Tag Archives: Common Core


21 Jul

As an English teacher, basketball coach, and golf coach, I spend a good deal of time thinking and learning about motivation. What will get my kids to try their best, work hard, and care about individual growth as well as the improvement of the group. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink offers a great look into how motivation has changed from a rewards-based system to a need for intrinsic motivation.

I like to take notes of page numbers and quotes that stand out to me, and I found more than usual to take note of while reading this one. Here’s a little glimpse into my summer front-porch reading.

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The basic idea is that rewarding someone for doing an activity, that activity becomes work. We “lose intrinsic interest for the activity” (8). In order to motivate people in creative and intellectual tasks, they need to be engaged and motivated from within. The rewards/punishment system of motivation “rests on the belief that work is not inherently enjoyable – which is precisely why we must coax people with external rewards and threaten them with outside punishment” (30). I picture the lack of joy and engagement on some students’ faces, and this is exactly why.

So what do we need to do instead?

“Humans have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when this drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives” (73). Think about how so many classrooms and schools are run with a philosophy exactly opposite of this. We limit autonomy, we reward students with grades and more, and we often fear connectivity. It is no wonder we see students bored in class and just doing enough to get by. That is what our system of rewards teaches them to do! We have narrowed down our standards to encourage mastery, but “only engagement can produce mastery” (111). It is time to reengage our students in meaningful work that helps them connect to the world in their own way.

“First, consider nontangible rewards. Praise and positive feedback are much less corrosive than cash and trophies.” This will help to increase intrinsic motivation. “Second, provide useful information” (67). Give positive comments and provide specific feedback to our students.

And now for the hardest hitter of all. “We’re bribing students into compliance instead of challenging them into engagement” (174). Let that sink in a second. Instead of offering students appropriate challenges that stretch an individual’s thinking, we are rewarding students for doing just enough.

We need to help our students to answer the questions that they all want to know: “Why am I learning this? How is it relevant to the world I live in now?” (179).

Helping my students reach an authentic audience with their writing is one way that I am making a change. Writing pieces are not just for me, but for the world. Videos are to be published after a script is crafted. Presentations are to be presented to an audience, and recorded to be shared to the world. That is where we see kids make connections and find passions. Where kids see a need in the world and do something to fill that void.

That is motivation.

A typical Easter conversation about grading

25 Apr

Over the Easter break I ended up in an interesting conversation with some family members. My brother-in-law (Bil) is a recent college graduate currently looking for a social studies teaching position, his girlfriend (Gal) is a college student majoring in business, and my father-in-law (Fil) is a school board member. Quite the variety of opinions!

The connection here is education, and the topic of grading and late work came up. These conversations can be a lot of fun because it is important to see different perspectives and philosophies.

I am a firm believer that the most important thing is that the student does the work and learns what is necessary. I do not knock off points for late work, and if a student wants to redo something and improve their grade, more power to them! I do give due dates for assignments, but if a student needs more time to finish there is no penalty.

Bil’s questions were along the lines of responsibility and expectations for students. He had experience teaching in a high school where students could wait to turn their assignments in at the end of a quarter, and some took advantage of that. That left the teacher in the position of grading a whole bunch of work to meet his own deadline. The argument was that if we do not have firm deadlines with penalties, we are not preparing our students for their future.

Gal’s point of view was different. She was thinking of this discussion from the student’s perspective, and a good student at that. She is upset when a fellow student, or competitor as she sees them, turns in an assignment late and still receives full credit. It isn’t fair that she has to work as hard as she does while other students have a free pass to slack off and get it done later.

We didn’t hear a whole lot from Fil besides encouraging this friendly debate.

To be honest, I hadn’t thought deeply about the point of view of a student as a competitor for college scholarships, awards, and all of the things that go along with grades. But that is where the whole conversation led me in my thinking: grades. What are they used for? Why do we have them? And what is the most important thing about them?

In the simplest sense, grades should be a report of what a student has learned and can do. Unfortunately we turn them into so much more. They have become all-encompassing measures of a student from their behavior, responsibility, and intelligence.

If we deduct points for each late day, or knock off a certain random percentage, what are we saying about the value of that assignment? Even worse, if we do not allow the student to receive credit for that assignment, are we saying that that learning was only valuable if it was done on this certain specific day? A student who proves he has learned something should get credit for that accomplishment. Just like when you pass your driver’s test, you can drive, whether it took you one try or ten.

But how do we account for the responsibility, especially in our competitive society that demands we have valedictorians and scholarship winners? Should this be left for our SAT or ACT tests to determine?

If we continue to grade the same way that we always have, it is safe to say that we will continue to have these discussions. When we start to assess student learning as an accurate measure against the standards, we are less likely to have to worry about everything that goes into a number or letter assigned by the teacher. Standards-based grading allows teachers to avoid all of the extra stuff that gets factored into a grade and focus only on whether or not a student has mastered a given standard. And if mastery of the standards becomes the focus, the assessments will change as well.

Will this help students learn responsibility? If we show the students the goal and allow them to prove that they have mastered it, they will be more likely to want to display that mastery and accomplish the goal. My hope is that they do learn persistence when facing a challenging task and a value of the work that we do in class.

Bil is going to ask me if I think this will work for every student. Probably not, but that is the case with most things. The next step is student engagement and authenticity, but that is a whole new blog post!

iPads are the answer, even if they are missing a keyboard

6 Mar

Students writing as they read, jotting down notes on the text, highlighting, and bookmarking. Most teachers would respond with, “Don’t write in the book!” But if we are going to do what we need to do to meet the Common Core, we MUST be writing in the book. Or the iPad more specifically.

Personally, I believe iPads are the way of the future in English education. More and more I see the importance of reading relevant and current nonfiction and being able to annotate and interact with the text, and it seems like the iPad is going to be the best way to do this.

Apple has sold 170 million iPads and counting. The most innovative computer company in the world doesn’t stop there. Apple’s stranglehold on teens’ music/internet/social networking devices is an important focus. If schools want to connect to our students through technology, we need to meet them where they are. Knowledge and information is at the fingertips of our students at all times. iPads are simply the best option to read, annotate, search the web, and view content easily.

Netbooks. The current answer to our technology issue. Students need a way to surf the web, research, and word process in a convenient way. Convenient being a debatable term. Right now it is another thing to lug around school on top of textbooks, notebooks, and the ever-important planner. These limited computers are not the answer to what we need in an English classroom.

Now the iPad isn’t perfect, the biggest complaint about iPads being that they don’t have traditional keyboards. The keyboard is an issue for the teachers, not the students. Most of my kids will choose to type a blog post on their iPod instead of using their netbook.  And if you need more proof, here are some real-world examples where students said, “No thanks,” to keyboards.

“Students today depend upon paper too much. They don’t know how to write on a slate without getting chalk dust all over themselves. They can’t clean a slate properly. What will they do when they run out of paper?” Principals Association, 1815

Although this quote might be slightly embellished, it is partly based on reality. Physical keyboards, like chalkboards, are moving towards the past. As much as teachers feel the need to keep them alive, they are becoming impractical. Our students just don’t like them. Teachers should help students get the chalk dust off their hands if they choose. Keyboards? Make them available, but not required.