Are effort grades harming our children?

Gill Robin's book, "Praise, Motivation and the Child," suggests there are two models of teaching. 

Behaviourism vs Constructivism

Robin's argues that Behaviourism creates extrinsic motivators, while constructivism leads to intrinsic motivators. 

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivators

Whilst I don't believe it is quite as simple as that, nor do I believe the two are mutually exclusive, it does beg the question; what type of students would we rather develop - those who have an intrinsic drive to learn or those who do it for the reward or worse, to avoid a punishment?

With Carole Dweck's Growth Mindset taking schools by storm, many schools have adopted effort grades in attempt to recognise and reward her work. 

Yet studies such as, Cognitive Evaluation Theory, have shown that such an approach could diminish intrinsic motivation; especially if the children believes the only to work harder is for a reward. 

For example, a child receives a sticker for painting. The child believes the reason they are painting is to get a sticker. This interpretation could diminish the child's intrinsic motivation, as the only reason they are painting to receive the reward. 

There is of course, another possibility that the child believes the reason for receiving the sticker was because they are improving at painting. This would produce positive results such as, feelings of competence and pride. 

It is the interpretation from the student that is key. What do they believe?

Edward Deci and Richard Ryan's work on Cognitive Evaluation and Self - Determination Theory led to them identifying 4 learning behaviours. 

Self Determination Theory

Alfie Kohn in "Punished by Rewards," is completely against grading effort. He states, 

"Grades by their very nature make students less inclined to challenge themselves...The fatal paradox though, is that while coercion can sometimes elicit resentful obedience, it can never create desire."

Kohn's concern is that low grade for effort is more likely to read as, "You're a failure at even trying." On the other hand, high grade efforts combined with a low grade for achievement says, "You're just too stupid to succeed." 

Deci and Ryan's suggested solution was to focus on the three primary factors that encourage motivation: 

  1. Autonomy 
  2. Competence
  3. Relatedness

Kohn's three points to motivate students were similar:

  1. Pupil Autonomy
  2. Learning Mastery
  3. The acknowledgement of curiosity 

What do you think - are effort grades the best thing since sliced bread or are they detrimental to students' motivation? 

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