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15 November 2011

How much is this post worth?

Woodberry Forest 21, EHS 12 in 2011.  But this picture
is from 2010.
Students, and too often parents and colleagues, usually approach a high school course as a point-earning game. While points and grades must exist -- they *do* motivate, and besides, you're not gettin' very far with your boss if you tell him "I'm not giving grades this marking period, okay?" -- you can send a consistent message that you are an impartial arbiter in the game, not a teammate or an opponent.

Consider the most commonly asked question in class at my school this time of year.  These are the High Holy Days at Woodberry Forest -- last Friday night was the bonfire*, and Saturday was The Game, a football match against our chief rival school.  This week marks review for exams, which start on Thursday. 

* Think the PAGAN ritual scene from the Dragnet movie, probably without the virgin sacrifice but with far more goat leggings

So, on the day before The Game, I passed out an exam information sheet containing basic form and content data.  In every section, without fail, someone asked, "How much will the exam be worth?"  To me, that's taking the point earning contest too far.  I'm not going to allow you to make a strategic decision about whether or not to study based on my answer.  

More to the point, what will the class response be to a dispassionate direct answer of "20% of the trimester, as stated in the syllabus?" 

(1) Half the class will instantly get out a calculator in order to determine the minimum exam score that will allow them to pass, or to maintain the grade that won't provoke parental ire.  Students who can't solve 3x = 5   for x will perform this calculation quickly and flawlessly.  

(2) The follow up question will be on the order of, "but, if we do well on the exam, will you weight that more heavily in our final grade?"  or, "Can we do extra credit?"

Why even engage in such gaming the system?  Considering the background of the big football game, I looked sadly at each student who asked that question.  I said, "Mr. Clark, when the football team gathers after practice today for one last conversation together before The Game, would you even consider asking 'Coach, how much is tomorrow's Game worth?'  And how would Coach react if he knew that the reason you were asking was so you could weigh just how much effort to give?"

Point made.  No follow-up questions about grades.  And we moved on to discussing physics.

1 comment:

  1. What a great point. I used to give point values for each section on my tests - but then I realized students were instantly stressed out about a certain section because it was more points (it may have been only because it was a graphing section, and I included a score for including all proper parts of a graph!), regardless of content. I quickly learned to not let my students worry about playing the point game - still working on a way to shift the motivation to learning rather than scoring, though...

    Love your posts - I've started a site of my own in similar fashion. Check it out if you get a minute...