A bit of Coercion is Okay

Let me start by establishing that I recognize the problems with grades. I understand that they encourage learning to be competitive, often don’t provide a great window into students’ understanding of specific concepts, and cause kids to only worry about the number and not the learning. So if you’re in that camp, I’m Right there with you. I get it. However, I’ve still got a foot in the other camp. Let me explain.

In an ideal world students would be driven to learn by their own curiosity and passion for learning. This ideal is unrealistic. It certainly happens in bubbles and in spurts, but generally speaking, much more learning in school is being done because we require students to do it. This is not to say that we shouldn’t constantly be trying to tap into their curiosity and to intrinsically motivate them. I’m just saying few students are intrinsically motivated to learn polynomial long division or stoichiometry, for example. So, as Tony Robins pointed out in his TED talk “Why We Do What We Do”, motivation is a balance between the intrinsic and the extrinsic. If we go too far in either direction we’ll likely fail to get the learning outcomes we desire.

Following this line of reasoning I sought to solve the problem of low engagement with the videos that I have in my flipped classroom. I badly wanted my students to seek out the information in the videos because they realized they were an important part of understanding the math. However, I could tell many students either weren’t watching the videos, weren’t watching them with engagement, or were making an honest effort but still weren’t getting the most out of them. I’ve toyed with adding some sort of quizzing feature in my videos before, and the last couple of years have used the WSQ model, but I hadn’t done it wholesale. I decided that with the start of the new trimester I would have each of my students sign up for EDpuzzle and I’d just simply make them watch the videos and answer questions along the way (by giving them a small grade for doing it). Also, they would be due by certain dates. I told this to my students on the first day and waited for the complaining as the trimester rolled on.

But they loved it.

After a couple of days and a couple of videos the students, in both hours, commented on how they liked it better than the previous way. They -liked- having the questions in the video (they said it helped them stay focused). They appreciated the structure that the due dates gave them. I had students that never watched or took notes on videos before, asking me questions while they were watching them. Even though I am now taking a grade for the videos and the quizzes within them, my students are happier because of the change in format and I’m happier because students are getting more from the instruction.

The moral of this story is, if you’re struggling to get students to do something via intrinsic motivation, a little extrinsic motivation probably isn’t going to hurt. Especially if the result is more learning and engagement.

-Note: I thought about the fact that in life there is rarely an “EDpuzzle program” and a teacher making sure you participate in everything you’re asked to participate in or that will benefit you. However, I think the learning and engagement that I’m getting outweighs the life lesson that I’m losing. I’m sure there are differing opinions on this and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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