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Archive for December, 2012

Psychological impact of grades on a student

“I remember the first time that a grading rubric was attached to a piece of my writing….Suddenly all the joy was taken away.  I was writing for a grade — I was no longer exploring for me.  I want to get that back.  Will I ever get that back?” Claire, a student (in Olson, 2006)

How true is this? Since decades, there has been an ongoing argument whether gradation system should be stopped or continued. Enough has been written and published about it.

The basic function of grades is to provide information to the parents, peers and others about how the student is performing and quantifying it. A very private thing done very publicly! The grading may happen once a quarter, month or even on a weekly basis. A Continuous and comprehensive evaluation is also gaining popularity to assess and teach the student on a daily continuous basis.

There is one school of thought who feels that gradation contributes in motivating the students for learning more and fosters competition which is necessary in a flat world today.

But the research conducted by some of the eminent psychologists Condry & Koslowski in 1977 and Deci & Ryan in 1987 have revealed that gradation system affects the motivation, diminishes the learning interest and reduces the mental ability to be creative and think of solutions to problems. It produces more robots, mechanical work force rather than thinking human beings.

In a bid to receive high grades, there are many ambitious students who choose tasks that are much below their capacity. This in turn reduces their chances of learning more and sharpening their skills.

When it comes to gaining knowledge, instead of how much you have learnt, it is important to know how better you have understood it so that when it comes to practical applications, the same knowledge can be used effectively. But gradation system creates a division between the higher grade students and lower grade students due to which unknowingly an attitude of superiority or inferiority gets developed in them.

The students with low grades feel that they are not on the right track and are losers whereas those who receive high grades feel that they are going to be super successful. Once such grade-oriented thinking starts seeping in the minds of the students, they feel motivated only to get high grades and not to learn and explore more or to develop something new from what they have learnt. That is the reason why, there are many ‘yes ministers’ around instead of innovators and creators.

 A student asked his Zen master how long it would take to reach enlightenment.  “Ten years,” the master said.  But, the student persisted, what if he studied very hard?  “Then 20 years,” the master responded.  Surprised, the student asked how long it would take if he worked very, very hard and became the most dedicated student in the Ashram.  “In that case, 30 years,” the master replied.  His explanation:  “If you have one eye on how close you are to achieving your goal that leaves only one eye for your task.”

So we could establish the following from research and from opinion of many educators, teachers and learners.

  • Grades are tools to quantify the result but not all results can be quantified, not all learning lead to assessment
  • Grades de-motivates students and creates a division
  • The students getting higher grades also become a lot lax and eventually learning doesn’t happen

We know most of the things above, so what can be done? The first question that comes to everyone’s minds is then how will the students get into colleges/universities.

Well, I have news for you. There are quite a few universities who accept students based on the detailed descriptions of the curriculum, recommendations, essays, and interviews which collectively offer a fuller picture of the applicant than does a grade-point average.

Although these points have been discussed since the past 2-3 decades, the grade system is here to stay, so the following are things I feel that can be done to ensure that the impact of grades do not scar the students.

  • Evaluation cannot and should not be restricted to learners alone, teachers and parents play an equal part in a child’s education and should be evaluated; hence both of them are equally responsible for the child’s failure or success
  • The students rather than getting a quantitative report card should get a qualitative feedback report card and a feedback for improvement on a weekly basis
  • The parents should be involved in those feedback sessions (as far as possible) and onus should be on the parents and teachers for the child’s success.

Having mentioned all this there is a silver lining. Several classes have been de-graded.

Jim Drier, an English teacher at Mundelein High School in Illinois never gives his students “a number or grade on anything they do.  The things that grades make kids do are heartbreaking for an educator”:  arguing with teachers, fighting with parents, cheating, and memorizing facts just for a test and then forgetting them.  “This is not why I became a teacher.” Without grades, “I think my relationships with students are better,” Drier says.  “Their writing improves more quickly and the things they learn stay with them longer.  I’ve had lots of kids tell me it’s changed their attitude about coming to school.” 

It’s a known fact that Albert Einstein was a very poor student and Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and several others left their college half-way. Thankfully, these people never let the grades make any impact on their minds. But it cannot be so with every student. There are devastating effects of grades on certain students, several students commit suicide since they cannot handle the pressure of the competition. We do not want our children to be measured quantitatively but qualitatively and completing the curriculum should not be the priority over making them understand and explore the concepts. It is high time to challenge the conventional system and act to improve it!

How to motivate a child?

Every child is special and are gifted with some unique qualities. Some of these qualities are evident; some come to the fore as the kids start growing into their teens. And while they grow, they carry some dreams inside them. These dreams and desires are usually influenced by the surroundings. It can be a television show of Ben 10 or a movie of Spiderman, or a sportsperson like Kobe Bryant and sometimes even their parents or grandparents. But as you see there are very few instances when such dreams see the light of the day. And the reason lies in the way these dreams are shaped, the way the positive energy and thoughts a child carries in his heart are shaped.

Be it a game of tennis or a singing competition, even though your child is good, he may have to face rejection and failure. This is the time when parents have to motivate the child so that he takes the failure part optimistically and gears up for the challenges. Inculcating such positive vibes in a kid can be a tough job as many times children are quite unrelenting and do not give up their perceptions easily. At such times, motivational stories, rewards and encouragement can be very helpful.

I remember how my parents encouraged me to start participating in competitions when I was a kid. Being a shy person, I never used to participate in any competitions in the school or in any other social functions although I was quite good at writing essays and poems. During those days my father introduced me to the lives of legendary persons through books. These books unfurled before me the great efforts these heroes had taken to achieve success and how they went on to overcome their shortcomings and failures and gain huge success in the end.

When I learnt that America’s most famous President, Abraham Lincoln had lost elections eight times, before finally winning Presidential elections and that Michael Jordan was not even selected for his school basketball team, I realized that failures and criticism are not the stumbling blocks, rather they are the lessons that we as children learn so that we can face the next challenge or competition by bringing more improvement in ourselves. What would have happened if Beethoven, the greatest composer of all times would have stopped making compositions when his teacher said that he was a bad composer? The world would have been deprived of such a melodious treasure.

These legendary stories and their motivation have stayed with me till today. Children should be motivated in such a way that the efforts are long lasting and stays with them even when you are not there with them.

Influence of an elder on a child’s growth

We discussed a lot about how teachers and tutors influence a student’s growth and studying behavior in an earlier post; the parents play an equal role.

Children need to be taught with examples, with patience and a lot of compassion to ensure their character molds in the best possible way for the society.

When George Washington was a young kid about 6 years old he was given a hatchet, he was chopping everything that came along the way. He was playing around and he chopped his father’s favorite English cherry tree, his father was furious and came asking who did it. Young George said “I cannot tell a lie, father, you know I cannot tell a lie! I did cut it with my little hatchet.” The anger died out of his father’s face, and taking the boy tenderly in his arms, he said: “My son, that you should not be afraid to tell the truth is more to me than a thousand trees!”

If George’s father would have scolded him that day, George would never have had courage to tell the truth in the future, but he always did and became the great President – always honest.

His father made a very important contribution early on. Ensuring George was not afraid of telling the truth and facing the consequences.

Mahatma Gandhi once stole a piece of gold from his brother at the age of fifteen, the deed lay so heavy on his mind that he decided to admit it. He wrote the story of what he had done and gave it to his father. He did not only confess his guilt but asked “adequate” punishment for it. His father read the letter with tears -which Gandhi said ‘cleansed his heart and washed his sin away’. In his autobiography Gandhi wrote about that day,

”This sort of sublime forgiveness was not natural to my father. I had thought that he would be angry and say harsh words. But he was so wonderfully peaceful, and this was due to my clean confession. A clean confession, combined with a promise never to commit the sin again, when offered before one who has the right to receive it, is the purest type of repentance. I know that my confession made my father feel absolutely safe about me, and increased his affection for me beyond measure.” 

His father influenced him so deeply at such an early age that he eventually led the non-violence movement to free India from British rule.

There are umpteen numbers of such cases when children are influenced by their parents at an early age and eventually that become their guiding light throughout their life. A lot of other scenarios also exist when the children are not motivated or treated badly and which leads them to become criminals or anti-social people.

I was also influenced a lot by my parents and elder sister. They were always there to help me and guide me in the right direction. Without them I would not be in this position writing to you folks.

Good examples set by elders through their behavior influence a kid in a real positive way. As an old saying goes, “Mother is the first institution that a child gets nourished through.” It is upto the parents/elders to ensure we provide the best upbringing in terms of correct lessons, motivation, encouragement and character we want to instill in our kids.