10
$\begingroup$
  • How important are rewards - read marks/grades - for students in education?
  • Can the thirst for grades/marks be replaced by a desire for learning?

Context

Problems are at the heart of mathematics making it the most easiest subject to grade and judge students. Problems are very well defined, objective chunks that have equally well structured solutions (at least at high school level). I wonder what runs through the minds of students as they solve problems in exams. In the intense atmosphere of the examination hall, would they be able to enjoy a good problem?

Right from primary schools, all the way up to IMO, there is intense competition to perform at the highest level. Students and teams are constantly being judged. X scored 100%/A+ and is therefore better than Y. X derives pleasure from being at the top and this is a clear motivating factor for him/her to remain consistent. Most of the students I see try to optimize for grades and not learning.

Edit :

The following questions need not be addressed. As rightly pointed out in the comments, I think it makes better sense to put them in a separate question. But I am still having them here for later reference.

  • Are there any alternatives to the grading system?
  • Is it sensible to completely do away with the grading system (I know this doesn't make a lot of sense, but still...)?
$\endgroup$
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I second @BenjaminDickman 's comment. It's a great issue to discuss generally, but it will be easier to come up with an "answer" if it's more narrow. Perhaps ask just one aspect and then cover another one with a new question later on. $\endgroup$ – DavidButlerUofA Jun 7 '15 at 6:17
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ How specific is this to mathematics, apart from the mention of the IMO? $\endgroup$ – J W Jun 7 '15 at 7:56
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @JW, it is a bit specific to mathematics insofar as the notion of "contest" does not exist universally... (ignoring the other explicit and implicit premises in the question). $\endgroup$ – paul garrett Jun 7 '15 at 15:34
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, there are other ways. They are not going to be easy to get a school district on board because it won't translate to nice, tidy packages for a college to look over. Assuming the use of common standards, we could simply make a binary system where we mark students "proficient" or "not proficient" as they complete concepts and can prove they have done so. They finish high school as soon as they complete every concept (however much time that takes). At the end of their high school career, they will have a portfolio of useful things (hopefully) instead of a grade/class rank. $\endgroup$ – Joey Kramer Jun 7 '15 at 15:51
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Although many aspects of the question-group are very interesting, and important, there are too many things tangled up together, not to mention several tacit assumptions that two things are the same, when perhaps they are antithetical. At least being clearer about goals, means, limitations, etc. would help allow some cogent responses. $\endgroup$ – paul garrett Jun 7 '15 at 22:01
4
$\begingroup$

In lieu of other responses:

"How important are rewards in education?"

Ok, rewards to who(m)?!? Parents, or the kids? A huge difference. And, also, significantly, what kind of rewards? Macho-points? Scholar-points? Good-citizen-points? Hm, we don't have "contests" for scholars or good citizens...

"Right from primary schools, all the way up to IMO, there is intense competition."

The human primates "understand" this. Especially males, etc. So, yes, on one hand, playing into this will riff on kids' impulses... on another hand, (I claim) this is almost entirely unrelated to mathematics (the thing-itself) and understanding it (which perhaps is related to education...)

So I do truly think that a great part of the tension/problem is the confounding of human-beings'-tendencies with the demands of understanding the subject.

"Students and teams are constantly being judged."

If you'll pardon me... "Whoa, ..." Teams? Judged? Sure, in contest scenarios, but ...

"... X scored 100%/A+ and is therefore better than Y. X derives pleasure from being at the top and this is a clear motivating factor for him to remain consistent."

If you'll pardon me, I think this is exactly an indicator of the thin-ness of the motivation toward scholarship and broader-benefit of mathematics. Doing sums faster is a very minor virtue. "Beating other people" accomplishes nothing at all.

"Are there any alternatives to the grading system? Is it sensible to completely do away with the grading system (I know this doesn't make a lot of sense, but still...)?"

Of course there are alternatives, but the question is about viability. In the U.S., and with variations in the EU, and in many other places, bureaucratic judgementalism gives huge credence to "objective" accomplishment (ooh, think "impact factor" for even grown-ups...) so we (humans...) are somewhat doomed to playing against this.

"Most of the students I see try to optimize for grades and not learning. Should the thirst for grades/marks be replaced by a desire for learning?"

Here is an even more over-layered presumptive question... "Should" desire for good grades "be replaced by" ... "desire for learning". Ahem. If we could mandate that... um, sure. But a kid (and every organism) is fundamentally rational, given the information that it has. The awkward truth about "education" is that kids are going through the obvious stunningly confusing/distracting issues about puberty, so will allocate only a tiny fraction of their attention to anything else. And, lest we be too disparaging of such a viewpoint, we should not that we'd not be here if our ancestors hadn't had a suffient impulse on a regular basis over the various millenia... (whew!)

Still, apart from all that sociological babble, ... I think that a useful answer in any particular person's context depends so hugely on that context that I have no answer...

(All this was just to explain the difficulty of an answer... lucky I don't have to make a living at this...)

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.