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25 June 2015

Learn Like A Pirate: Improvement versus Grades

How many times have you heard that in your classroom? Or my favorite from personal experience...

What do I get if I get a good grade?

Hey there, kiddo. How 'bout a quality education? Maybe a good future? How about just the satisfaction of knowing you've grown academically?

But I know what he's really talking about. Motivational collateral. This kid is fishing for a prize. He wants to see if his good grade will get him anything. He's probably trying to decide if the prize is even worth getting a good grade for. Ugh!

And you know the worst part? I actually created this monster. 

How many times have I rewarded excellent performance with prizes? Make a 100-pick a prize from the treasure chest! You made an A???? Here's a pencil!!! Everyone who was proficient or advanced gets a sticker for their sticker charts!!! Dum-dums for everyone!!!!

Sheesh. I'm starting to realize that I was the dum-dum. Or basically, what I was doing was really dumb-dumb.

I knew Chapter Four would be a good read for the simple reason that I am quite aware that I overemphasize grades. It's hard not to when you've worked in a pay-for-performance district. My specific pay depended on proficiency-not academic growth. I did whatever it took to motivate them to do their best (on the test). 

It hurts me to say that last part.

And I didn't have to read too far before I knew everything I'd been doing was wrong. Solarz wrote, "Unfortunately, when grades, rewards, or punishments are a child's only motivation for doing well in school, he or she will find ways to work the system and miss the educational value of the lesson." 

So what do I do? Let me share a few of Solarz's suggestions that I felt could be easily integrated into my classroom.

Of course this chapter discusses topics well beyond this, like e-portfolios and improving classroom behavior, but this is what really resonated with me this week as I begin to plan for the new school year. Don't forget to check out the other book study blogs below to get their take on this chapter. 

See you next week!


  1. I love your honesty Lori! I've been there too! It's only natural to want to reward excellence! I've learned how to give my students things (because it feels good to give gifts) without tying it into achievement. I give my students gifts sporadically and call them "Thank you's" for their hard work! Everyone gets them, because everyone is trying hard (or I haven't been doing my job). It's never looked at as a reward or award, and it's not tied to perfection or high achievement. I teach them about the 5 Love Languages and tell them that "Gift Giving" is often a kid's favorite love language, so I want to speak that language occasionally! Keep giving your kiddos pencils and other gifts, but give them to everyone and say, "I'm only giving these to you because I want to say thanks for all your hard work!" They'll love it & they will continue to work hard for intrinsic reasons, rather than for the reward!