Monday, April 18, 2011

Motivations in School

An article posted on Psychology Today caught my attention. In Barry Swartz’s “Do Grades As Incentives Work?” the author wonders if grades make students merely work harder. In other words, he asked is the pressure to complete all assignments to get an ‘A’ teaching us anything besides how to get work done. Are we learning the material? Or are we regurgitating what teachers say in order to get a high GPA?

Why do we study hard? For many it’s to get a good grade. But shouldn’t it be for the love of learning?

In my humble opinion I believe that students, by the time they have reached college for sure, but most likely by junior high or high school, have learned that to get the grade we must recite exactly what the teacher says. Most people are afraid to challenge a teacher’s ideas in fear that they will be punished with a lower grade. So, we reread our notes right before a test and recite word for word what teachers want to hear. And as soon as we walk out of the classroom the valuable information slips away.

We also must think about the students. There are the lucky few who barely have to open a book, can skip class, and still get an “easy A” without really trying. Can people honestly say these kids have learned anything that semester? It may be more realistic to say these particular students are able to use their skills in certain techniques such as writing and test taking which allows them to slide on by without effort. They have achieved the desired grade, but learned nothing.

On the other side we see students who struggle to get good grades and really want to learn but aren’t able to do so. Schwartz says in his article “the students in the bottom half of the class--students whose learning we want to encourage--know that the odds of high grades and high rankings are stacked against them. If we corrupt students' souls by convincing them that the main motive for learning are high grades and honors, we end up de-motivating, and de-moralizing, those students who have little chance for the top rankings.” Over time they begin to give up and stop trying to learn.

So it looks to me like the grading system is flawed. Instead of focusing on learning valuable information we can use in the future, we are instead using any means possible to get a good grade, or we simply stop caring. Either way this isn’t helping students prepare for their future.

But what can be done? It isn’t likely that any time soon schools will even consider getting rid of the grading system, so how can teachers encourage students to work hard and actually learn at the same time? That is a question that isn’t easy to answer. Thankfully everyone goes through school and therefore has valuable information and feelings in regards to this topic. Maybe one of us, the frustrated students who are ready for something better, who will eventually discover a way to improve our school systems.

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