriate tool.

Category(s): GEDI

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