Thursday, April 5, 2012

100% Not always what we want

Just recently I gave a formal exam to one of my classes, and some students scored 100%.  Normally, I would not critique this mark, but what I heard from my students caused me to reflect. 

At the start of one of my classes some students were discussing their marks and I overheard one student, who achieved a 100% on the exam, say “I can’t believe I got a 100%, I had to guess on some answers. Lucky me!”

Is this the reaction we want from our students after an exam, regardless of the mark they receive? 

I believe it is more important we know WHY a student feels as they were successful or failed then the actual mark they received on an assessment.  This particular student believes it was luck that actually caused his achievement to increase not talent, ability or knowledge. 

When students inform me that they have “studied hard” for an exam, my first question is why?  I, always, try to see any action from the student’s point of view and then determine whether or not real learning is occurring and will it keep occurring.  If a student is studying hard because he/she is completely lost in the course, he/she is most likely cramming and no real learning is occurring.

I now ask, why do students spend countless hours cramming information, which is usually not into their long term memory, into their mind?

Years ago, I blamed myself for these actions.  I promoted this mind-set in my class by constantly using the words, “Performance, Results, Achievement, Failure, and Success!”  In my class I was more concerned about the answers to my problems than in the procedure to solve the problems. 

Students were leaving my class happy they got an A, while I wanted them to be excited they now understood how to think critically in a mathematical world.  The irony of it all was when my final results of my courses came in.  Paradoxically, I was ending up with results which were lower than my colleagues.  This priority of achieving high results, ultimately was my demise in both achievement and, more importantly, learning. 

Lastly, we need to be aware of the plethora of research around achievement and grades which is showing that if we put a large emphasis on these it will

1) Undermine the idea of true intrinsic motivation in the material we are teaching.

2) Causes some students to feel as success is an idea which is unachievable.

3) Will force students to “take the easy route” instead of working on a more challenging problem.

4) Reduces the quality of learning.

5) Creates an environment where students will create a self-image of themselves based on how smart they are, instead on how hard they are trying.

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