(This same post is also here.)

I’ve started reading Alfie Kohn’s book “The Schools Our Children Deserve”. I highly recommend it to anyone who is willing to take a critical and productive look at education in the US.

Chapter 2 is about motivation. Here’s a super quick summary:

In the US, students, educators, parents, and community members tends to focus most on achievement (aka grades).  However, overemphasis on achievement

“1) undermines students’ interest in learning,  (2) makes failure seem overwhelming,                                                                              (3) leads students to avoid challenging themselves,   (4) reduces the quality of learning, and (5) invites students to think about how smart they are instead of how hard they tried.” (Kohn)

This  video presentation from Dan Pink is also about motivation. (No summary because you can just watch it. I had to watch and listen several times…the first time I was too enthralled with the animated format to listen closely.  What a creative idea!)

There are so many things to talk about here, but I’d like to nudge us in this direction:


Hot topic, I know. (Look at me, sticking my neck out!)

Dan Pink states, “To use money as a motivator, you have to pay people enough to take money off the table.”   That’s when people become very productive and creative.

Alfie Kohn echoes these sentiments–“When the point isn’t to figure things out but to prove how good you are, it’s often hard to cope with being told you’re not so good. Paradoxically, students who put success out of their minds are likely to be successful.”  (Emphasis mine.)

I recently realized (a-Ha!) that not only are grades The Currency used in the Game of School, they are also the wrong currency because they do not motivate learning or create equity.   Instead, grades/points/scores/levels motivate compliance and create status, anxiety, and fixed mindsets. (I’m being deliberately brief here to make room for other voices, and hopefully provocative enough to generate some discussion! )

Here are some questions for your consideration. Or, ask your own.
What is the intent of grades, from your perspective as an educator?                                      Do they meet their intended purpose?  Why or why not?                                                       What is the perspective from students?  Parents? Society?                                                      In what ways do grades impact learning?  Students?                                                                              What if grades were taken off the table?                                                                                        Do you agree with Pink’s, Kohn’s, or even my claims? Why or why not?

And why is the formatting of my lists so wonky?

My answers to these questions will appear in a later post.  While I have the floor, here’s one more from Pink….
On autonomy: “You probably want to do something interesting; let me just get out of your way!”

… and from Kohn:
“We first have to recognize that for people to think about how well they’re doing is not at all the same as thinking about what they’re doing. These represent two very different mind-sets for parents, students, and educators.” (Emphasis mine.)

PS. I totally want to make a board game called The Game of School. Two versions, of course, version 2 being The Game of Transformed School!


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