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Don’t give rewards for good marks, professor tells parentsDecember 12, 2014

Author: Webmaster

A UBC education professor has some advice for parents who are reviewing their children’s report cards this month:  Don’t over-react, don’t take them at face value and don’t offer rewards for good grades.

Sandra Mathison, in a post on UBC’s website, says the practice of giving students cash or gifts for high marks is problematic.

“Parents and teachers should foster children’s interest in learning for the sake of learning, not the pursuit of grades or external rewards,” she says. “When you give cash or gifts to students, you’re saying to them that what matters most are the outcomes. And when you put the emphasis on simple outcomes, such as getting an A or a particular score on a standardized test, it becomes a defining feature of learning.

“The quality of student thinking and their interest in the content is diminished when they focus on getting grades for gifts.”

While it may seem like common sense to conclude that a reward will prod a student to work harder, all education research indicates that gifts for grades do not have lasting consequences, Mathison explained during a Dec. 9 interview with CBC’s On The Coast.

Internal motivation is far more important because it encourages students to take more risks, engage in more creative work and become better thinkers, she said.

Mathison also urges parents not to place too much faith in letter grades, saying:

“Most of the time letter grades represent big categories and are therefore devoid of much meaning. If a high-school students gets a B in chemistry, what does that mean? Chemistry is complex. It has many components. Does the student understand the concepts, but struggles with those ideas in an applied laboratory context? Does the student understand the ideas but has a difficult time with nomenclature?”

All parents should ask teachers for more details so they fully understand their child’s progress and how they can help, she said. (Mathison acknowledged that secondary-school teachers often have so many students, there’s not enough time for meaningful conversations with all parents, and not all parents are so engaged in their student’s learning at the high-school level.)

Several B.C. schools have been re-thinking traditional report cards and letter grades in recent years, saying that As, Bs, Cs and Ds don’t provide sufficient information about student progress.

Surrey and Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school districts were leaders in this area, announcing last year that some of their schools were dropping letter grades in Grades 4-7 and finding more meaningful ways of reporting progress, including teacher-parent-student meetings. (K-3 students in B.C. do not receive letter grades.)

Others are moving more gradually toward better communication.

“Having detailed information communicates more clearly what kids know, and the move in most report cards is towards that,” Mathison states. “But parents often push back and say, ‘That’s too much information. I just want to know if my kid is doing OK.’”

I am a guest blogger for BCCPAC and do not speak for the organization. Since this is my last post for the year, I will close by wishing all of you Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

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