Educators know that developing a strong level of intrinsic motivation at an early age is a good predictor of lifelong learning, and basing self-worth on external sources has been correlated with added student stress and academic failures.
So where does assigning grades fit into a plan for successful teaching?
How We Say It
Encouraging intrinsic motivation can begin with a simple shift in the language we use during instruction: “This is what you will learn” instead of “This is what you need to do”, is a great way to start.
Effort vs Outcome
Likewise, grades can be used to motivate and encourage students’ efforts rather than to simply assign numerical evaluations to final products. Consider a change from outcome-based grading to grading based on effort and completion of the assignment.
For example, a student who uses his time well and works hard may deserve an ‘A’ even if his final product fails to meet all the markers for the assignment. A teacher may want to take into consideration the amount of progress a student has made or the degree to which the student applied the suggestions made during instruction when assigning a grade.
Providing focused, descriptive, useful feedback to students will encourage them to improve upon what they have completed and produce better work in the future. Graded written compositions should be accompanied by clear explanations that include the following:
- expectation(s) of the assignment – you may choose just a few points to address or create a complete grading rubric for a paragraph or essay
- the degree to which those expectations(s) were or were not met
- recommendations for the student for how he/she might improve the work (this may be in the form of previous, regular communications between the teacher and student or provided for each individual piece)
Employing these grading strategies has been shown to build confidence in students, turning them into what I call Learning Risk-Takers. When a child is no longer afraid of failure, he is free to reach deep within himself and explore his strengths and talents.