Friday, July 6, 2012

You Say "Carrots and Sticks," I Say "A or B"

The remainder of Part One of Drive by Daniel Pink focuses on the effectiveness of "carrots and sticks" with regard to accomplishment.  (For my thoughts on the opening of Part One, click here)  He focuses primarily on the business world, but there are obvious implications for those of us in education, as we are, perhaps, the ultimate home of "carrot and stick" thinking.

This past spring, I was part of my school's New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) re-accreditation team at a planning conference.  At one point, the discussion shifted to how precise a student's GPA really is, even out to three decimal places, meaning given the various teachers and the combinations therein that two students could have had, are we really sure that one student is potentially .001 of a point different than another?  And what have those students learned?  Can we truly quantify knowledge?  As someone on Twitter suggested this week (sorry, I can't remember who said it), it is impossible to figure out what a person "knows."

Given that, shouldn't we try to inspire students simply to love learning?  Should we wonder if the students who finish at "top" of their class are just really good at playing school, but haven't really learned anything?  Should we be concerned that students are far more concerned about the grades they have "earned" than whether or not they have actually learned anything?  Evidence would suggest that the "carrot" of earning an A and graduating from high school just isn't enough for students who drop out or never graduate.  The "stick" of not earning that high school diploma  does not seem to deter thousands of teenagers from walking away from high school every year.  

Shouldn't we be shifting the discussion away from "carrots and sticks" and towards a demonstration of actual learning?  Watching one of my students from two school years ago now bounce into my room because the video that she CREATED about Dred Scott had received almost 2,700 views was worth all of the fits and starts of bringing technology into my room.  She said two things to me that day that will drive me forward and continue to have students create things: first, that she "may have taught someone about Dred Scott," and second, that maybe she would make documentaries.  Whether that second part ever happens, I may never know, but the sheer excitement on her face was worth whatever people might say about what happens in a high school classroom.

Shouldn't the joy of figuring something out after starting with nothing should be the reward in itself?

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