Are effort grades harming our children?

Gill Robin's book, "Praise, Motivation and the Child," suggests there are two models of teaching. 

Behaviourism vs Constructivism

Robin's argues that Behaviourism creates extrinsic motivators, while constructivism leads to intrinsic motivators. 

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivators

Whilst I don't believe it is quite as simple as that, nor do I believe the two are mutually exclusive, it does beg the question; what type of students would we rather develop - those who have an intrinsic drive to learn or those who do it for the reward or worse, to avoid a punishment?

With Carole Dweck's Growth Mindset taking schools by storm, many schools have adopted effort grades in attempt to recognise and reward her work. 

Yet studies such as, Cognitive Evaluation Theory, have shown that such an approach could diminish intrinsic motivation; especially if the children believes the only to work harder is for a reward. 

For example, a child receives a sticker for painting. The child believes the reason they are painting is to get a sticker. This interpretation could diminish the child's intrinsic motivation, as the only reason they are painting to receive the reward. 

There is of course, another possibility that the child believes the reason for receiving the sticker was because they are improving at painting. This would produce positive results such as, feelings of competence and pride. 

It is the interpretation from the student that is key. What do they believe?

Edward Deci and Richard Ryan's work on Cognitive Evaluation and Self - Determination Theory led to them identifying 4 learning behaviours. 

Self Determination Theory

Alfie Kohn in "Punished by Rewards," is completely against grading effort. He states, 

"Grades by their very nature make students less inclined to challenge themselves...The fatal paradox though, is that while coercion can sometimes elicit resentful obedience, it can never create desire."

Kohn's concern is that low grade for effort is more likely to read as, "You're a failure at even trying." On the other hand, high grade efforts combined with a low grade for achievement says, "You're just too stupid to succeed." 

Deci and Ryan's suggested solution was to focus on the three primary factors that encourage motivation: 

  1. Autonomy 
  2. Competence
  3. Relatedness

Kohn's three points to motivate students were similar:

  1. Pupil Autonomy
  2. Learning Mastery
  3. The acknowledgement of curiosity 

What do you think - are effort grades the best thing since sliced bread or are they detrimental to students' motivation? 

Join the conversation tweet me @CarrieStarbuck

How can we stop students procrastinating and start working?

Procrastination. We have all been culprits of this from time to time. I have certainly been guilty of putting off cleaning out the loft, until suddenly it became the most important job in the world when I had to write an important bid with a tight deadline!

I joke as if procrastination is trivial, but when a student is perpetually procrastinating to the point of self – sabotage it is a serious matter. So why do they/we do it? 

Dr Joseph Ferrari identifies three basic types of procrastinators:

  1. Thrill seekers – those who wait to the last minute for the euphoric rush.
  2. Avoiders – those who may be avoiding the fear of failure, or even the fear of success. In either case, they are concerned more about what others think of them and would rather have people think they lack effort than ability.
  3. Decisional procrastinators- those who simply cannot make a decision! 

This can be born out of various reasons from die - hard family habits to an act of rebellion. Nevertheless, all are avoiding an act that may being about some emotional discomfort about making meaningful changes to our lives. 

For me, it was the potential of life - altering funding resulting in success or failure. For our students, it is the potential to rise or fall in their exams and what this could potentially mean for their future. 

By electing to put off today what can be done tomorrow we are effectively selling ourselves short. How can we as teachers, help students to stop procrastinating and start working? 

Here are our 6 strategies to help end procrastination and motivate students to get cracking!

1. Start With The End Point

A great goal - setting exercise for students is to draw an archery target board. In the bull's eye students write their ultimate goal and a deadline. For example, in 2022 I want to be a qualified hairdresser.  In the outer rings, students write the steps that will help them reach their end point.

This will help them see the bigger picture of schools and exams whilst breaking down their dream into a tangible target. 

2. Challenge Unhelpful Assumptions

When procrastinating we justify our behavior to make ourselves feel better. For example…

Challenging unhelpful assumptions table

The best way to challenge these unhelpful conclusions is to see if they are really valid. Are they based on evidence or fact, or are they assumptions?

Work students through their assumptions and encourage them to create new conclusions like this one… 

Source Centre of Clinical Interventions (CCI) 

Source Centre of Clinical Interventions (CCI) 

3. Swap Critical Self - Talk with Motivational Self - Talk

The cycle of procrastination can be a toxic, vicious cycle. We lie to ourselves to make us feel better, and then when we become overwhelmed with stress we beat ourselves up for wasting time.  Work with students to find their common self – criticisms and how they can change this into something positive, kind and motivational. Here’s an example;

Critical vs Motivational Self Talk

Notice how the motivational talk separates behavior of procrastinating from their personal qualities. It also focuses on what can be achieved going forward, rather than dwelling on what hasn’t been done. 

4.  Prioritise

Writing a ‘to do’ list is hugely therapeutic but the next step many miss is prioritizing each goal, from 1 – 10 from what is most urgent and important. This means students start on what is critical, rather than what they feel like doing instead! 

5. Build Accountability

Partner with colleagues, parents and carers to create a‘Personal Board of Advisors’ to keep students focused and on track. This shouldn’t be a nag feast (remember procrastination can be an act of rebellion) but a supportive board that can listen, support, and encourage when the going gets tough. 

6. Reward Progress

In change psychology rewarding short – term wins are paramount to changing patterns and behaviours. If students see progress quickly then they will be motivated to continue even more vigorously than before! Set up a reward system to celebrate the small successes. This can be as simple as saying, “I’m proud of you,” to lunch with the Headteacher as recognition, or a school outing. 

Changing behaviour and habits will take time, practice, persistence and patience. Expect good days, bad days and some setbacks but don’t stop trying it will be worth it on result day!

To give students a massive motivational push find out more about our workshops here.