Monday, November 30, 2009

Learning or Points? What's important?

As I continue my research and implementation into a more standards based grading style, I have come to some interesting findings.  Right before Thanksgiving break, I gave my students a test.  An alarming number of students didn't do well on the assessment.  I spent some time over break reflecting about what steps to go to next.  I decided to spend a couple of days re-teaching the content, utilizing the test as a guide for what mistakes the students needed to learn. 

I also decided to try something new with my homework.  Usually, I give students assignments and provide the answer key.  I have students turn in the completed assignments making sure they are all correct with work.  The students get 10 points for each assignment.  They need to turn in the assignments by the day of the test.  For these particular assignments to review for the upcoming test, I am not collecting the assignments.  The whole purpose of our time is to learn the content and develop a greater understanding.

Towards the end of our class period today, I gave my students approximately 15-20 minutes to work collaboratively on the assignment.  My students shut down with about 10 minutes left.  Many closed up their books and started talking about non math stuff.  I didn't raise my voice or even try to draw them back to learning. I wanted to observe them and gather more information about how students would react to the lack of points on the assignments.

Initially, I was pretty upset about my students lack of work ethic.  I thought they were lazy and didn't appreciate the second chance they were given for the poor results on the test.  I stewed on that thought for a while, but then had a great conversation with another visionary educator in my building.  I've visited with this person numerous times about my different methods I want to move toward in my classroom.  Our conversation focused on the transition from students looking for the grade rather then looking at the learning.  By not assigning points for this assignment, I made the impression that this assignment was not important.  I had tried to relay the importance of just learning for the sake of learning and the goal of doing well on the assessment, but my students always see assignments as a way to get more points instead of learning.

As I move closer to more of a standard based grading system, I'll need to work with students on the motivation for learning and working toward learning.  I don't have the answer now, but as I continue along the path I must work with students to see the reason for work and learning.

So now, tomorrow I will try again to connect work with learning rather than just points.  Wish me luck!


  1. Great points. As educators, how do we raise intrinsic motivation in our students? Is it possible to do so? I would say yes, but students have to have success and a good understanding of the content.

  2. Good luck! This is a difficult transition to make. I think it has been easier for me this year because I begain the year with homework being "worth" just 2 points. I the future, to not have it worth anything and just rely on their assessment score (with retakes being an option). It's hard for kids to wrap their head around when they're used to relying on a homework grade and stinking it up on the test.

  3. This is great! Our students can often be nearsighted, that is they only see the value of homework or the task at hand as having value in the immediate future (10 points) rather than the learning that's ahead of them (the test, next class, a future job or higher education). The more we can shape our classrooms to help them see farther ahead, just as you are doing, the better able they will be to value learning rather than points. Keep us posted on your progress!