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Posts Tagged ‘extrinsic

This article would like you to believe that students in the US are motivated by extrinsic rewards to do well in tests.

According to the article, a team of academics from the US and China conducted research on the math abilities of students from both countries. The students took a “25-minute test of 25 math questions that had previously been used on PISA”.

The treatment groups were given “envelopes filled with 25 one-dollar bills and told that a dollar would be removed for every incorrect or unanswered question”. The incentive was to get as many questions right as possible to receive the highest monetary reward.

Source: National Bureau of Economic Research

According to the article:

  • The incentives did not significantly impact the students from Shanghai, China.
  • The students from the US were more likely to attempt more questions and get more answers right with incentives.
  • The incentivised US student performance was equivalent to a PISA finish of 19th place instead of the actual 36th place out of 60 countries.

The researchers concluded that poor PISA test results could be due more to apathy than a lack of ability.

Tests like PISA — which have no impact on students’ grades or school accountability measures — aren’t taken as seriously as federally mandated assessments or the SAT.

All that said, the article ignored another important trend in the data: The less academically inclined students — see School 1 Low and School 1 Regular — did not do as well and were not as motivated even with incentives.

While this seems obvious even without the benefit of data, this casts light on the largely non-transparent method of how students are selected for PISA.

In OECD’s 2015 report, China was represented by Macao, Hong Kong, and special combination of Beijing-Shanghai-Jiangsu-Guangdong (B-S-J-G). China was in the top 10 for math and science test results.

Both the comparative study and the China selection results raise questions about the selection of students for the PISA tests. For example, this Forbes article asked if PISA results could be “rigged” as a result of such selections.

If officials make disproportionate selections from rich cities, then suspicions of bias are valid. Students with higher socio-economic status have more opportunities in schooling and have access to better resources than those propping them up in the lower rungs. Such students are more likely to do better in tests.

There are guidelines for selecting students for PISA testing. However, there is seems to be enough wiggle room for officials to get creative (see Malaysian example in the Forbes article).

Officials wanting to boost rankings can manipulate the selection seemingly within guidelines. For example, imagine a system with 100 schools. All 100 cannot participate for pragmatic reasons, e.g., students are not available or unwilling, resources are poor, scheduling is inconvenient, schools see no benefits, etc. So the officials resort to stratifying the random sampling of students. This means selecting certain schools within each band, i.e., low, regular, high-performing.

Officials might select students the higher performing schools from each band or maximise the sample for the potentially highest performers while minimising the selection from the likely lowest performers. In all cases, the students are still randomly selected from the pool, but there is stratification of the pool by bands and percentages.

This practice is not transparent to the layperson or perhaps even the reporters that write news articles. But the PISA results are lauded whenever they are released and policymakers make decisions based on them. Should we not be watchdogs not just for the validity of PISA tests, but also for how students are selected to take them?

Teachers, and teacher educators in particular, should never take for granted the long-term impact of what they say and model when they teach.

Every semester I provide feedback on the lesson plans of future faculty. I also evaluate their ability to facilitate a short lesson using learner centric strategies.

Every semester a few cases will require me to correct a well-intentioned but ultimately harmful practice — the use of extrinsic rewards like chocolate or other candy. I provide this feedback to adults who might have experienced such extrinsic rewards in their primary or elementary schooling 15 to 20 years ago.

This teach-as-they-were-taught mindset is frighteningly common. I observed this when I was a full-time teacher educator over 10 years. I fought to break this mindset then and I still fight it today. I do this by citing critical research and reflective teaching practice.
 

 
One rationale for avoiding extrinsic rewards is the matter of pragmatism. It is costly to keep doing this, it establishes the wrong set of expectations, it taps the wrong source of motivation, and it distracts from learning outcomes.

One argument that my learners might state is that students need to develop an internal drive. They claim that their candy rewards are an attempt to move from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation.

I gently but firmly tell them this is bullshit. A reliance on extrinsic rewards is a learnt behaviour, not an inherent trait. Kids learn by watching some other child get rewards or by experiencing it first hand.

I do not mean that extrinsic rewards do not work. They can, for a short-term behaviour modification. However, they also set up an insidious longer term expectation and establish this as acceptable practice.

Being well-intentioned is not enough. Teaching practice needs to be informed by critical research and reflective practice. Both focus on the long game that is not fuelled by mere candy.

Over the last week or so, I detected pockets of excitement in the edu-Twitterverse about providing badges for teachers after “training” or professional development.

I think badges are a BAD idea and I would like to badger teachers into thinking critically about this practice.
 

 
What is wrong with rewarding effort with badges?

First, it is the idea that extrinsic motivation should be necessary to keep learning and trying.

Second, this process is a model and encourages a behaviour among teachers that they continue with students.

It is important to realise that intrinsic motivation is what actually drives learning over the long term. As serendipity would have it, I came across an article by The Atlantic about the perils of sticker charts, i.e., giving children stickers, points, or other extrinsic rewards for work done.

Badges, stickers, and their ilk create a reward economy in which learners trade desired behaviour for rewards. They learn to expect a prize for good behaviour and not to give anything away for free. This can undermine a child’s intrinsic motivation. Rewards can cause a learner to lose focus on the important change in behaviour in pursuit of the prize instead.

The Atlantic article pointed out that this applied to the adult world too:

Duke University professor Dan Ariely has found that… market norms tend to overpower social norms, shifting the focus from relationships to commerce.

Ariely provided an example from his life as a professor:

He once worked at a university that used a point system to ensure that faculty members met their teaching requirements. Once he learned the formula for receiving points, Ariely figured out how to maximize it, effectively doing as little as possible to get the most points. “I managed to get 112 points by teaching just one class a year. I had one class with lots of students and lots of [teaching assistants],” he said. “So I just optimized [the formula].”

It is important to question the assumptions and the foundations of any teaching practice. Earlier I questioned the use of emoticon exit tickets. Today I question badges for professional development.

A reliance on extrinsic rewards by uncritical training programme providers reinforces this practice instead of drawing out critical questions about it. Questions like: 

  • Why are you doing it? For a trinket? For recognition?
  • Does a professional need such extrinsic motivations?
  • Should a teacher perpetuate such practice?

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