Dan Pink extensively talks about motivation and purpose. I don’t disagree with the science he discusses, but I do wonder if it applies to most universities and the particular type of students we work with.
There are colleges in the US that don’t assign grades. Brown College hasn’t recorded failing grades since 1969. At Reed College student’s are given letter grades that are recorded by the university, but the student doesn’t get access to them unless they receive a grade less than C. Both Reed and Brown are prestigious schools and I don’t think the value of a degree from either institution is mitigated by their grading strategy. In fact, I think the uniqueness of student’s transcripts requires evaluators to consider a more holistic view.
But Brown and Reed attract a very specific type of student. Brown has an acceptance rate of 9%. Students who attend have already shown that they are able to jump through hoops, follow directions, and get a good grade. They’ve been trained to work inside a system and as high school seniors have the freedom to choose to work outside it.
I’ve talked about my nontraditional upbringing on this blog before, so I won’t go too much into it right now. But I didn’t receive my first graded work until I took classes at a semester school at a sophomore in high school. I totally bombed my first test because I didn’t know how to study. Fortunately, I had great mentors and peers who modeled good studying skills, but I had to learn (at a much older age than most people) how to work within the system. And as rough as it was, I am so glad that I did.
Despite our most radical ideas about how we should live in a completely intrinsically motivated world, it is vital that we teach our students to survive in the industrialized workforce that they will spend most of their lives in. Although I think it’s changing (especially in the tech industry), it is our job as educators to prepare students for what employers expect. And, to be realistic, employers expect grades.
Disclaimer- extensive written evaluation is so important and so helpful.