“grades become a reward for compliance—but don’t have much to do with learning. Meanwhile, students whose grades don’t measure up often see themselves as failures and give up trying to learn.”
― Daniel H. Pink,
“The practice of giving an A transports your relationships from the world of measurement into the universe of possibility… This A is not an expectation to live up to, but a possibility to live into.”
― Benjamin Zander, The Art of Possibility
These two books, Drive and The Art of Possibility, have heavily influenced my present proposal. And though they were revelatory on many levels, my greatest revelation came in the form of a big ol’ bite of humble pie: I don’t really matter when it comes to student motivation. Truly. I am not fishing for compliments here. While I believe I can and do matter on some levels, when it comes to true motivation, I am merely on the periphery; I am not at the center. And I wasted too many years thinking I was. This realization was both humbling and liberating, and while I have known it for some time and made efforts to change how and why kids are motivated in 219, it is only now that I have finally mustered the courage to move forth and found the wisdom to get over myself.
Anticipated Objection #2: If you give all an “A,” they won’t do anything. And if they don’t do anything, they won’t learn.
Reasoned Response #2: Carrots only invite compliance. Choice creates commitment, and learning requires commitment.
- Daniel Pink, author of Drive, suggests that there three elements to true motivation–autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Education is opportunity, an opportunity to better and build oneself. Sadly, I feel that kids see education as something we do to them rather than for them. That has to change. I simply provide a path for possibility. They have to take the steps, and not because I am dangling the grade carrot in front of them. They have to do it for themselves. My approach will give kids control and choice–autonomy.
- Own it. Autonomy implies ownership. I believe kids have to own their education, and parents, too, must own their kids’ education. In the end that is what it is: their education. Ultimately, what they get out of it or not, will only benefit or hurt them. Again, the path is there, and I will lead and support them along the way, but I will not, cannot make them walk. That first step is a major commitment on their part, the first sign of taking responsibility, taking ownership. I will have given and they will have eaten the carrot (the grade) on day one. My hope is that they find the carrot doesn’t satisfy their hunger for long and that they venture out onto the path in search more satisfying morsels. I want hungry kids in room 219.
- My role. Some might perceive that my giving it all away on the first day is my taking the easy route. Anything but. I will now have 180 days without that which I have had to string kids along for 20 years–grades. What am I going to do? And while I have some genuine wonder and worry in this regard, I have thought deeply about my new role. Earlier I suggested that I could not really motivate kids to learn. But I’d like to think that I can inspire them and challenge them to make the most of their opportunity with me, but they have to join me on that path. And that path has to be mapped out in such a way that it remains both interesting and relevant to keep us moving along. Think about the pressure that now puts on me. The kids are no longer going to do the work for the points. They are only going to do it if it is meaningful and relevant to their journey. This is going to be the hardest work of my professional life. But I believe it will be my best work.
- My commitment. Though I cannot predict how far each kid will make it on our 180 day journey, I will feel a failure if I do not help each kid reach his or her destination on the path of possibility. I am committed to each kid in a way I have never been before. My hope is that my commitment will somehow compel them to be more committed to their own journey, their own “possibility to live into.” I will do this for them.
Happy Friday, all. More to come. Thank you for helping me work through this. Have a great weekend.