Here are a few examples of students comments:
"I have to get the assignment done. I need the marks so I pass the term!"
"I'm already getting an ok mark in that class. I need to spend time studying for the test in the (other) class so I can raise my mark for the report card."
"It's marks cut-off time. I have to finish it before the cut-off otherwise it'll be too late and won't be counted towards my report card mark."
"Whatever...I totally don't know what I'm doing in that class. I'm failing anyways. What's the point in doing the assignment?"
"Seriously, why does every teacher have to give us a test right before marks cut-off? Couldn't some of them wait until next week? I need to keep my grades up and this is stressing me out!"
When I hear comments such as these, a number of things come to mind about these kids.
Their motivation to do the work and study for tests is marks and grades.
Not even the threat of a low mark/grade is enough to motivate some students.
Our obsession with marks and inflexibility about due dates is causing stress for some students.
Sadly, these kids seem more interested and concerned about earning marks than learning.
Is their focus on marks something they have arrived at independently or have we, as educators placed such a high value on marks that we have coached them into this thinking this way?
I think back to the beginning of my career, full of energy but very inexperienced. I remember wanting my students to believe that every class period is important. So, I attached marks to almost everything my students did. This would teach them to come to class and hand in all their work...so I thought! By the end of a term/year my marks book was bursting with entries. Of course, I figured the mark I would assign each student would have to be valid. I'd have so many entries as evidence to back it up.
But what I started to notice is that my students were asking lots of questions about their marks, how to gain more and how much an assignment/test would be worth. Fewer and fewer of my students' questions related to their learning. Rather than motivating my struggling learners, many were getting overwhelmed and turned off by a lack of success. They were disengaging, withdrawing and some were avoiding class. The impact on the higher achieving students was no better. They were becoming so consumed with point gathering that they were afraid to make mistakes and they were no longer asking deep questions. The constant pressure of meeting deadlines and having their work judged was contributing to leading to anxiety and in some cases caused them to cheat!
As I look back, I realize I was really missing the point.
I should have placed much greater emphasis on formative assessment.
I should have provided greater opportunity for students to make mistakes without punishing them in the gradebook.
I should have provided much more descriptive feedback that would point out to students what and how to improve.
So now think about the students in your class..."Is their focus on earning or learning?"