Sunday, October 9, 2016

Declining Student Engagement; Are Extrinsic Motivators to Blame?

"Students who are encouraged to think about grades, stickers, or other “goodies” become less inclined to explore ideas, think creatively, and take chances." - Alfie Kohn

Earlier this year, after reading Scott McLeod's alert, I wrote about Gallup's report indicating students become less engaged in school as they advance through their program. David Perkins says this decline in student engagement is the result of a relevancy gap, a difference between our prescribed curriculum and learning experiences that offer a significant "life-worthy" return for students. Later, I asked David White if guiding students towards greater digital residency, in other words, providing more opportunities for interactive digital learning, would increase student engagement. 

David said, "There is ongoing research based on this premise, but any conclusions should include sound pedagogical practice."

As someone who always enjoys learning, and usually enjoyed school, I am having a hard time wrapping my mind around this trend of declining student engagement in school. I've shared Gallup's survey results with teachers, students, and their parents, asking for suggestions about the cause of student disengagement. Answers have included boredom, distractions, and the proliferation of competing interests. As he typically does, Alfie Kohn shifts my thoughts about student engagement in another direction. 
Gallup (2016). Engagement Today - Ready for Tomorrow, Fall 2015 survey results. Washington,  DC: Author
(n = 928,888)

The use of extrinsic motivators is likely to decrease student engagement in school.

This hypothesis will keep me awake at night during the coming weeks or months. Extrinsic motivators can include grades, tokens, or even unconditional praise. Kohn's report ignites my curiosity with statements like:

  • Classroom management programs that rely on rewards and consequences ought to be avoided by any educator who wants students to take responsibility for their behavior.
  • Grades, in particular, have been found to have a detrimental effect on creative thinking, long-term retention, interest in learning, and preference for challenging tasks.
  • Parental use of rewards or consequences to induce children to do well in school has a similarly negative effect on the enjoyment of learning and, ultimately, on achievement.

Is the lack of student engagement an issue in your school or classroom? Are rewards given like candy to gain compliance and increase motivation? The relevancy gap is a reality for many schools, long-standing grading practices are under scrutiny, and the schooling needs of the modern learner are changing rapidly. Who can argue with Alfie Kohn's conclusion?

"Children are likely to become enthusiastic, lifelong learners as a result of being provided with an engaging curriculum; a safe, caring community in which to discover and create; and a significant degree of choice about what they are learning. Rewards, like punishments, are unnecessary when these things are present and are ultimately destructive in any case."

If not extrinsic motivators, then what is causing most of our older students to disengage from learning following their elementary school years? Please share your comments because I welcome your thoughts on this topic.

Related Reading

The Emotional Weight of Being Graded... - Mindshift, Linda Flanagan

Friday, October 7, 2016

Would You Want to be a Student in This Class?

Attending school open house events always leaves me emotionally conflicted because there are many times when I can't, or don't want to, believe what I'm hearing. I have trouble understanding many of the rules that some teachers include in their syllabus. I feel the need to challenge published grading policies and procedures that are clearly unfair to students. But I keep my parent hat on and keep my educator card in my pocket as I search for more understanding.

Maybe I'm just getting old and losing perspective about classroom management and student evaluation. Regardless if you are a teacher, student, or parent, you can help me with the writing of a more balanced and informed post by sharing your thoughts in the following five-question survey. The policies and procedures included in this short form are from documents distributed to parents during last month's open house season.

I will share results and comments in a follow-up post.

Thank you for your time and assistance.

photo credit: o_schopfer Salle de classe 1800 via photopin (license)

Saturday, October 1, 2016

To Email, or Not

Should current students learn how to use email? 

As someone who celebrates a clean email inbox about once every five years, I found it interesting that the topic of student email usage was on the agenda of our recent high school leadership meeting. The focus of this brief conversation concentrated on these questions.

  • How can we get students to utilize their school email account better? 
  • Should we be teaching students how to communicate with email?
  • When and where should email usage skills be taught? 
  • Who's responsibility is this?
Why do we want kids to check their email? Those around the conference room table agreed with the importance of students checking their email to stay informed about upcoming events and opportunities. Others mentioned it as being an important part of "digital executive functioning." Time was running short when someone said, "Kids don't use email."

This brief statement sent my mind scurrying in several simultaneous directions. 

  • First, thinking about my children, he was right. The purpose of an email address, based on my observations at home, is to create online accounts for gaming, entertainment, and socializing.
  • Second, I was thinking about the ongoing debate about cursive writing that my wife, a second-grade teacher, and I have every two weeks. Natalie sees cursive writing as a critical skill for communication and fine motor development. Since I have not personally written in cursive in four decades, I view it as an old-world skill that offers no future return on time invested.
  • Third, I thought of Dave White and V/R Mapping. If kids aren't using email, where are they interacting with others on the web? As educators, are we trying to fit a square peg into a round hole by trying to force a communication tool that has apparently become irrelevant to young people?

Would our efforts be better spent learning where kids "reside" on the web? Maybe Snapchat, Instagram, or Whatsapp are better places to engage our learners and interact with them. The difference, and likely the reason kids don't buy into email communication, is email is used primarily as a one-way information push, while more engaging apps like Facebook offer opportunities for interaction.

It's time for me to get back to cleaning out my inbox. I'm interested in your perspective on this topic. Should we be communicating with students via email? Should students be taught how to use email in school?

Resources & Related Reading

photo credit: Christoph Scholz @-Symbol in Glass Orange via photopin (license)