Would a different approach to grades encourage the students to work harder?Typically, we have a set number of points to be earned in a class and we "do the math" to determine the student's average....

Would a different approach to grades encourage the students to work harder?

Typically, we have a set number of points to be earned in a class and we "do the math" to determine the student's average. How do you think the approach explained below would play out in the educational process? Would the students work harder?

Start with a negative amount of points. The student must work their way up/back to zero by obtaining points. Provide a scale for the students identifying the letter grade intervals. Explain as follows: You are at -1000. One thousand points are available in this class and you have none of them. In order to receive a D - you must work your way to a -400, ...etc., an A - would require that you reach at least -100. (This may show that they are still lacking points because even at the college level- they don't get it!) 

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job518 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In my experience, many students do not seem to understand that one cannot make a 15/100 on a test and expect a decent grade in the class unless they make near perfect on most other assignments. A 15/100 is not a good predictor for "near perfect on everything else." They also do not grasp that when a class starts you have no grade. I have been asked several times, at the beginning of a new grading period - "so do I start all over with a 100% now?" So, I am thinking, maybe if they see the need to work toward a number and the negative may help them jump start the class, then they may work a little harder in the beginning. <the negative just places the "hole" at the beginning of the course, instead of waiting until the end to dig out> How many times does this happen? - "Ms. A what do I need to do to pass this class?" a week before the end of the course/grading period. I want to say: Well, you could have done those ten homework assignments. Now there are only 25 points left and you need 130. Not possible!

I always started a class making the best I could on every single assignment. I always had some "wiggle" room at the end so that if I did not do well, or really have the time, it was no big deal. Many times in college, I could take a zero on the final and still have a B, sometimes A, for the course. This is a very rare occurrence now, or at least with my students, because they do not really understand the concept of averages and many cannot determine their grades at any one point in the course without help.

job518 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As a math teacher, it all works out the same for me. It really is the same concept of starting at nothing and working toward a desirable grade. Of course, the main goal is learning, but I have yet to have a student that makes an A in my class and does not learn anything. I intentionally require much of my students to ensure some learning takes place if they are to pass my class. I think this is necessary in math. 

How do we get them to understand that a 70 is not bad, but if you can only miss 150 points in a course, then you have already missed 30? Then 10 here and 10 there, before you know it, you have an F in the course.  I am currently teaching college, and I was wondering if placing "the hole" at the beginning would make a difference.   Maybe the students would try a little harder to start the course rather than fumbling around grasping for every single point at the end (when the concepts are more difficult). The first part of most math courses is the most important. If you are just keeping your nose out of the water at the beginning, then you will sink rather quickly and probably too far to "dig" your way back to passing. I guess, I am really addressing the work ethic rather than the learning and how we could improve the effort put forth in a course.

To #5 - that would be my primary thought as to how others would react. I think the parents would have a harder time than the students!

booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I know that some kids are motivated by the grade. Others who cannot keep up are ridiculed for not having the grade. Some kids have so much other stuff going on at home or in their lives, that grades don't matter.

However, during standardized testing, the kids don't care so much in the upper grades with how well they do because they know they won't be graded on it: they talk about it all the time.

How long have I heard kids tell me that if they were getting paid for it, they would work harder. (It's no use trying to explain the intrinsic rewards...)

I don't know how approaching grading differently could help. I agree with another poster who speaks to the work ethic. If we could somehow adjust that, I think the rest would fall into place. There will always have to be a grade of some kind: maybe there is a solution that I can't visualize. But I know, too, that when I care more about a student's grade than he/she does, that something inside the kid needs to be awakened. I wish I knew how, but most of the time, I think it's the kid. And maybe he/she just doesn't like English.

I wish there was some way to turn our "lost ones" around.


larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have to agree with those above who expressed reservations of beginning with a very literal "negative approach." Rather than encourage students to work harder, it could tend to discourage them and cause them to feel overwhelmed. My guess would be it would work just as well if they started with zero points and were given a specific number of points they need to achieve to earn a designated grade--the same approach mentioned, only expressed in positive terms. I never tell my students they start out with a 100 average; rather they start at the ground level and work up. I might add, a certain amount of misunderstanding on the part of students is typical wishful thinking on the part of young people. They (as did I at that age) think only in terms of numbers, and want the highest grade for the least amount of work; and are inclined to bargain with the teacher if they think they can. So my suggestion would be, give them no points to begin, and encourage them to work toward 1000 points.

ask996 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Yes a different approach to grades and classroom instruction would encourage students to work harder, but this is not it.

Guys we have to consider the cognitive reasoning level of the students we're talking about. I'm thinking of my 9th and 10th grade students, and this would be an abysmal failure. If they can't "get" the simpler concepts of grading as you've mentioned, they certainly won't grasp this even more complex concept. Don't get me wrong, many would, but here's how I see a situation like this working out: 1)Parents absolutely livid that Susie has a -2400 in class, when she has not yet had an opportunity to work on an assignment. 2)Billy who is a perfectionist will worry himself sick because he has a -2400. This will be such a disturbance, that he will be able to think about little else. 3)Sarah who really wants to do well but doubts her ability and doesn't see how she can ever overcome that deficit, so she gives up trying. 4)Lance who simply won't try.


amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I don't think it will work any better for all students than our current system.  It seems to me that a system not based on grades would work better...put the learning and the responsibility for it squarely on the students' shoulders.  In order for any system to be a success for ALL students, they must feel they have a part and a say in what happens.  They must feel a sense of pride in their accomplishments, and must understand that school, as I see it, is their career temporarily.  Good grades and success are their paycheck, and graduation is their ticket to the next step in life--college, the workforce, the military, or whatever else may apply.  Until we can get kids to understand we're all in this together...we're a learning community and our goal is to help everyone get where he/she needs and wants to be...we will still have problems with failures, dropouts, bullying, etc.

Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is an interesting idea, but one I also see as demoralizing.  I wonder what would happen if we did the reverse and started every student with an "A."   Points would be deducted as students achieved lower grades on various assessments.  Would this be any more or less motivating?

For those who have mentioned the students' lack of understanding of the averaging of assessments for a final grade, I must say that I think this is something we should be teaching them to understand.  It doesn't matter if it's not a math class.  It's a simple concept, and one that they need to understand, at the very least, for school.  When they are on the job and are evaluated, the same concept will apply to their ratings, so it is also important for them to understand this in "real" life.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The concept is very sound, but as others have said, students who have been plumped up so much with positives all their lives may not comprehend too well.  One thing that professors at the local colleges do is itemize everything on their syllabus, and then print on the syllabus how many points a student must have to make each letter grade.  This seems a fairly effective method as students can total their grades as they go along.  Of course, in high school and middle school there are so many interruptions and changes to the day that sometimes teachers cannot follow their syllabi.

rskardal eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Very interesting idea. I think Kapokkid makes a good point that your alternative model is still focused on grades rather than learning. For example, some teachers discuss the importance of "real life learning" or "product based assessments." My understanding is that these models offer the advantage of helping students to see tangible results that come from their learning rather than abstract symbols. Although I can only speculate, I would expect the same students that care about grades under the established system to care about grades under this alternative model.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I can see where this might work better than the regular way because the goals would be more tangible.  Instead of saying "I got 85% on this test and I need to keep doing that," students could say "I got 85 points, now I only need X more."  It might seem more real and therefore be more of a motivational tool.

Do you have a particular reason for working up from a negative?  I could see you getting flack for that based on the idea that it sounds too demoralizing (like how they tell us that correcting papers in red ink demoralizes the students).

kapokkid eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think different approaches might work for a little bit simply from the novelty of it.

If you wanted to get kids to actually work harder though, I think getting rid of points and competitive grading would be the best option.  There is a lot of research that suggests that a grade oriented approach to learning actually inhibits learning behaviors and I find that my students are so focused on points that they can't even begin to focus on the actual task.  And this certainly isn't unique to my class.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Whilst I find the approach interesting, what would concern me is the way that students start already with a negative amount. I wonder whether this would actually encourage them to succeed or not. They might be tempted to think that they are already so far behind that there is no point trying to improve their grade. I wonder whether the opposite approach would be worth trying, where students start of with 100% and can only lose their percentage if they do badly. That might help motivate students more.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think sometimes grades are counterproductive.  You can get students to learn more by having them set learning goals, with no goals involved.  It can be to get a certain number of problems right, or read this many pages.  No grades need get in the way!

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