Sunday, December 11, 2011

Learning: Intrinsic VS Extrinsic

As you know, the reality in education is there are things we can control and things we cannot. In every situation I do what I can to keep with my building/district/state mandates without compromising my own perspective/philosophy and my students' needs. 

I personally am not BIG on using extrinsic motivation as my first go to tool; not as a teacher or a mother.  I individually do things based on the intrinsic drive within, thus I suppose I expect others to just have that internal drive as well.  However, I have learned over the years that we must help our young people develop the desire to do things for themselves and believe in their own abilities.  Within our classroom Ann and I have taken the standards-based grading scale and created a self-assessment system that allows for students to gauge themselves on a continuum of learning.  During the learning process, we are available to offer feedback regarding their work and progress.  Our intent with giving feedback to our students is to help intrinsically motivate them, but do we know for sure it is working intrinsically? Can feedback also be an extrinsic motivator? Can self-assessment inadvertently be an extrinsic motivator?   How can we ensure that comments and self-assessments help students to become intrinsically motivated to grow as a learner?  These are questions that I ponder often…

Some children do very well with naturally learning how to be intrinsically motivated through the learning process.  But I will say that it wasn’t until college that I was motivated by the desire to learn, rather than grades.  My whole school career was about getting A’s (for a variety of reasons).  I wonder how less stressed I would have been if I was just trying to learn and grow intellectually, rather than trying to earn the “A” at the top of my assignments.  I even had a high school teacher use my final grade as a punishment, lowering it (not based on my assignments and work) but just to teach me a “life lesson” (which is a WHOLE other post in itself!).  Grades can cause horrible harm when we are not mindful regarding each individual student, their life circumstances, and their personal needs as a learner.

With standards-based grading,  4,3,2,1 can easily be an extrinsic motivator if thought of as similar to letter grades.  I know that as I have watched the trend unfold I have recognized some using this to replace A,C,D, and F letter grades (where B no longer has a place).  But within our multiage classroom we intentionally discuss the purpose of the levels with our students and how they create a continuum of learning for them to gauge their own progress.  They are not “rewarded” with a number grade from us during the learning process.  We have done away with percentages and possible points and allow students to do the correcting and self-assessing of their own evidence for learning.  We encourage them to set goals based on their needs and gaps.  For them meeting standard = retention/learning.  And the process of learning is personal; therefore the “Level 3 of meeting standard” becomes an intrinsic motivator as they are enthusiastic to grow.  Standards-based grading is a continuum in our classroom, not a “grade”. 

Students are an integral part of their formal trimester reporting for parents.  They know we are transferring their progress within the continuum to paper in order to communicate their progress to parents (yes a form of extrinsic motivation, but one we cannot control- and as I said the students are a part of this grading process).  Students are also involved in the parent conferencing process.  We make every attempt to translate this process to be an intrinsic motivator by allowing students to share their evidence of learning, as well as highlights and current goals.  Lucky for us, though, the majority of our students have never been affected personally by the traditional letter grades within their educational career.  So training them to use and understand this continuum was a natural process.  As I have stated in other posts, they know they either “GOT IT” or “NEED IT”.  J

Our students know the standards-based marks as:  4- Above standard (can work at the next “grade level target”, teach someone the standard in a way in which they learn it, and/or extend beyond the standard or apply it in a new situation or content), 3- Meeting standard (“Got it”), 2- Below standard (“Need it”- understands it enough to review or practice by self or with a partner, or may just need a few clarifying questions answered), 1-Below standard (“Need it”- needs a reteach by a teacher or peer)

We also use Tanny McGregor's explanation:  3-Crystal Clear, 2-Hazy, 1-Foggy

As well as Carol Ann Tomlinson's explanation: 3- Clear Windshield, 2-A few bugs on the windshield, 1-bugs covering the windshield

We use all of the above interchangeably within the classroom.  Overall, though, they are not trying to “earn” a number.  Each is a way for the student to tell themselves or us where they are on the continuum of learning for a particular standard/target/goal.  They assess themselves the majority of the time, based on their evidence through daily practice, assessments, and general conversations.  We provide them with resources or specific feedback of their next steps, and we answer their questions.  There are still a few students in “training” in regards to self-assessment.  We found that some of our students needed more time with confidence building and extra support through this process of trusting in themselves as learners.

We use target walls to assist students in the self-assessment process (which are broken down by strand, aligning with our state standards). State Standards are another hot debate, but again it goes back to what we can control.  I am expected to teach the grade-level standards, but I am NOT bound by keeping every child at the same rate.  We have students working from K- 8th grade math standards in our room.  Many are currently working diligently to fill in gaps they have in specific strands, but they now understand how math works through using the building blocks metaphor.  They understand that if they cannot build fractions as part of a whole or part of a set they will not be able to concretely understand how to add and subtract fractions.  They also understand that if they do not learn fractions, they will struggle with measurement.  And if they struggle with measurement they will have problems during science investigations.  I could go on and on and on…  (Ann and I are very diligent about making these connections for students and allowing them to explore and communicate their own connections.) In addition, we also use essential questions relating to the standards to guide our lessons, collaboration, and creative processes.  Students have freedom to choose the goals/targets they will work on because they are knowledgeable of their personal needs. We believe in giving students an atmosphere in which they can explore, create, think critically, and communicate.  However, they must understand the skills involved and required for doing so.  Our way is not a perfect solution, but that’s probably why we are modifying and adjusting as we go- our students guide us to bigger and better things all the time!

I guess one could say that using the metaphor of building blocks is an extrinsic motivator, but my teaching partner and I work with them every day and know that they choose goals based on these blocks (their individual needs).  They are intrinsically motivated to do so because their only reward is success/learning/meeting standard.  The blocks make the abstract idea of learning standards concrete. Although, some could also argue that reaching a level 4 by teaching a peer is extrinsic, but I would argue that it is intrinsic- as everyday when I teach a student I know how it makes me feel inside, and I am inclined to teach because of that feeling - which is what I see in my students' eyes and hear in their voices. We treat and trust our students as teachers, and they are not as excited about reaching the level 4 'mark' as they are with assisting other community members grow.

Our students are truly in charge of their learning and we are their facilitators, coaches, and even cheerleaders. Every day my students help me grow within this process of grading.  I am not a fan of grades, per say, but do respect my district and the transitions we continue to make as a PLC.  I know that this conversation can have one extreme to the other (“traditional” to “grades free”), when thinking of the grading path.  I myself am somewhere in the middle at the moment, maybe even ¾ of the way towards the “grades free” realm.  But my mindset comes from wanting students to be intrinsically motivated to learn.  I know that feedback is essential to student growth, but I still question whether the feedback is extrinsic.  Regardless, I guess Ann and I just know we must be very mindful in the way in which we provide feedback, when we provide it, as well as how often.  And above all, Ann and I’s daily goal is to create an environment in which they feel empowered to learn on their own accord, not based on our commenting or labeling of their work and effort.


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