Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

"Extra" Credit

by AJ

Psychology 101-- positive reinforcement is more effective than punishment. Its something every psychologist and social worker knows... its something that good dog trainers know. And yet, in education, there persists a control, test, & punish mentality.

Here's how it works: "Attendance and participation are worth 100 points. For every class you miss, I will subtract 3 points. You will be responsible for all the vocabulary and grammar in Chapters 1-5. This information will be on the exam... if you dont memorize it, you will get a bad grade. If you fail to turn in a required assignment, you will get an F. If you do badly on an assignment, you will get an F." Etc, etc., etc.

Sound familiar? Its the bullshit approach Ive used (more or less) for all of my classes this semester. But I wont be using it next semester.

The evaluation system in most traditional schools is BROKEN. Teachers and schools are obsessed with exams and "end results". They think giving an identical exam to all students.. and then basing their grades on the scores.. is "fair and effective". Fair? What happens with the exams? The ones who start the class with better English ability do better on the exams... the ones who start the class with a low level of acquisition do worse on the exam. Just what are we measuring? Its certainly not their effort, performance, or amount of learning in the class.

This whole letter-grade system is ass-backwards and out of control. Schools, teachers, and students view the grade as the goal and the process as secondary.. when it should, obviously, be the reverse situation.

If we are going to use grades (unfortunately a requirement at my current job) we should at least USE them for some purpose other than demotivating all but the highest level students.

How? Use them to encourage the language acquistion process... use them to encourage and promote good learning strategies.

Thus, for me, no more exams... (as some classes are required to take exams by the administration, Ill provide alternate activies to the exams then choose the higher of the two grades for the "midterm" and "final" scores).

And no more punishment systems. Im going to structure my grading system on an incentive/reward basis. Ive already started this. With my freshmen classes, I offer one point of "extra credit" for every article they copy, read, define the unknown vocab, and turn in to me.

The result-- my students are reading articles like crazy... EXACTLY the sort of learning strategy I want to encourage. Some are now bringing me two, three, or four articles after each class!

This works and it works very well. Traditionalist will cry "but you make it too easy for them to get an "A". To which I say, "So what". They are engaging in exactly the sort of language acquisition strategy I want to encourage. To my mind, any student who regularly reads English language newspaper articles outside of class SHOULD get an "A"... regardless of their exam score.

I havent worked out the details yet, but I plan to re-design most or all of my "game rules" (grading scheme) around these sorts of incentives.