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  • Writer's pictureDerek Stoppels

Incentives/Consequences Vs. Purpose/Learning

So our school board and the Ministry of Education (Ontario) has told us, and students, that marks can not go down from the mark that students had as of March 13th. So this means that, as I understand it, if a student had a mark of 80% on March 13th, and chooses to do nothing for the rest of the school year, then they still get an 80% on their report card. There are a lot of teachers that are upset about this because in their minds students no longer have any incentives or consequences for not doing anything for the rest of the school year.

I think it's kind of hilarious. The government has, ultimately, said that marks don't mean anything. I've been saying this for years! "We don't want to stress our students any more than they already are, so let's take away the possibility of failing the school year and only report on improvements in learning." I would suggest that we are not reporting on learning at all. And really, have we ever? We report on achievement. Not learning. Report cards are not demonstrations of what a student has learned. Only students can demonstrate what they've learned, a teacher filling out a report card cannot demonstrate what a student has learned. (And, a student writing a test that the teacher created is not the student demonstrating what they've learned either.)

Traditionally, grades are based on a student's performance on a task that was designed by a teacher and deemed to be a suitable representation of what a student should know. What I'm trying to do during these school closures is find a way to allow students to demonstrate what they do know. And don't get me wrong. I don't think I have found the perfect answer. I do think I'm on the right track, but I don't have a perfect formula. Does anyone?

If students feel like there are no more incentives or consequences to engaging in the online Learn From Home that teachers are trying to provide, essentially, these students are telling us that the only purpose in the work that they are being asked to complete is to get a mark. If they've already got the mark they got, why would they continue to do the work, if they feel like the only reason they're doing the work is to get a good mark?

Are teachers just giving work to their students so that they can give students a mark?

This is called busy work. And maybe this makes me sound arrogant, but that's a pill I'm going to have to swallow, because I'm not trying to be arrogant. Again, I don't have all the answers, and I guess if I did, it would be time for me to do something else.

I want to encourage teachers to take a look at themselves and at what they are asking of their students. If teachers are just taking what they would normally be doing in a classroom and moving it to an online forum, then we're not really doing things differently. If students are taking this opportunity then, to disengage from doing the work that a teacher would normally be doing in class because there are no more incentives and consequences, maybe we should be looking at what we're doing in class, and change our approach to online learning as well.

This leads me to "purpose and learning." It's no secret that when a person sees purpose in their work, they perform better. If they can see themselves in the work, they may see a purpose in the work. If they see a bigger picture in the work, they may see a purpose.

I'm trying to find ways to give my students a purpose to do the work. I've moved away from the traditional model of teaching in my classroom this year, and not once, for once, have I been asked "Sir, why are we learning this?" That's a major win! I don't have a perfect formula, and I've made some mistakes, but I would like to say that I feel confident that students are starting to see purpose in their work. And I can't say what that purpose is for them. I know why I am doing things the way I do them, and I know what I want my students to get out of the work, and they're meeting and mostly exceeding my expectations. But for them, there is something inside them that I don't know about that is driving them to do the things they are doing.

And this is what I love about moving away from the traditional model. I can tell that the students are motivated to do the things that they are doing, because they're doing amazing things. Not all of them, some of them really wish they had a more traditional teacher, not everything is for everyone.

I'm going to brag now...

One thing I am proud about is that I am consistently getting responses and submissions from about two-thirds of my students (66%). And most of it is really good work! It took me a few weeks, but I've found a way to balance giving my students a wide open question and the freedom to demonstrate their learning however they want with providing just enough scaffolding and structure that they meet the "educational" standards that they're supposed to be meeting. I'm basing their work on the curriculum, but a lot of my students are going beyond those requirements.

It could be true that a lot of my students are just copy and pasting things into their documents, but if I take a look at their works cited pages and the content that they have produced, they've at least read the things that they are copy and pasting. I will definitely argue that my students are learning during these school closures.

I think the reason that I'm getting such remarkable work from my students is that they get to see themselves in the work that they're doing. They aren't completing something, or filling something out that I have created, they are doing the creating. Even though it may "only" be a slide show, or a Google Doc, they are putting the work together and presenting it to me in a manner that makes sense to them. They're trying new things. Some are making videos, and they've never done that before. Some of them are asking me questions, which they may have never done before. I like to think that I've put my students in a position where they either want to learn or they're not afraid to make mistakes, or both!

And let me finish by saying that I know that what I'm doing doesn't work for everyone, teachers and students alike. But. The point of this blog post is to call on teachers to take a look at what they're doing in and out of class and asking themselves if the students can find purpose in the work that we're asking them to do. Are we giving them work, so that we can give them marks? Or are we trying to find ways to give our students opportunities to demonstrate their own learning? My formula isn't perfect, and I'm always looking for different ways to do things, because I'm still learning too, but let's take a look at our students and ourselves to see if we can make this better for everyone!

I've said it in a previous blog post, that we should try to make our students thirsty, and then lead them to water. If they're thirsty enough, they'll drink!

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